“The Promotion” (The Office – S6:E3)
Posted by Mr. Feeny on October 13, 2009
All of NBC’s attention these past months has been on two things. Jay Leno and The Office wedding. And in my opinion, they both disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. “Niagara” (S6:E4) is a great episode of this modern classic sitcom. It focuses on individual character storylines, delivers some big lines, and comes through on the highly-anticipated marriage of Jim and Pam, in a uniquely Office way. And although I watched it in my own post-wedding attendance haze, I still felt it lacked something. It seemed to try too hard to find conflict and make characters buffoonish. Just didn’t feel as natural or real as many other episodes.
That’s why I’m going back a week to focus on this season’s third episode: “The Promotion.” That’s the best episode so far, and one of THE best of the series. Not the funniest, but one of the greatest in terms of storytelling and character development.
These are the Office episodes I most enjoy. Ones that rely less on the humor and more on the emotion and story. Every actor in this ensemble show constantly is able to convey their inner thoughts and feelings with just a look or a few words. That’s what makes it great. So when you have an entire episode heavy on significant glances or smirks or frowns, it’s almost always brilliant.
I was admittedly very nervous and skeptical about last week’s development. Michael and Jim sharing duties? Jim as a manager? Michael no longer THE boss? The writers were completely changing the fabric of the show. But hey, they’re about to marry off two main characters, which almost always is a “jump the shark” moment anyway, so why not?
At first, Jim seemed to be a completely different person in this episode. Humorless, straightforward, and acting like Michael’s superior (which you pretty much have to do to get on an even playing field with him). It was actually incredibly frustrating. Where did the fun-loving, sarcastic Jim go? Did he become the corporate suit he’s wearing as quickly as his office was built (seriously, how long did that take? There’s a full-size room where Creed’s desk used to be.).
But as the episode progressed, John Krasinski’s excellent performance showed the truth. Jim is simply trying to prove himself to everyone else. Plus himself. He realizes that he’s never been the manager-type. But he took the job because he needed to start moving upward. He needed to provide for Pam and the baby. So he bit the bullet, took a risk with Wallace, and now has to act and look the part. And clearly the only thing he knows about managing right now is to do the opposite of what Michael does.
Most of this episode’s focus was on Jim. We’ve seen Michael act like this before. It’s typical Michael Scott. Clueless, socially inept, childish, threatened, awkward. That’s Michael. And we’ve seen Jim’s act before too, just in other people. Pam or David Wallace or Charles Miner. Is that what Jim’s become?
Clearly not. It turns out he’s almost as overwhelmed as Michael has been all these years. Without realizing it — once again — Jim is following Michael’s path. He expected his relationship with his coworkers to be enough when it came to making tough decisions. “They like me, so they’ll accept what I have to say.” That’s all Michael’s ever known and wanted. To be friends with his employees. But Jim’s effort was shot down immediately. Every non-salesperson jumped on him for cutting their raise. Jim didn’t see that coming. A naiveity reminiscent of…Michael.
That’s what made this episode work so well. The two c0-managers completely switched positions through the course of the half-hour, illustrating how well they might be able to work together. Jim, although he’s the newbie, started the day feeling more competant than Michael. Because let’s face it, he always has been more on top of his game. But he’s never had Michael’s responsibilities. By the end of the day, though, Michael’s experience started to show itself. As did their friendship.
Was anyone else as taken aback by Jim’s honest criticism of Michael? It was almost cruel how Jim, fed up with Michael’s antics and unacceptance of the situation, cut him down for not being a good manager, decision-maker, etc. This was the most serious we’ve ever seen Jim and he clearly felt he needed to establish his authority in front of Michael. He then got his just-desserts when he couldn’t solve the problem and each one of his ideas failed. But, in typical Office fashion, Michael redeemed himself. I love this part of great Office episodes. Where you just have to smile and think “God, I love these characters.” Instead of rubbing in Jim’s failure, Michael just stood back knowingly. He then made a windsome comment about always having to make these decisions alone before and how much better it felt to have a comrade. Michael and Jim’s friendship is actually strengthening. I didn’t see that coming. Jim underestimated Michael. And Michael underestimated Jim.
And then, the perfect end to the episode. What has Michael been drinking in that “World’s Greatest Boss” mug all those years to get through these tough decisions? Not coffee. Gin. Welcome to the club, Jim Halpert.