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October 14, 2006

"It is Michael You Mourn For." Recap of The Office-- "Grief Counseling" (aired on NBC on 10.12.06)

LIGHTFLOWERSLSS  IMAGE HOSTING BY FLICKR.   This is my first recap of The Office.  I am starting with this episode, though I’ll probably backtrack into Season 2.  It’s a detailed interpretation rather than a strict summary of what happens in the show.  In other words, it’s not just about The Office, but my interpretation of it.  If you want to know what happened without the digressions and diversions, check out these sites.  These sites have great (and concise!) recaps, along with other office-related goodies:

·          LIFE IN THE OFFICE

·          NORTHERN ATTACK

·          GIVE ME MY REMOTE

And, of course, there are the NBC recaps at the official site.  Here's the NBC recap of "Grief Counseling."

What follows is just a very long recap.  It's harder than you might think to convey the funny when you recap this show. The humor of The Office more than any other show I’ve ever seen consists in the awkward pauses, the flitting changes of expressions, and the delivery of commonplace statements.

You honestly ALWAYS have to have been there for this show.  If you like the show enough to read this, make sure you see this episode.  It's deep, dark, and finely nuanced.  And EXTREMELY funny. 

THAT SAID, IT BEGINS HERE:

1.  The [REAL] office.  Boxes of paper are stacked up in the background.   Michael, grinning like the madman he is, asks Ryan if he wants him (Michael) to get him a pencil from the warehouse.  Ryan says he’s fine, but quite quickly works out that the question is a cue.  “That’s okay; I’m going down.”  “Absolutely,” Ryan says resignedly.

Is there a name for this sort of routine?  Somebody goes behind a pile of boxes or a couch and crouches lower down with each step to make it look as if he is descending the stairs.  It looks pretty convincing; I imagine you have to be pretty coordinated to pull it off.  Michael gets a pencil for Ryan----he holds it up with his trademark disaffected stare.

Anyway, Dwight  gives the sort of gasp you’d expect from a kid being offered a ride on the double ferris wheel and begins grinning gleefully and madly.  Doing it, he looks strange in a different way than he usually does.  It reminds me that Dwight Shrute is basically opposed to smiling---as he said in ,“All I see is a chimpanzee begging for his life.”  But he loves everything that Michael does; he laughs and claps.  He asks for a pen; Michael crawls on his belly on the floor and takes a pen from Stanley’s desk.  Stanley and Phyllis look on impassively.

Pam—brightly—asks him to get her some coffee from the warehouse.   Smiling quite amiably, he says, “There’s coffee in the kitchen, Pam.”  But the warehouse coffee tastes so much better! 

Everyone murmurs agreement.    So he goes down “the stairs” again and slithers across the floor to the kitchen, where he makes her a cup of coffee. He slithers back, holding the cup of coffee.

Cut to Michael talking into the camera.  “I’m like Bette Midler in For the Boys,” he tells the camera with a rather endearing fake-deprecating look.  “Gotta keep the troops entertained!”  “For the Boys”?    It was an okay film, but it was a long time ago, before the first Gulf War, even.  Michael’s cultural reference are always so peculiarly dated.  In DWIGHT'S SPEECH, he went off on a tangent where he reminisced about a Cosby monologue that was on a vinyl LP my parents had back in the 1970’s (the snowball story).  In addition to his other problems, he is frozen in time. ]I suppose the stair-descending schtick might be a visual reference to Austin Powers, but my cultural references are even more dated than his, so maybe it’s a nod at something else entirely.]   I wonder what people who are too young to know what Michael is talking about make of these references.  They are something his character has in common with David Brent (the original UK version of the boss). 

Back to Michael wriggling toward the “stairs,” somehow carrying a cup of coffee (with lid) in one hand as he drags himself along.  When he gamely ascends the stairs, holding her coffee, Pam gives him an “oops! silly me!” look---lip caught in her teeth, eyes slightly squinched.  “With cream and sugar?” she ask.   

Instead of laughing, Michael---now panting slightly and with good reason---looks taken aback and then put out.  His lower lip curls, baring his teeth.   “All right,” he sighs resignedly, and heads back to the “stairs.”

This was a brilliant opening for this episode.  First you have Michael pretending to be descending a nonexistent set of stairs into the warehouse.  It’s all just to provide a spectacle for his staff and to call attention to himself.  When they respond, he carries on with the joke.  By the time Pam makes her request he seems to have forgotten that it is in fact a joke and that there are in fact no stairs. 

Even though everyone’s got the joke, such as it is, he is somehow obligated to carry on as if the descent into the depths he asked them to join him in imagining were real.   It seems truly to have slipped his mind that the whole thing is a game that he started and that he can quit at any time. 

The rest of the show is Michael doing the same thing with his emotions.   He just makes it all up as he goes along and then he steps into a scene that he’s imagined and knows he’s imagined and then suddenly it’s all just as real as reality; suddenly, he can’t tell the difference anymore.

