'The Office': Do as I say, not as I say

maura-tierney-office2.jpg"The Office" has gone to the Andy-Robert well numerous times this season, with varying results. But the addition of a third party to the mix -- Maura Tierney as episode title character "Mrs. California" -- made this trip down CEO-manager lane pretty satisfying.

What made it work was not the fact that Robert was being his usual inscrutable self, but that he was entirely scrutable: He announced what he wanted pretty emphatically when he burst into the office and told Andy not to hire Susan. He then spent the rest of the time trying to look like the good guy to her.

We knew that, and Andy knew that too. But because he's still terribly uncomfortable around Robert, he could never find the line to walk where he could appear to (finally) stand up to Robert and send everyone away happy.

Susan California also knew what was going on, which piled on the discomfort even more, giving us a half-hour of cringy comedy that the show has done brilliantly in the past but hasn't really approached this season. The winces came from a different place than they did with Michael Scott, but they worked just about as well.

The fact that Tierney played Susan as both a pretty nice person and someone who can totally see through her husband helped a lot. Yes, she played Andy too at the end of the episode, holding him to his small-talk "you should totally come back" patter. But she managed to come out as the sympathetic one of the Californias here, and I'm kind of hoping she's available to return later in the season.

Susan California also brought out a side of Robert that we hadn't previously seen -- it's the first time we've seen him not in control of a situation. It's never explicitly said why Robert doesn't want his wife working at the company, but if he's that flustered around her, it's not hard to guess why. And the lengths he (and Jim) went to to prove his point (or get out of the argument) only ratcheted up the squirm. Well played.

So, OK -- it would be nice to see Andy grow a spine in Robert's presence sometime between now and the end of time. But it took Michael years to have a grown-up conversation with a superior, so I'm willing to be patient. Particularly if his path to being a better manager produces more episodes like this.

Other thoughts on "Mrs. California":

  • The B-story of Dwight opening a gym and trying to lure Darryl as a client was pretty slight, but it showcased a previously underused teamup. Dwight's aggression meeting up with Darryl's laconic nature, combined with the first, "Saw V"-esque iteration of the gym, was a nice little break from the main story.
  • We also saw one of the better cold opens of the recent past with Dwight's stand-up desk. It's rare that Dwight admits he's beaten, but it was pretty much required in this case.
  • Two excellent Creed moments this week -- his refutation of Dwight calling the sitting-down people a suicide cult and his remote-control helicopter session on the roof: "What about your friend?"

What did you think of "The Office" this week?
Photo/Video credit: NBC