I realize that Michael Scott (Steve Carell) has always been a major focus of NBC’s The Office, but he’s always been more than bit clueless, especially about himself. With Carell’s days with the show dwindling, the series promised that they would stretch Michael in new and interesting ways, fully taking advantage of the actor’s talents before he is gone for good. Last week’s episode, “Sex Ed”, though the title applied more to the other plot going on, was one of Michael’s best episodes of the series.
Michael gets a cold sore, and thinking that he has the same kind of herpes you get as a sexually transmitted disease, he revisits all of his ex-girlfriends to warn them. It was very satisfying to see or hear again all of the women Michael has been involved with over the years, there are quite a few of them, including one that hasn’t been seen in many years. I think my favorite was Jan (Melora Hardin), who lost a lot of the crazy after being apart from Michael for an extended period of time. She has previously been represented as a sane person, but during her relationship, she and Michael fed off each other in such a bad way, dragging them both down in ways far from healthy. But Jan now seems much more stable and well-adjusted in her new job, raising her child as a single mother, and without Michael around.
What Michael discovered, and what attentive audience members have always suspected, on some level, though it was sometimes not obvious, is that Michael builds things up in his mind to be bigger than they actually are. Sure, plenty of times, we’ve seen that in Michael. But often with the women, that part is left off screen. I was fully invested in Jan and Michael once upon a time, and I liked his relationship with several of the others. Michael, though, is the perspective we are most often treated to, and he was much more serious about these girls than they were about him. Especially in retrospect, remembering them. Michael just doesn’t do this with women, but that was the case this week. And for the first time, Michael realized that was what he does.
Which makes what Holly (Amy Ryan) said that much more heartbreaking. When I said Jan was my favorite, I wasn’t counting Holly, as she is in a category all by herself. What she and Michael had was really real. They were perfect for each other, clicking so well. Unfortunately, after her forced transfer far away, she has been in a steady, long-term relationship for some time with another man. When she told Michael that he built them up, she was lying to spare his feelings. I was so gratified to see Michael realize this. Although, I’m not convinced that he’s convinced. Michael is still deeply in love with Holly, and as he told the camera that it was different with her, he seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as the audience. I firmly believe that he is right, and for evidence, I point to the fact that Ryan is expected to appear in at least half a dozen more episode before Michael bows off the show at the end of the year.
Clearly, The Office‘s writers, instead of going just for the laugh (which they very often do admirably), are going to take Michael through a journey of self-discovery, relishing the depths of a character who, at first glance, appears so surface. It’s incredibly awesome to tune in and see it, and I say kudos to everyone involved.
The Office continues tonight at 9pm on NBC.