First there’s the pretend grief because a show of grief is the conventional thing to do; then there’s the pretend grief because it looks as if it might get him some attention;  then it’s the actual shock and horror of finding out that someone he knew and with whom he evidently identifies more than he’d have you believe; and then the even greater shock and horror that no one else is pretending to feel more than they do.  All this unreality somehow gets all mixed up in his head with his own unacknowledged feelings about his own unacknowledged reality; and suddenly he’s having a complete and absolutely real meltdown over the death of a bird. 

The episode, according to me, is all about coping with death and loss.  The parts that are not about death---the Jim parts---are about moving on after a loss. 

It is the blight man was born for, Michael!

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2.  The credits roll us into Michael’s office. He is talking to Jan on the speakerphone.  “ I wanted to let you know that we lost Ed Truck,” she tells him.  Ed Truck, the show would have us remember (because this is The Office and an anvil-free zone), was Michael’s boss when he was still a highly successful salesman.  Michael disliked him because Ed Truck hated fun.  Michael based his whole philosophy of management on being the opposite of Ed Truck.  Who is now dead.  As Jan wants him to know.  Her tone is brisk and tensely matter-of-fact.  The news comes out at Jan’s usual high speed because she wants to get off the telephone before Michael can find a way to turn the call into another discussion of her feelings for him.

Michael isn’t listening, of course; he’s trying to work out a way to turn the call into another discussion of her feelings for him.  So he takes her euphemism---“We lost Ed Truck”---literally and says he’ll see if he has Ed Truck’s cell phone number; and is that all she had to say to him or did she really call because she missed him?  His first reaction to the news:  “Oh, wow.”

Maybe nothing seems real to Michael till he has said it aloud to someone else; or maybe he needs other people to tell him how to feel about the events he announces.  Watching this scene reminded me of the season 2 episodes where he feels compelled (against his own best interest and even his own fitful best judgment) to overshare.  It doesn’t even seem to me as if it’s validation he is seeking---it’s more authentication.  If he tells people that he “hooked up” with Jan or that he and Jim are best buds, and they appear to believe him, their apparent acceptance makes it seem, temporarily, as if his wistful exaggerations are true.  Or could easily be true.  Which appears to be enough for Michael, most of the time. 

When no one is looking at him or listening to him, does he exist?  Maybe that’s the explanation for why he sits in his office with the blinds open like a fish in an aquarium tank. 

At this point, he seems merely to regard the news as information on which to base a claim for attention---and one that even Stanley can’t really object to.  It’s clear he doesn’t yet know for sure how he feels or how much.  “My old boss Ed Truck has died.”  The announcement immediately pays off; Kelly rushes over to console him and tell him how to feel.  “You must feel so sad!” You can see him processing this and realizing that this is something he might be able to use.  Yes!  Yes, he does feel sad, now that she mentions it.  His old boss died and he is very very sad about it. 

Phyllis and Creed, both of whom knew Ed Truck,  look mildly regretful.  Phyllis expresses conventional regret.  The reaction otherwise is muted.  Michael mentions that he’ll be in my office if anyone wants to drop by and cheer him up.  He waits for a moment but everyone---even Meredith, who supposedly has a distant crush on him----has gone back to work.  Michael looks somewhat deflated; the payoff clearly wasn’t what he expected.

So he approaches Pam.  It’s one of those scenes where Jenna Fischer’s face shows in the space of a couple of seconds about 20 completely different emotions. She asks him if there is anything she can do in a tone of voice that only barely conveys that the question is strictly formal and perfunctory because she knows as well as he does that his display of “grief” is formal and perfunctory. 

He fake-manfully (to fake-mask his fake grief) replies that there is nothing she can do, since it is just the “circle of life.”  Pam, assuming an attitude of fake-gravity appropriate to fake-sympathizing, looks down and half whispers, “Yes,” half fake-seriously and half disgustedly; half a second later, her expression has reverted t baseline with only a hint of “oh brother” showing around the eyebrows.  But when he walks around her desk, Pam is genuinely startled.  “Oh!” she says, as it dawns on her what sort of help he expecting.  The hug that follows lasts too long and she has to start doing that thing where you  start wriggling out of the hug because the other person won’t let go.   When she steps away, he keeps his arm around her.  “Umm, okay,” she says, patting his arm.  When she turns back to the camera, an expression of shivery revulsion passes like a cloud across her face.   

But for Michael, getting the hug is more important than getting it spontaneously from someone who really feels like hugging.  The gesture matters more to him than the actual sentiment behind it; he’d rather twist it out of Pam than not have it at all.  Which he proceeds to do.

