The Office – “Blood Drive”

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“Blood Drive”

March 5th, 2009

I don’t know if the Super Bowl plans or just some weird scheduling resulted in the situation we find ourselves in here, but it’s Valentine’s Day in the world of The Office, which means that the single people are sad, and the couples are feeling particularly smug about their happy futures. And on that note, “Blood Drive” investigates the state of romance in the Office through a very subtle, perhaps too subtle, lens.

With Michael Scott leading the charge for the single people, organizing amongst other things a singles mixer and a support group for bad relationships, and with Phyllis inviting Jim and Pam along on a one-joke lunch double date, there was something about the entire episode that felt really lightweight, which it shouldn’t considering that we left Michael buoyed by hope regarding Holly in the last episode. And yet there’s not even a mention of her letter, and for him to go back to “Woe is me because Holly left” like this doesn’t feel right.

It’s not that I wanted the series to deliver a highly dramatic episode, but this was the first time they’ve confronted a couple of relationship issues (in particular the season’s central love triangle) and it felt like the episode’s subtle approach at times was more of a tease than a real parallel or comparison. I think I liked the episode, especially as it relates to some of the more subtle things, but there was so many notes the show tried to deal with here that you couldn’t help but feel it was missing that one moment of either really effective comedy or emotional resonance, and it never came for me.

Oh, there was lots of innuendo too, by the way.

The best part of this episode, to be entirely honest with you, is the episode’s coda: we see Stanley, who was absent in the rest of the episode, trying to con a cookie without having given blood by taping a cotton ball to his arm, passing upon his hastened exit (they were using bandaids) Phyllis who was about to try the same thing. To top it off, Creed’s walking out of the truck the next moment with a bag of blood in his jacket pocket. It was quick and clever, something that the episode definitely didn’t achieve.

It wasn’t trying to, really: Brent Forrester’s script wasn’t unfunny, especially in its use of numerous innuendo that remained more subtle than I had expected after they started with “I just invited Jim to Suck it!” But the episode’s subtlety extended to every single one of its storylines, Michael’s obnoxiousness dialed down and the rest of the Office just going along for the ride as the singles commiscerate. It’s an odd feeling, almost: it rarely focuses on just one person, instead putting everyone in a situation letting their interaction with the various people who show up to this mixer show us the sides of them that we haven’t seen. It was a good device in some ways, but in others it felt like we weren’t really seeing the whole story.

Kevin’s storyline is a good example of what I wanted some of the rest of the episode to do. First off, since when has Kevin ever had a storyline unrelated to either being about to die or Scrantonicity (II)? And second, while I thought that his relationship with Lynn was perfectly charming and awkward, it did seem like it was an odd place to spend time. I understand the point: most of the episode focuses on a loss of love, or the want of love, but here’s Kevin who has actually found someone (who sticks around – she appears in a few more episodes according to IMDB), and the episode wanted to celebrate that. I like that we get to see more of Kevin, in some ways, but do we really care about Kevin as much as we care about Dwight and Angela, for example?

I like what Forrester did with these two, Angela remaining firmly entrenched (and suffering from a serious case of either deja vu or denial) and Dwight incapable of actually hitting on a girl as soon as he discovers that she has paper needs and he has paper (that’s not a euphemism). With Andy off on two of his honeymoons (air balloon + couples massage), they were left to try to figure things out, but yet they were talking around it: Dwight tried to sell the girl paper because he’s in love with Angela, but the show isn’t willing to go there yet. I was just watching the repeat of “Crime Aid” last week, and there we got to see inside Dwight’s head as he confided with Phyllis – I kind of wanted to see more of that here, at least more than I needed to see Kevin asking Lynn if she had email.

As for Michael’s storyline, it just felt out of sync with how we last left Michael Scott, gleeful at Holly’s love for him – none of that was present here, and I would have expected that Michael Scott to pretend like he was in a relationship on Valentine’s both to fit in and to reflect his disconnect from reality. Instead, he plays the victim, which isn’t outside of his bag of tricks but felt like a fairly safe way for the character to go. The same goes for painting him as Prince Charming, waiting for his woman with the lost glove to come back. It was, in fact, like a fairy tale, but outside of a few awkward moderations of his worst relationship chat Michael didn’t actually contribute anything to the episode but a couple of hopeless looks towards the door.

Michael has plenty of relationship baggage to get out, but we got to see none of it – whether it’s Jan, or Holly, this is a guy who relationships have constantly screwed over, and while it’s very natural and perhaps even effective for him to move into a fantasy world it never really hit home with either comic material or a dramatic conclusion. His motto at episode’s end just doesn’t feel like progression, or even reflection, just a basic statement of facts:

Sometimes it’s not about whether Cinderella gets her slipper back, but it’s about that the prince even picked up the slipper at all.

I guess, after Holly’s letter, this feels reductive, and seems to place Michael into a cycle from which he might ever escape – and when the hope of Holly was placed before us just an episode ago, that feels kind of odd to me. I liked the entire office rallying around him to stay to see if Glove Girl came back, but I would have liked it more in an episode where it made more sense.

On a similar note, Pam and Jim’s double date was a fundamental waste of time, something that seemed like a missed opportunity. I like that Jim and Pam’s first Valentine’s Day as fiancees didn’t turn into massive drama, but this seemed like it was going to at least be them trying to be a mature couple for a change. Instead, it was one joke that you could see coming a mile away, Bob and Phyllis running off to have sex in the handicapped bathroom during the meal. It seemed like a lot of time to spend on one joke when we didn’t even get a moment of reflection for Jim and Pam, considering the impact of what they just witnessed.

If I was convinced this was all going to be followed up on in the future I wouldn’t complain, but none of it really hit home: it was all either things we’ve seen before, things which seemed convenient for the theme, or things that were neither important or funny, kind of making them a waste of time. I liked the smaller moments: Kelly was great in the episode, the Valentine decorations had some neat touches, I loved Michael waking up form his dream to find Hank in the other chair, but all of those are bullet point moments in an episode that lacked something to bring it all together.

It was kind of like a solid episode of The Office that had given blood just being airing, weighing it down on one side not because of one side being stronger but because one side became weaker.

Cultural Observations

  • I’m being a bit mean to the episode, as I did like the subtlety of the bad relationship discussion scene: I actually think that Kevin probably had the saddest breakup story, as it wasn’t even a punchline. It seemed like it wasn’t even his fault, he was just being Kevin. If the episode did nothing else, it certainly created some Kevin-related empathy.
  • Cold open was kind of a throwaway, but it was some of the best outright comedy in the episode for Pam’s “…vending machine” delivery and the Fonz-off.
  • Kelly was great this episode, the best character in terms of this material: her hopes being crushed when her Valentine card was a dentist appointment card, her insistence that Ryan’s heart was in the right place when he dumped her, and of course her insistence that Michael’s Cinderella tale was “a modern day Enchanted.”
  • Did anyone catch any other innuendo? Kevin had “It all happened so fast,” and Michael had his love sparrow (“he’s a funny little bird, but he gets the job done.”)
  • As for why the scheduling was weird, I would guess that they had planned “Lecture Circuit” as an hour-long episode, with “Blood Drive to air the week after on February 12th, but that clearly changed.
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