March 12th, 2009
In a rare instance of a cold open serving as a fairly strong thematic connection to the episode itself, we see Michael Scott’s view on comedy: it’s hilarious when he is responsible, but when it suddenly turns against him, himself becoming the source of the comedy, it’s not even close to being funny. So when he drops a cheap knock knock joke, he laughs – when Dwight subjects him to one, he bans knock knock jokes. Of course, the next moment, he’s absolutely captivated by Jim’s Ding Dong joke, demonstrating that Michael Scott is never able to resist whimsical humour, except when suddenly aren’t so whimsical after all.
What we have in “Golden Ticket” is such a scenario, the initial whimsy of Michael’s scheme shattered by reality, at which point he does everything in his power to take a potential embarrassment for him and turn it into one for someone else. What follows is not so much an episode built for comedy (which is sparing), but rather sheer social observation: what happens when the office’s usual power dynamics are put to the test by a failure so potentially catastrophic? Or what happens when Kevin tries to have a completely normal relationship around people who do not have completely normal relationships?
While certainly not a great episode, suffering from a portrait of Michael devoid of redemptive qualities, it nonetheless felt very true to these characters, and an investigation of humanity that only this show, with these pre-existing types, could really pull off successfully.
The biggest problem with this one is that Michael Scott makes a decision at the end of the first Act that it’s hard to come back from: selling out Dwight isn’t just a lie, it’s a rather damning statement that, while perfectly in line with some of Michael’s past actions, fails to connect with any part of his character beyond self-preservation. It’s one thing for him, like in the cold open, to suddenly overreact and ban people from using a type of joke when it no longer suits him, but to be willing to pass the buck on such a huge issues is his self-interest outweighing all of his views of the office as family, all of the values of friendship that he places on everyone.
It’s not that this is without value: Michael later tries to use this to justify Dwight taking the blame, throwing that kind of logic to create a moral imperative in Dwight, and it works as a dramatic character hypocrisy. The problem is, rather, that it was all a ploy: he didn’t actually throw Dwight under the bus after all, and then the episode shifts into bitter and petty Michael in two seconds flat. The show always likes to play fast and loose with Michael’s humanity, but here we had a fairly simple message of “Michael made a downright evil decision to sell Dwight out and all he got out of it was not getting credit” and we never got to see Michael put that together.
I’m someone who likes to see more of Michael’s human side, so that fell short for me: I thought Michael’s Willy Wonka impression early in the episode was great, but the problem was that he immediately went from eccentric boss in search of whimsy to diabolical and selfish egomaniac. And while some of Michael’s past forays into moral grey areas have been more rife with comedy, this one was played so close to the vest in an almost tragic scenario that the lack of recognition didn’t feel like some sort of delusion but instead like something truly vindictive. I get why this episode exists (for Idris Elba’s role as the new Jan to come into effect), but for Michael it felt like he was going over the deep end too quickly and with too little thought.
I thought the B-Story was a bit sharper, but was ultimately too slight to make much of an impact. I like the basic idea: take Jim and Pam, whose road to romance was very different for both of them, and Andy, who is coming off of his relationship with Angela, and turn them into a three-headed monster of dating advice for Kevin. It was a storyline that kept things simple: Jim supported a slow and steady message as it eventually won him Pam, Pam wants him to move quickly and with physical contact as she got tired of waiting for Jim to come out and do something already, and Andy wants him to show no affection, no kindness, and to hate her immediately because she’s just going to end up being satan. The result is Kevin going with what he knows best, his charming but horribly awkward self. It didn’t really go anywhere, but it was nonetheless a fun little diversion, and the final scene (with Kevin doing so well with his own thoughts until “boobs” came out) was a nice little cap to it.
Overall, though, the episode was just operating at that more serious paste: whereas when 30 Rock does crisis it plays out with people running down halls and crazy music, The Office can become so isolated during a crisis that one doesn’t really understand its severity. Here, I felt like we needed to see the consequences more clearly: yes, it causes Michael to wig out, but so does pretty well everything, so a better sense of the reality should have gotten through to Michael at some point. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t, because I think it could have humanized this entire episode, which on the Michael side of things seemed like a plot setup more than an actual point for his character.
- The reason Dwight keeps a diary: to keep secrets from his computer. Definitely the episode’s best line.
- Loved the continuation of the runner wherein Andy doesn’t quite “get” Michael’s conference room games – “Golden Girls? Golden Grahams? I don’t get this.”
- My other favourite moment in this one: Darryl refusing to speak to Michael until Michael starts his sentence with “Sir.” I love their relationship so much.
- Michael’s various excuses for being out of the office were kind of all over the place in terms of humour, but I’m with Pam: you save “Trapped in an Oil Painting” for the best possible time, it is genius. (An Obama Fashion Show, though? I don’t get it.)
- Michael’s inventions all involving toilets is one psychological question I don’t want to get into, but I’d totally buy Dwight’s Horse Boat.