This, incidentally, is one of the revolting traits that Michael shares with David Brent (the UK original version of this character), but in Brent’s case, the disposition to force concessions out of people is somewhat controlled by Brent’s flinching sensitivity;  Brent, unlike Michael, really sees at some level how other people react to him, and---being English---he cares about it much more than Michael.  Michael has a lot more layers of denial between him and the reality than Brent.  Brent is aware of a contracted pupil or an unconscious curl of the lip, so the “face value” at which he takes things adds up in his unconscious estimation to a negative number; his gropings for support and sympathy are often aborted or muted halfway through as the part of him that sees through its own veneer takes in what his co-workers aren’t really bothering to conceal from him.  In England, where there are so

many protections for workers built into the system, they don’t have to, so much. 

Michael, on the other hand, seems incapable of consciously seeing the weariness, boredom, and disdain behind the defensive masks his employees present to him.  He’s not nearly as vulnerable and his instincts are much less reliable.  So he goes for the reluctantly conceded hug and tries to prolong it past the latest moment when a normal man would notice the signs of withdrawal.

It’s not enough for Michael, of course, but for now it will have to do.

3.  STAMFORD BRANCH.  Meanwhile, at the Stamford Branch, Jim Halpert is in a meeting. His boss, a better boss than Michael, is asking Karen (She who is destined to be dumped for Pam) for a price list she was supposed to “generate.”  But  Karen awkwardly concedes that she did not “generate that price list”.  Will she get on it, then?   She will.  The boss asks Jim to “make sure.”  She looks pissed; Jim looks disconcerted. He has to do it.  But the others now think he is a suck-up. 

Cut to Karen, punching buttons on a vending machine and scowling.  Jim is standing behind her.   He asks what’s wrong and she tells him that the machine is out of the particular brand of salt and vinegar chips she likes.  “But don’t worry,” she says to him snarkily, “My snack food doesn’t fall under the umbrella of your authority.” 

But Jim has had a lot of experience diffusing awkwardness.  He says, “Mm, that’s where you’re wrong.”  He is now her project supervisor and he has decided that she will do nothing “until you get the chips you require.”  A genuine smile lightens her wary face. 

Though she doesn’t know it yet, she’s officially a goner.   Every thinking woman in America knows that Jim Halpert character is every thinking woman’s ideal.  He’s the guy we all liked in high school:  good-looking, intelligent, funny, but unassuming.   He didn’t behave as if he thought he was too good for us, and this gave us hope, even though we knew the truth:  whether he realized it or not, he really was too good for us.  We weren’t going to end up with Jim Halpert because the thinking women of America are high maintenance, and that’s not his style.  He wants warm and funny and easy to be with.

(If a young or youngish man wanted to know how to make himself lovable, he should just ask himself:  “What would Jim do?”)

Anyway, Karen doesn’t stand a chance.   She’s going to be the next temporary object of his affections while he and Pam completely unrealistically fail to email one another or keep in touch at all.   She’s just there to ratchet up Jim’s level of despair when he inevitably (when, it’s hard to know) realizes that no one will ever be right for him but Pam.  In real life, that wouldn’t necessarily happen; but this is TV, and so it’s got to.  Or is that just wishful thinking?

4.  SCRANTON BRANCH.   Back in Scranton, Creed has dropped by Michael’s office, though not exactly with the intention of cheering him up.   Creed remarks to Michael that it’s too bad about Ed Truck’s death; Michael takes the remark in stride.  Since he doesn’t care any more about Creed than anyone else in the office seems to, he’s not really that bothered.  Having failed at making Ed Truck’s death all about him, he seems to have lost interest.

He suggests rather off-handedly  that Ed Truck’s death must have made Creed think.  About what?  About death because Creed---according to Michael---being that much closer in age to Ed Truck is by definition that much closer to Ed Truck’s fate.

As always, Creed ignores or is oblivious to any subtext.   Instead, he tells Michael a piece of news that hasn’t been mentioned before:  the circumstances under which Ed Truck died.   “Ed was decapitated.”  Driving down the highway at high speed, “drunk as a skunk,” he skidded under an 18 wheeler and his head popped right off. 

At this point, Michael begins looking genuinely bummed.  Though this doesn’t emerge really clearly till later, it’s not just the gruesome manner of Ed Truck’s death by truck (ha!  Sorry, but seriously:  that comes within a very narrow limit of death by farce) but the fact that the event occurred arbitrarily and randomly and without dignity, instead of in what Michael (this is inference) must have been imagined:  as a result of “old age” (Ed was 75) and in short, due to causes that don’t apply to Michael.  Furthermore, when Ed was alone.  In other words, in a way that could happen to Michael just as easily as to Ed.

Dwight, being Dwight (Rainn Wilson = genius), has a very different reaction.

CREED:  Ed was decapitated.

DWIGHT (in an approving tone).  That is the way to go. 

