‘The Office’ Recap: China

S07E10 What an intriguing point we’ve reached with The Office. “China” was the 136th episode of the series (counting the hourlong episodes as two as they should’ve been in the first place) which means that we’ve had a lot of good episodes. It’s entirely too easy to pick out an entire season’s worth of great episodes  from the seven the show has. What’s wrong with having so many great episodes? The others start to suffer.

“China” was a great episode. It was hilarious, offered up some great commentary and had delicious character bits. But it wasn’t a top 20 episode of all time which in a way spoils it. Of course they couldn’t continuously produce classic episodes, it’s just not possible. But by delivering so much quality, the average episode gets bumped up as well (there’s some mathematical or economical term for this but as I write about television for a living I don’t know it). It’s a terrible shame, but then again, I’d rather have too many good episodes than bad ones. Law of diminishing returns! That’s it! Ha, thanks Wikipedia!

However, I still think The Office has a few great episodes up it’s sleeve, especially with the departure of Michael Scott creeping ever so closer. Until that story arc gets rolling, I’m completely satisfied with solid episodes like “China.”

The cold opening was fairly special, at least for me. I admire Dwight’s desire to be “pedidexterous” by solely using his feet for twenty minutes a day because I have been blessed with “monkey-feet” as they have been referred to many times. I can and have peeled a banana with my only my toes and can easily pick up a baseball with my feet. What this has to do with the cold opening besides the most marginal relevance is beyond me but I thought I would share nevertheless. It ends with a great bit of physical comedy from Rainn Wilson as he spills the coffee on his crotch and then a see-it-coming-from-a-mile-away sight gag of him giving Jim a high five with his foot.

The three story lines were pretty good this week if only because they didn’t follow the storylines that the writers have been focusing on this year (Gabe and Erin, Angela, etc) and instead got back to the roots of the show. The Michael and Oscar intellectual debate was the clear winner, but its hard to judge the Pam and Dwight feud with the Andy and Daryl txting bits because while they were both good they both had their faults. It’s not like it’s my job or anything to judge them. Wait, shit, it is.

Ok, fine. I’m going to say the Andy and Daryl bits about texting was the slightly better story if only because it was shorter. They lightly jump into the story from time to time within the other story arcs and with each turn gave us great Daryl outbursts. Then when Daryl gives the final ultimatum of only texting if its really really awesome, they end it with the perfectly sweet shot of them looking at pigeons eating a discarded ice cream cone.

My only problem with the Pam and Dwight story was it was a little long. However I understand why they would choose to pad this story instead of the others because they were of perfect length. Dwight has extended his totalitarian control over the office building by enacting several “money-savers” such as keeping the heating down, timed and motion-sensitive lights, and separating two ply toilet paper. Pam, as the newly formed Office Administrator, is delegated the task of fixing this problem. She threatens Dwight with moving out and teases him with pictures of a newer, nicer office. However Dwight soon calls her out on her bluff which then causes Pam to have serious self doubts. Of course her doubts are worthy because she has failed several times through her life. But Jim is able some what to comfort her.

Then things get a little weird. Dwight’s new wing man (Mose, played by Michael Schur, is off being the creator of Parks and Recreation) lets Pam in on a little secret that Dwight is going against city code by running the office building like he is. This causes Dwight to cave in and Pam gets the win she needed. But it turns out Dwight is the master architect behind it all, but, he emphasizes, he did not do out of compassion. He did it so he can continue to reap the profits off of Dunder-Mifflin. It was refreshing to see this side of Dwight, as it always is. He often comes to the rescue for Pam, even though this doesn’t even compare to the time he offered her his jacket. Again, The Office has so many great moments that these late in the game good ones just don’t compare.

The best story line of the episode was easily Michael and Oscar’s battle of the brains. It seems strange to introduce a new trope this late in the game (the trope being the douche who interjects himself into conversations to correct people) but honestly Oscar fits that trope to a T. Would it be wrong to say he fits it to a deep V-neck T? Yes, yes it would.

Anyway, Michael storms into the office blabbering about the latest fear-trend the news media is up in arms about: China. He spouts off some facts and then Oscar chimes in to counter act what he says. But then Michael fires back and after some fact checking by the rest of the office, Michael is the clear winner. It’s not everyday the top dog is taken down, so the office takes great joy rubbing it in Oscar’s face that Michael outsmarted him. But Oscar isn’t one to things lying down (ooh boy this is getting too easy) so he challenges Michael to a talk over coffee.

Jim, Ryan, and Andy see right through Oscar’s scheme and attempt to train Michael in the ways of intellectual debate. It proves fruitless despite Andy giving a pretty good Rocky II impression. Then the big debate happens and while Michael puts up a good first attack and defense, ultimately Oscar gets the upper hand. But just as things were starting to look like defeat for Michael, he takes Jim and Andy’s advice and changes the subject to something he knows more about. Namely: he makes the conversation about emotion rather than facts.

And just like that The Office got somewhat political. By having Michael change the subject to something that can’t be argued with and making it more emotional rather than rational, Michael used tactics that would make the “lame” stream media, Fox News, and Thank You For Smoking’s Nick Naylor proud. Granted, as intellectuals, we’re supposed to side with Oscar in this debate because they weren’t arguing about freedom, they were arguing about China, but it did feel good to see Michael win a little bit. And while I doubt the Office was trying to political with this story it undeniably is. The rest of the people cheer when Michael successfully switches the subject, much like generally speaking most American agree with whoever is more emotional in debates. It’s a shame when it happens in real life, but man when it happens on The Office it was pretty sweet and heartwarming. And of course funny.

So it wasn’t the best episode ever, but it was still a good one. Seven seasons in and still making quality episodes is a hard accomplishment to achieve so let’s celebrate what we have and not mourn what once was.

Special mention goes to Creed’s line “I understand (Pirate language), I just can’t speak it” and the physical gags of turning on the lights as great comic moments. Unfortunately it just didn’t fit into my recap narrative but were too funny to not mention.