The Office (S05E02): “Business Ethics”

Grade: A+

This week The Office returned to its half hour format, which is a good thing considering I don’t think I could have handled thirty more minutes of laughing as much as I did during “Business Ethics”, an episode automatically ranking as one of the best Office episodes to date.

There isn’t a weak scene to be found during “Business Ethics”, landing one knock after another to the funny bone. Considering there weren’t many quiet spots, there were a whole lot of highlights. Michael and Holly’s rendition of Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical”, changed to Let’s Get Ethical, leads right into Ryan’s candid talk about what got him demoted, which involved hooking up with a girl whom he describes as looking like a chick off the sixth season of Survivor (a TV reference Dwight totally gets), which then jumps to Dwight’s veiled jab toward Andy when he answers a hypothetical question regarding stealing bread to feed your family with the absurd and oh so very Dwight answer of “False, it’s a trick question. The bread is poison and it’s not you’re real family: You’ve been cuckolded by a stronger, smarter male.” The whole episode is relentless with its comic pacing, and provides a perfect example of how to take the ensemble of a fairly long running show and use all their quirks, histories, and relationships with each other to craft a nearly flawless twenty plus minutes of comic gold.

Possibly the funniest scene of the episode, and maybe the most laugh out loud worthy one in seasons, was between Jim and Dwight. The setup for it begins in the ethics meeting, where Holly lets everyone know that wasting time is a form of stealing, just as bad as taking money. Well, Jim sets out to prove Dwight wastes time just like everyone else, so he gets out his stopwatch and goes to town. He times Dwight’s yawns, his sneezes and when things get boring he incites Dwight into talking and then times that as well. Then, the main event: Jim goes to Andy and starts talking about Battlestar Galactica, a well known passion of Dwight’s that is so good anyone not watching is, in his own words, an idiot. Jim calls the aliens on the show Klingons rather than Cylons, says it’s a shot-for-shot remake, and calls the main character Dumbledore Callrizzion, all while Dwight is gnashing his teeth and wanting oh so badly to stand up and set the record straight. But every time he flinches, Jim flashes the stopwatch. You can almost hear the nerdish fanboy rant he would have given if he had the chance, but he restrains himself and manages not to stop working for the rest of the day–even resorting to peeing in an empty soda bottle rather than waste time going to the bathroom. He finally slips up for 19 minutes and change when he meets Angela for some afternoon delight, proving to Jim he’s at least a little bit human.

The other hysterical running story belongs to the often underused Meredith. No more than a kind-of-pretty face in the premier, she reveals a bombshell during the ethics meeting, thinking Michael’s promise of immunity is real and not just him running his mouth. Turns out, she’s been getting discounts on paper and Outback Steakhouse coupons for over six years by sleeping with the supplier. As with all her sexual exploits, she seems pretty calm about the whole thing, but Holly…not so much. This proves to be a serious ethical dilemma for our good HR and sets off a series of tense meetings between her and Michael. He sees the office as his family, as he always has, but she sees it as a workplace. He sees firing Meredith as getting rid of one of his children while she sees it as just business. And then he wants to woo Holly during their ethical meeting sessions while she seems strictly business, except for cracking a couple of times to quote the Terminator and so forth, making it obvious she’s one of the few people that honestly can’t seem to resist Michael’s unique brand of charm.

This debate of whether to fire Meredith or not leads to a middle school style rift between the two, mostly on Michael’s part. He cuts her to get to the copier, only to copy a picture he pulls from the wall, and takes the coffee put from the break room with him when she comes in to get a cup all in an attempt to get her to see things his way. Like I said: Middle school. When the corporate HR rep calls and takes Michael’s side, though for strictly financial reasons (getting deals are good, no matter how you get the discounts!), a defeated Holly realizes it is all about the bottom line and not about real questions of right and wrong. Seeing her deflated, Michael rushes to his crush’s aid and all seems right in their semi-creepy little world. Turns out, she wasn’t going by the books so much as by her own set of moral codes and ethics, which really only makes her more of a woman after Michael’s own heart. Perhaps he realizes this or perhaps not when he decides to drop the childish feuding. Either way, their relationship is going places and I can’t think of a better character to be brought in to play off of Michael.

The final scene is pretty hilarious, too, with the whole office sitting down to a meal from Outback, compliments of Meredith and her whorish ways. Phyllis says she doesn’t really care how they got the food, she’s just glad they have it, to which Stanley replies, “Amen, just keep the ribs comin'” And I second that, bit slightly amended: I don’t care how, but keep these fantastic Office episodes coming.

P.S. So Jenna Fischer didn’t appear as Pam for a second this episode, which I think may be a first for this show. She did, however, take part in the opening scene via telephone, where Jim finally reveals to his co-workers that they’re engaged. It goes exactly how he expected it to, which is why he was delaying it, and after being tackled to the floor by a giddy Michael, you can hear Pam saying sorry. Good stuff.

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