Creed remarks, soberly and therefore hilariously, that the human body can continue to live several hours after decapitation.  Dwight---he grew up on a farm you know---objects.  “You’re thinking of a chicken.”  In the meantime, we get several shots of Michael’s head (ha! again) looking shocked, horrified, revolted, scared, and various combinations of these---because Steve Carell is also a genius. Michael looks as if someone has thrown cold water in his face.  Uh-oh.  When Michael temporarily wakes up into the real world, it’s always bad news for everyone in the vicinity. 

He repeats, obviously struggling to come to terms with it, that Ed Truck died when he was driving down the road “and he went under a truck.  That was when his head was separated from the rest of him.”  Not, says Michael, the way “a Dunder Mifflin man should go.”  A Dunder Mifflin man shouldn’t die “alone” and “out of the blue.”  It is about to become clear that  these last two aspects of the death of Ed Truck, along with the sheer gruesomeness and indignity of Ed Truck’s death,  that have hit Michael Scott where he lives.  A Dunder Mifflin man shouldn’t die “out of the blue” or alone. 

As always he is impelled to share this information with the rest of the staff.  Why?  On the one hand, this news is a first-rate attention-grabber; but second, because of feelings I don’t think the Michael character has yet sorted out himself.  You can tell that the attention-grabbing aspects and the chance to exploit them isn’t the only thing driving him back out into the office this time;  when Dwight jumps in and makes the announcement for him (thereby grabbing the attention first), Michael is only half as pissed off as you’d expect.  There’s something else going on there, though we don’t know yet what it is. 

The response the announcement is still quiet, but unambiguous.  Angela flinches with a look of disgust and sadness; Pam looks horrified and grossed out, then sad; and everyone conveys by murmurings and body language, muted shock and horror and the desire not to be told any more.  These are really talented actors; they can do that.   

Michael, having got what he needs for now, announces that he’ll keep them updates, though the indications are clear that they know as much about it as they want to know.  He’s already starting to forget that his grief for Ed Truck was feigned; he doesn’t realize yet that he’s seeing himself in Ed Truck’s place.

5.  In the kitchen, Dwight says to Angela, “If my head comes off, I would like you to put it on ice.” Well, of course he would; he’s Dwight.   Angela refuses to discuss it, so then we get Dwight discoursing on the subject to the camera.  He explains that he wants to be frozen when he dies;  “If they have to freeze me in pieces, so be it.”  At this point, we get one of those disconcerting glimpses of what really goes on behind Dwight’s glasses.  Back in there somewhere, reality and fantasy really are pretty inextricably entangled, which is probably why he copes so much better than Michael despite being marginally more impaired.   

In Dwight’s head, the death which results in his decapitation will surely result from one of those comic book confrontations involving Sith lords and martial arts and ninjas or at least an enemy spy or two.   He goes on to explain that he will use the time during which he is in pieces on ice to work out how he could have defended himself. 

You know, it would be weird and yet weirdly enjoyable to be Dwight Shrute.  Michael Scott is his only Achilles heel, and his MacBeth move in the previous episode showed that even the Michael-yoke might eventually be thrown off.  Nothing else, including death, holds any terrors for him.   Even his multiple humiliations at Michael’s hands don’t faze him for long. 

I admit that this enjoyable digression makes me wonder again about Dwight and Angela.   Will we ever see them together for more than a few seconds?  It’s hard to imagine how the writers could make this work.   On the one hand, we have the “tightly wound” Christian who “knows” where she is going to go after she dies (I don’t remember offhand what episode it was in which she said that, but I remember her rather endearing upward glance and her tiny beatified smile) and who would take The De Vinci Code with her as one of her three desert island books so that she could burn it (Cf. “The Fire”).  On the other hand, we have…Dwight.  Jedi knights, evil ninjas, hobbits, enemy spies, potato guns, beets, comic book superheroes, bobbleheads, and cryogenics.  What, except sex, could they possibly get up to?  What could they possibly talk about?  And how does Angela explain Dwight, and sex with Dwight, to herself?  It’s a mystery---a comic mystery.  Seeing it unfold would probably ruin it. 

We just have to assume that for both of them, it’s more about the loneliness of being a true original/freak and about  the old slap-and-tickle.  With more slap than tickle (cf. “Casino Night”)

6.  Anyway, we’re back now with Michael, who is again on the speakerphone with Jan. Why, he demands heatedly, does Martin Luther King get his own day, when he didn’t even work for Dunder Mifflin?  Jan, clearly trying to show empathy as well as get off the phone, asks whether he would like to give everyone the day off.  Her voice goes up weirdly at the end of the question, so that it comes off sounding more get-me-out-of-this than sympathetic, but you can see she is doing her best.  But no, Michael doesn’t want that;  and that she’d propose it shows how little she understands the people of the Scranton branch.

The word “honor” as in “honoring the dead” comes up a lot during the remainder of the episode.

