"There's no shame in getting beaten up by a girl — my ex-wife used to demolish me."
BJ Novak gave a revealing interview in Entertainment Weekly yesterday and said one thing that sums up my experience of this season on The Office so far: "I think it [has been] a special, odd year for The Office, and it is about Dunder Mifflin finding its way after the departure of this hurricane." The problem, though, is that the hurricane never really ended — all season we've been pounded with news and spoilers and guest appearances, from James Spader's departure at the end of this season to Mindy Kaling's pilot at Fox to some of the newer details shared by Novak (if you hate spoilers, don't click), all the while splitting up the cast across state lines and giving Robert California less screen time to allow for more Nellie Bertram. But in "Test the Store," I got all the things I've been yearning for: Dwight got sincere, Jim wore eyeliner, and Erin tried to pronounce the name "Zooey Deschanel."
In Florida, Nellie, Dwight, and the Scranton team prepare for the launch of the first Sabre superstore with the help of plenty of Chuck promo integration and Apple Store-like blue shirts with strapped on "tri-packs" displaying Sabre's trademark (iPad-like) Pyramid and (iPhone-like) Arrowhead products. Packer was set up as Dwight's potential competition for the Vice Presidency, but he disappears into this episode when up against Dwight doing what he does best — coordinating his team like an over-caffeinated puppetmaster. He puts Ryan in charge of giving the launch presentation, so Ryan decides on the tagline "Sabre: It's time to come home" but gets jitters and ends up doing just that, ditching the gang and hopping a bus back to Mom even after a roleplay session where Dwight plays Kelly and lets Ryan abuse her verbally to psych himself up, and Jim does his usual reticent shifty slacker version of Ryan's mom, calling him "sweetie" too many times for comfort.
Back in Scranton, Andy catches everyone's attention when he walks into the office with a black eye. (Coming in from the "can," Meredith says, "What's this about a black guy in the office?") To distract everyone from asking how he got it, he asks Tobey to teach them all self-defense, and Tobey gleefully obliges, starting with his "Strike, Scream, and Run" technique ("Can I please leave? I have a rape flute," Angela says, bored, half-heartedly waving a red plastic recorder). Then Andy's assailant comes in with her mother (played by the lovely Tig Notaro) and we realize it's a young girl, exposing the truth behind the black eye. "God bless. A friend of mine uses your paper. You do good work," Notaro tells Andy with pity.
When the Sabre store opens, the Scranton team breaks into their roles — Dwight tries to incite a stampede and pushes out all the elderly people, Erin plays a hipster customer, and Cathy flirts with the crowd of bloggers to juice up some buzz for the company. Nellie puts all the pressure on Dwight to make the launch a success, slipping into anxiety attacks throughout the episode and pestering him to tell her what the bloggers mean by "fail" ("On the internet, that's a really good thing") or calling him "a no good half-ass cockeyed…" With his token hip prettyboy Ryan gone, Dwight turns to Jim to perform the flamboyantly absurd presentation ("Time. Space. Gender. There are no rules anymore. All boundaries are breaking down in the horizon of infinite future"). But unlike every other Jim/Dwight moment, Dwight's plea didn't have a drop of sarcasm or cynicism or judgment: "If you don't do this, I don't stand a chance. Please, Jim."
This rare show of real emotion is the kind of thing that makes The Office so unique amongst shows — the characters never quite fall all the way into their own ruts. Just when I thought Jim was going to mope and drag his ass through the whole season, he delivers a wow of a show, and when I was ready to punch Dwight in the glasses, he breaks into a real human mode. Sure, the Sabre store is an absurd pill to swallow at times, but between watching Jim dance on command like the monkey he is and seeing Andy finally realize, thanks to his bruised face, that sticking up for girls instead of himself will just turn him into a punching bag — that's enough of a reality check if you ask me.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.