an’t we all just get along? Well, if you were lucky enough to be in Scranton, Pa., last weekend for the lovefest, a.k.a. the OfficeConvention, you’d surely answer in the affirmative. But for high-strung Michael Scott in this corner and upwardly mobile Karen Filippelli in the other, the latest episode was aptly named. ”Branch Wars,” penned by Mindy Kaling, didn’t measure up to the brilliance of last week’s episode (”Local Ad”) but served up plenty of laughs and answered a burning question: Where’s Karen been since emptying out her Scranton desk?
Despite spoilers naming Rashida Jones as a guest star, seeing Karen felt like a welcome surprise. Now we know she landed on her feet as Dunder-Mifflin’s regional manager in Utica, a gig she called ”easy…when your boss isn’t an idiot and your boyfriend’s not in love with someone else.” That line only hinted at her bitterness toward Jim. (She later admitted she’d cried over him for weeks.) I never felt much sympathy toward Karen (envy, sure — could she be any prettier?). I did feel for Jim, the victim of unrequited love who tried to move on by rebounding with her. Looks like Karen’s feelings for him were far from casual. Whatever pain Jim was in, he was paying it forward by dating her. By the way, I doubt the return of ”Filippellers” (as Michael clumsily greeted her, adding, ”How’s it hangin’?”) means competition for Pam; Jim’s ex gave the distinct impression that she’d like to forget she ever met him.
Karen’s receptionist, Rolando, connected a caller from Michael’s office (as she explained it, ”a certain Scranton salesman approached me”), and soon Stanley — unfazed by Michael’s Ferris Bueller-inspired snoring-dummy decoy (”I don’t understand why sleeping at your desk is better than you being here”) — stunned his boss by announcing an offer from the Utica branch and his intention to accept. Flummoxed that the staff responded to Stanley’s news by congratulating their buddy, Michael blamed Jim for dumping Karen. As Michael reflected on Stanley’s ”bluesy wisdom…sassy remarks…the crossword puzzles…the smile…those big, red, watery eyes,” I reflected on Michael’s gaffe-tastic gift for circling around, but never zeroing in on, the true essence of anybody.
Asking Stanley to stay didn’t work. Neither did a swap proposed to Karen: Michael offered her Toby if she would give up Stanley, but in trying to list Toby’s great qualities, Michael couldn’t close the sale. Finally, a vengeful attempt to recruit Karen’s top salesman failed. After Michael asked the Utica dude, Ben, ”Do you like magic?” the collision with Meredith came up and an embarrassed Michael ejected Pam from the room. Ben said he’d heard that almost every Stamford-er quit under Michael, who nonsensically responded by threatening to fire Ben. True to form, Michael ignored all the stop signs and stepped on the gas, and the Branch War escalated.
Once Michael’s PT Cruiser hit the highway with Dwight in back and Jim riding shotgun, I thought the episode sputtered — although the escapade did result in some of Jim’s most uncomfortable moments in a series that has made squirming an art. Jim realized he was a kidnap victim being driven to Karen’s turf and reached for his cell phone, but Dwight’s fast reflexes sent it out the window. (Who was Jim calling: Pam? Ryan? 911?) Claiming that photos of his baby nephew stored on the phone were now gone, Jim got Michael to backtrack for the gadget. While they were all standing in the sun roadside, the depravity of Michael and Dwight’s intentions were revealed: a trunkful of Silly String and warehouse uniforms, plus gasoline and rubber foam. ”For stink bombs,” Michael said. ”Or real bombs,” Dwight added.
Now, the fake mustaches rocked (especially Dwight’s, which made him look like Rollie Fingers ). And I cracked up at Dwight quietly deciding to relieve himself in a soda can inside the moving car. But was it logical, in light of Michael’s termination-worthy plot, and Dwight’s preoccupation with blinding someone (”the eyes are the groin of the head”), that Jim needed to suit up, as he said, to ensure nothing would be blown up? No better solution was available, like, I don’t know, alerting the authorities? Did a part of him want to see Karen? I thought Jim (name patch: Madge) hiding in the car, hearing the ridiculous copier caper on his walkie-talkie, urging the cameraman to duck, and finally being spotted by Karen was all good stuff — just not great stuff. The momentum picked up when Karen, at the mention of Pam, got super sarcastic on Jim’s ass (”Things are going really well, are they?”), causing him to make an awkward exit that lacked all social graces.
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