What would the people of the Scranton branch like to do to honor Ed Truck?  Michael believes that  they would like a statue.  A statue of Ed Truck that could move and whose eyes would light up.  Dwight, trying to be helpful:  “That is not a statute; that is a robot.”  He wants to know what size this robot would be.  Life size, Michael says, taking the idea of an Ed Truck robot in stride.  Dwight---in a world where Dwight’s frozen head could cheerfully ponder the circumstances that led to its being cryogenically preserved ---says that a life-sized Ed Truck robot would be a bad idea; it should be 2/3 of life-sized so that they can control it in case it turns against them.

At this point, Jan’s patience comes to an end.  She has to get back to work, she says, now sounding seriously fed up.  “You know who would like to get back to work?” says Michael.  “Ed Truck.”  She slams down the phone.  Dwight holds up a drawing of a robot.  He’s given it a six foot extension cord “so we can control it.”

The psychodrama begins. 

But first: 

7.  STAMFORD BRANCH.   Karen and Jim have had no luck.  She proposes going back to work.  Jim expresses astonishment.  “I never pegged you for a quitter.”  Rising to the challenge, she tells him that she can do this (carry on with the chip search) all day.  They’re not quite flirting yet, but almost. 

It’s the intercession of the office jerk that really pushes them over the brink.  He says he wants in on their game.  There’s no game, says Jim; they’re just trying to track down the brand of chips she likes.  Andy, their office jerk, asks them if they looked in the vending machine.  Why no, they say.  They checked the copier and the fax; how did they miss the vending machine.  It comes off just as obnoxious as it sounds here, but hey, it’s the office jerk, so nobody cares.  At least he gets the message.  He tells Jim to look for the chips in his butt.

Hey, good one, Andy!

8.  SCRANTON BRANCH.  Michael is standing in the middle of everyone’s attempt to work in spite of it, “quietly” discussing the gorier details of Ed Truck’s death:  how far the blood would have sprayed and how much of it there would have been.  If you can’t get the pity, go for the terror!

Stanley, who is a few feet away, tells Michael he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Michael, clearly, is trying to work himself up into some sort of decent facsimile of grief because he needs to know that his own employees will grieve for him.  Stanley’s obvious indifference to the death is the last straw for him. 

This is where the meltdown begins.  Michael freaks out.  He can’t stop thinking about Ed Truck; so how can they?   A man has been decapitated!  Stanley:  “You have just spit in my face.”  But Michael has gone over the edge.  Why?  Partly because he can’t get anyone to believe in his “grief” but partly because he is having an experience he takes for an epiphany: a vision of the future in which he, Michael, has just died horribly and the day goes on almost exactly as usual.  That’s not acceptable.  He isn’t having that. 

“THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH EVERYONE IN HERE,” he shouts.  “A MAN JUST DIED.”  Everyone looks at him wearily or bemusedly, but tearlessly.  Since Michael at some level is envisioning his own death, he can’t deal with the tearlessness.  It’s their indifference that pushes him over the edge.   He announces that there will be a grief counseling session and ignores half-hearted complaints by employees who have work to do and actually want to do it.  This is Michael at his bad-boss worst.

Cut to Michael, talking to the camera about the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), all of which he is going to experience in record time this very day.  They are all out there denying the fact that they are sad and that they are angry because they can’t express it.  It’s his job, he feels, to get them from denial to acceptance “or maybe just depression.  If I can get them depressed, then I’ll have done my job.”  No worries there, Michael.

And by “them” he definitely means himself.  If he can feel something about Ed Truck, then he’ll be able to believe that his employees will feel something for him.  That’s the joke here from this point on out:  Michael’s assumed grief is all about Michael.  His employees know this, even though they don’t  know they know it.  The only ones who will work it out fully are Toby and Pam.  And Michael fears and therefore detests Toby, so the only person who can help him is Pam. 

OKAY, AT THIS POINT YOU HAVE GOT TO SEE THIS DELETED SCENE, WHICH I DIDN'T SEE TILL AFTER I WROTE THIS. In this scene, Toby is---clearly under pressure from Michael---trying to conduct a grief counseling workshop.  Nobody wants to be there.  Nobody is having trouble eating or concentrating or getting their work done.  Well, Stanley says pointedly that he is having trouble getting HIS work done.  Okay, Toby says, if anyone needs him...  They start to rise, but Michael stops them.  Toby, he says, is the most heartless, soulless person he has ever known.  He subsequently calls Toby a "plague." 

There's a beautiful BJ Novak moment.  He tells the camera that since he didn't know Ed Truck, he will probably spend the day "zoning out and planning my weekend."  Pause.  "I think Ed would have wanted it that way," he says, nodding.

9.  So Michael is explaining the protocol for the grief counseling.  Everyone’s sitting around the conference room, in various degrees already of boredom and disgruntlement. 

