S07E07 The Office delights itself in awkward moments, strained pauses of uncomfortableness and frighteningly embarrassing situations. So it's surprising they haven’t dealt with religion more, considering that just mentioning religion creates enough awkwardness to fill an entire episode. But then again, how often do you get into talks about the nature of religion with your coworkers? The Office has touched on religion in the past, but it was only briefly at the beginning of season four (in Fun Run), and even then all we basically learned was Darryl and Pam were both Presbyterian. That all changed with this week’s episode.
But first, our cold opening. Pam led a (more than likely) corporate-mandated hygiene seminar, which Dwight steadfastly disagreed with. Dwight believes in tough love for his immune system and welcomes any challenge to strengthen it. This resulted in a brief montage of Jim, Erin, and Andy sneezing in Dwight’s face. Silly? Yes. But worth it seeing Erin running over to sneeze in Dwight’s face.
Then we got to the main event and this week we got a full serving size of religion, thanks to Cece Halpert and her baptism. The first half of the episode followed the service, which, of course, Michael invited the whole office to see. I’m not so sure that the entire office would come to something this trivial (at least in terms of their established beliefs, no one besides Angela appeared that religious) but if they didn’t we wouldn’t have an episode.
We get a couple good little gags throughout the service like Dwight taking advantage of a large group of people to make a sale and Ryan complaining about the lack of open wi-fi in the church. But the real winner of this was Jim, who is almost, but not quite, devolving into a bumbling father. When he tries to change Cece’s diaper during the service, he gets baby poop all over her gown. His cries of horror and pleading to the baby through the closed doors were hilarious. He takes the baby to the car in desperation and returns with her wrapped in an Arcade Fire t-shirt (does this mean that Cece is destined to be a hipster?).
The fumbling continues when the pastor invites everyone to the ceremony after party, which the Halperts were criminally underprepared for. This left everyone complaining about the lack of food which perturbed Jim and Pam because after all, some people weren’t even invited in the first place and they don’t even know half of the guests there. Pam leaves to get some last minute replacements, which means Jim is in charge of the baby. And because this is a sitcom, Jim loses the baby. And because this is a sitcom, when he learns that a small blond haired woman was last seen with the baby, he automatically thinks it was Angela. But when he confronts her, it turns out that Pam’s mom had the baby the whole time. Simple misunderstanding. It's not exactly his fault either, he's doing what he thinks is best in the moment and running with it. He truly loves his wife and child and wants the best for them and sometimes things outside of his control don't work for him. Plus he's just so damn cute you forgive him anyway.
Angela’s bits in this story were interesting. She has always been a hypocritical person, judging others while she had secret affairs and undermined her colleagues. But this season has seen her two-faceness come full front. Last week we saw it when she donned a very revealing nurse costume to win a coupon book. This week we saw it when she talked to Cece in the cute baby voice but immediately dropped it and returned to her snottiness when addressing Jim and Pam. Then she tried to act innocent when it was discovered she had taken several ("thousand" according to Kevin) scones while others went hungry. It's an interesting character development but hopefully it won’t burn out later in the season.
The second half follows Michael. Now Michael is a very innocent and lonely man, which makes him very susceptible to anything that offers him friendship or success. He is the ultimate patsy. He falls for everything (like exercising equipment, infomercials, and pyramid schemes to name a few). which means that he would fall in love with the idea of a church. When everyone was friendly to him and shook his hand, he thought he finally found a group that loved being together and doing things with each other. He couldn’t find that in his coworkers so he turned to the church. He defends everyone from his coworkers who (snidely and snarkly) don’t show the respect he recently acquired for the congregation.
This all comes to full power when he gets swept up in the youth group who is celebrating its departure for a three month mission trip in Mexico. He hops on board the bus filled with the spirit. Everyone tries to talk sense into him, but he won’t budge. The only person who is even remotely impressed with this is Erin. who might be the only person more gullible than Michael. And since Michael needed someone to act against on the bus and because he’ll do anything to impress Erin, Andy joins him. They’re welcomed with open arms by the other students and they set off.
What happens next is basically what would’ve happened had the camera continued to roll at the end of The Graduate. The initial joy and excitement they got swept up in faded slowly away and they begin to realize what kind of mess they had gotten themselves into. This isn’t something new to The Office -- Michael has gotten himself into plenty of situations before where he couldn’t cash the checks his mouth was writing (Scott’s Tots, anyone?), but putting it on a bus really drove home The Graduate (probably) unintentional homage.
Their initial attempts to get off the bus are shot down (after all, once you’ve been sucked into a church its pretty hard to get out) but they eventually are let off after they scream loud enough. They’re joined by a random kid who pleads with them to not tell his parents. Erin picks them up and informs them that they all went to a movie together after Kevin’s suggestion. This really hurts Michael’s feelings since that was what he initially wanted. Then we got the strangest closing to The Office ever, when Erin cranks up A Prairie Home Companion and grins like a maniac. I’m not sure I understood it, but whatever, I can appreciate abstract humor.
In the end, not a terrible episode. The show was definitely split into two distinct stories which usually results in a poorer episode, but these two went fairly well together since Michael and the Jim/Pam stories have always been the main aspect of the show.
However, I’m inclined to bump up this episode’s grade (if we did that) an extra half a grade for Toby’s mini story line. It was established that Toby was a man of faith prior to meeting his ex-wife, and he left the seminary for her because he wanted to get laid. This caused him to stop before heading into the church because he “and the big guy have some catching up to do.” When he finally makes his way to the altar he looks up and wonders aloud, “why you always gotta be so mean to me?” and that was it. Perfect, bleak, dark, in character, and so funny, because Toby suffers through so much and doesn’t react to it at all, it was a great bit for the episode.