He has one of those expandable “balls” made up of interlocking multi-colored plastic bits (sorry, but I’ve no idea what they’re called).  Talking in a comparatively hushed, almost Toby-like voice he tells them that he is going to throw the ball.  When the employee to whom he throws it catches it, that employee is to say the name of some person in his or her life who was special and who died.  Having said the name, explain the manner of death.  And they may cry a bit if they like---“That is encouraged.”

Michael decides to get the ball rolling, so to speak, even though it’s definitely not that sort of ball.

He says (twice):  “I lost Ed Truck.  I lost Ed Truck.”

How did it feel to lose Ed Truck?  It feels like somebody took his heart “and dropped it into a bucket of boiling tears.”  It feels like “somebody else is hitting my soul in the crotch with a sledgehammer.”  And it feels like a third person “is punching me in the grief bone.”

It’s not really about Ed Truck, you know, or only a miniscule part of it is.  It’s about Michael, like everything else Michael says and does.  He’s telling them how he would want them to feel if it had been Michael.  Or he’s telling them how he feels imagining himself in Ed Truck’s place and dead, and everyone carrying on just the same.  The clincher:  “I’m crying and no one can hear me because I’m terribly terribly alone.”

Why is this funny?  It’s funny because Michael himself doesn’t know that this is what he’s feeling.  He doesn’t know himself that it’s about him.  All he knows is that they’re not giving enough.  He doesn’t know what it is that they’re not giving.

It’s also funny because a few of the more perceptive/sensitive ones (Toby, Pam, B.J., maybe Phyllis) already have an inkling that this is what’s happening and however sorry they might be feeling for the emptiness in the center of Michael that makes him overreact to the routine horrors of existence, they don’t want any part of it.   Even Toby, though he’s the most perceptive, doesn’t want to be part of Michael’s psychodrama.  Nobody normal could want that. 

Though you have to wonder how this might go differently if kindly Jim were still among those presents.  (Don’t you wish you could see the alternative version where Jim is present?  Or would that not be funny at all?

10.  Roy, who has somehow heard about the grief counseling, comes to Pam’s rescue.  Since this is my first actual recap/review, I want to note right here that this Roy---the Roy who emerged in Season Two---is an entirely different person from Season One Roy, who was modelled on the Pam doppelganger, Dawn, in the UK version of The Office. The original Roy was called “Lee” and he was your basic arrogant little prick.  As the series evolved, he seemed to get a little bit more posh and less Dezzer/Bazzer-like, but he remained your basic self-involved insensitive berk.  If he hadn’t---if we hadn’t wondered all along what Dawn could possibly see in the little bastard--- we couldn’t have been unambiguously pleased by the Dawn/Tim happy ending.  We’d have had to feel sorry for him.

But a truly horrible Roy wouldn’t have worked because with as many episodes of the American version as we want (and might get), we simply couldn’t go on believing that Pam would rather marry him than take a chance with Jim.  It would make her look too desperate.  And it wouldn’t make sense.

So Season Two Roy is a nice, if imperceptive, guy.  He’s cuddly. It’s clear that the physical chemistry is powerful.  He’s not too bright, but he’s hunky and kindly (remember how nice he is to Pam’s mom in the sexual harassment episode?).  And at the beginning of the season, poor dumped Roy makes it clear that he’s thinking hard about how to win Pam back.

Having heard somehow about the grief counseling workshop, he makes up his mind that Pam might need a little break.  He taps on the door of the conference room:  he’s sorry, but there’s something wrong with her car.  She seems pleased when he tells her there’s nothing really wrong and tells her why he showed up, but it’s not clear whether she’s pleased to have a break from grief counseling or pleased he thought of it. 

They walk down to her car and it’s awkward, awkward, awkward.  He peers into her new car, asking some sort of meaningless question about whether she is still driving so fast.  It’s not what he wants to ask.   

Poor Roy.  Jim might be able to get on with his life now that he’s away from Pam, but Roy is stuck in the same building with her.  Jim knew he had to get away.  Roy is still bent on getting her back.  And maybe the little glances she’s giving him indicate that she’s clocked his heightened sensitivity to her and what she needs.  After all, Jim’s gone now, and Roy is comfortably familiar.

Uh-oh, Roy.  Run!  Or better yet, call Jim’s Katie!  The two of you were made for each other.  Pam deserves to suffer a little, till she and Jim somehow get it together (because they’re going to, right?  Right?).  After all, this is all her fault.  Karen is, or is going to be, her fault. 

11.  STAMFORD BRANCH.   Speaking of Karen, Jim is still trying to track down those chips. He’s on the phone with the distributor or manufacturer; I’m not sure which. As “Mike from the Westside Market,” he asks about a missing shipment of salt and vinegar chips.  When they ask what his store number is, he says, “Six…” and hangs up. 

They’re smiling at one another now for real.  The chemistry is starting to happen.  The bubbles are rising out of the beaker.  Uh-oh, Karen.  Run!  Because Jim and Pam are eventually going to get together just like Tim and Dawn, right?  Right?

12.  SCRANTON BRANCH.   Pam returns to the scene of Michael’s grief, which---to her obvious disgust---has been kept on hold for her because she’s “a member of this family”  and the grief waits on family members. She makes a face and sits down.

Dwight, being Dwight, asks for the ball.  You know, and they---especially Michael---know that something weird and inappropriate is going to be said.  I was hoping for the story of the grandfather:  you know, the one whose tux Dwight was wearing in “Casino Night,” the “family heirloom” tux that Dwight’s grandfather wore “the first time we buried him.”  The story does come up in this episode, but---sadly---not now and not with the missing details supplied. 

So what’s the story, Dwight?  Before he was born, a sonogram showed his mother was going to have twins.  Oh God, everyone in the room, including the whole audience thinks.  Because subsequently, guess what?  Only one baby:  Dwight.  He absorbed his twin.  “Do I regret this?” he says to the camera.  “No.  I believe his tissues made me stronger.  Now I have the strength of a grown man….and a little baby.”

Michael is grossed out like the rest of us.  He tells Dwight to give the ball to someone else….Stanley. 

STANLEY:  Nope.

STANLEY:  I will not

Stanley wants no part of this farce and Michael has never once succeeded in manipulating Stanley, even though it’s from Stanley he most needs affirmation.  But he’s learned a bit since Season Two; he gives up.  What about Pam?  Pam always does what he wants, however reluctantly. 

Pam hasn’t yet worked out how to put a stop to all this, but she knows that the fastest way to get out of that room is to give Michael what he wants.  Well, up to a point.  So:  Her aunt---an amazing female boxer---was paralyzed.  Pam was really close to her, so you can imagine how upset she was when the aunt asked her doctor to remove the breathing tube so she could die. 

Michael, now totally chanelling Toby’s quiet, soothing voice, tells her she can cry.

BJ---who has been watching Pam in his deadpan fan, with the gears whirling away behind his eyes---hold up his hand.  While his family was on safari in Africa, his cousin was trampled to death by a herd of wildebeests.  They all took it really hard.  Everyone in the audience---um, he means the family---took it really hard.

Does he want to talk about it?

No; it would take him an hour and a half to tell that kind of story.

By now, Kevin has figured out the game.  “Me.  Me.  Me.”  He has that sweet, creepy little half-smile thing going on in his eyes.  Being Kevin, he’s not able to play it properly.  He can’t distinguish a story that Michael will recognize from one that he won’t.   He gives them Weekend at Bernie’s. 

Which you know Michael is going to recognize. 

Which he does.  While Kevin begins, phase 3 of the evolving freak-out begins.  DOES KEVIN THINK THIS IS A GAME? 

Phyllis:  Well, there is a ball.  Good one, Phyllis!  Angela points out that they have a lot of work to do.  The others stir restively. 

Michael is losing it.  A GUY WHO HAD HIS JOB HAS DIED.  AND NOBODY CARES. 

He glares at Toby.  Toby begins doing what you just know Toby can do so well,  except for Michael.  Michael fears the competence of Toby, and Toby’s judgment, so there is nothing Toby can ever do for Michael.  They both really know this, but Toby tries again.

Toby:  Death is a part of life.  Then he begins a story about a little bird that flew into the glass doors of the office and died….

13.  And that’s it.  The paradigm shifts.  Now it’s all about the little bird.  Michael, almost crying, begins to shout at Toby about the little bird.  Was its heart beating?  Did Toby check its breathing?  Toby isn’t a veterinarian.  Toby doesn’t know anything!

Dwight and Michael rush outside.  The bird is lying outside the doors.  Michael lifts it up; and I can’t really look at this part.  Is he trying to give it CPR?  Because what I hear is Dwight shouting, “Get that bird away from your head!  It’s full of germs.” 

Michael shouts, “YOU CAN’T GET DISEASES FROM A BIRD.”

14.  Michael has taken the dead bird into the kitchen, where everyone else is thoroughly grossed out. Dwight offers to “flush him.”  Kelly grimaces, looking as if she wants to vomit.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Kelly says, “Ugh.  No.  That thing is dead.”  Michael tells them that they will be meeting at 4 pm in the parking lot to hold a funeral service for the bird. 

Meredith (hopelessly, because she knows saying this isn’t going to make a difference):  I have a lot of work to do.

Michael is sorry to inconvenience everyone, “but that is what you do when things die---you honor them.”  And then---poor Toby!---“TOBY KILLED THIS BIRD.  We are going to honor him.”   

The bird died alone, and the least they can do is be there for him.  So from now on, the metaphor for Michael’s random death that nobody cares about is the bird, not Ed Truck.  At this point, Ed Truck, becomes irrelevant.  R.I.P., Ed Truck!

15.  STAMFORD BRANCH.  Karen has taken matters into her own hands.  She calls a supermarket in Montreal.  She speaks French, and you know no man can resist a girl who speaks French.  Jim gazes at her with that French-struck look.  She hangs up the phone and looks at him:  there are no chips in Montreal.  But it sounded good, Jim says.  You can tell he thought it looked good too.

16.  SCRANTON BRANCH.  Michael finds Kelly crying by the copier.  Ah, at last; someone understands him.  It’s been a tough day, he says gently.  He knows.  He understands. 

But Kelly is sobbing because Ryan (he’s just not that into you, Kelly) has once again forgotten a date or has otherwise failed to come up to scratch.

In the kitchen (?), I think Dwight is trying to stuff the bird corpse into a can (?).  This was another part I'm not sure about because I couldn't watch.  I tried a couple of times and I just couldn't.  It was clear even to me that the remains were not holding up well to this process.  Michael gives an anguished yelp.  What is the MATTER with Dwight?   No….no!   “Is that its BEAK?” 

Okay.  Ew.

Dwight, in an interview, is affronted.  Excuse him, but he was brought up on a farm.  “My grandfather (!) was reburied (!) in an old oil drum. 

But he’s still Michael’s bitch, so he goes looking for a box.  Pam, fortunately, has it covered.  She suggests that if he wants to do something for the funeral---and he does; he does---that he play a song on his recorder.  Does he have his recorder with him?  “Always.”  He walks away and she looks into the camera and gives a little victory wave.  And you can see her face cloud almost before it’s over with the realization that Jim isn’t here to share this Very Special Dwight Shrute Moment.

But then, in an interview, she says quite cheerfully that though she didn’t wake up that morning thinking she might be “throwing” a “bird funeral”, “you never know what your day here is going to turn into.”

17.  STAMFORD BRANCH.  Karen finds a bag of chips on her desk.  The chips she wants, available nowhere else in the whole city.  Where did Jim find them?  He doesn’t tell her, but he tells us.  He called a man who referred him to a distributor who referred him to a vendor who told him that he could get them from the vending machine in the building next door.

That’s what Jim does; and the secret of his appeal.  He knows what people need, and he gives it to them.  (Remember when Michael crashed his party in the Email episode and Jim---though clearly very annoyed---gets up to join him in his karaoke song and to give him the validation he needs?)

18.  SCRANTON BRANCH.  Michael is pleased by the bird coffin Pam has prepared.  It’s a very nice coffin.

BJ (I love BJ).  He deadpans into the camera that when he was a kid, his mother told him that his fish had gone to the hospital in the toilet…and the fish never came back.  They had a fish funeral.  He remembers thinking that he was a little too old for that.  “I was five.”

Outside, at the funeral, Pam offers a eulogy.  She’s figured out what this is all about and---is she channeling Jim?----in a true Jim-like moment of grace, she gives Michael what he needs.  “What do we know about this bird?  You may think, “Not much.  It’s just a bird.”  But they know it was a local bird---maybe the same bird that once surprised Oscar with a “special present.”  There is gentle, funeral-eulogy laughter.  She says that the one thing they do know is how he died.  He flew into their glass doors.

But Pam doesn’t think he was being stupid.  He just really wanted to come inside the building, so he could “spread his cheer and lift our spirits with a song.”

Dwight, who never understands which details matter:  “It’s not a songbird.”

Pam---you can see her inwardly roll her eyes---dryly and hilariously says without missing a beat, “With an impression then.”  And then she gets to the heart  of Michael’s freak-out.  She says that though they can’t help noticing that he was “by himself when he died.”  But!  Even though he was alone, she is sure that there were a lot of other birds out there who “cared for him very much.  And that he will not be forgotten.”

“Amen!” calls Angela, almost before Pam finishes the sentence.  But it’s okay.  It’s what Michael needed to hear.  And it’s nicely rounded out by Pam singing sweetly to Dwight’s recorder a song I have learned is called "On the Wings of Love."  In front of everyone else, Meredith, Michael, and Phyllis, hold hands and sway.  The others wait patiently.  Are they as all touched as I---absurdly---am?  It's not the bird, or Michael, or Ed Truck:  it's the recognition (for one moment) of the one thing we ALL have in common.

Now we get Michael’s final words of wisdom.  Though society teaches us that grief and crying are wrong, there is such a thing as good grief.  Then---jarringly, I thought---“just ask Charlie Brown.”  Um, okay.

We see them watch the cremation of the bird.  Then they return to work.

After the final commercials, we see Dwight spraying the fire with an extinguisher.  Then he stomps on the box.  To the janitors (?) who are watching, he calls, “You guys get a broom and clean this up.  You heard me.  Get a broom.”

THE END.

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