The Office returned tonight from a brief hiatus, picking up where it left off with the episode “Classy Christmas.” I felt that episode was the best of season seven thus far. However, I was still waiting for their finally to be a great episode in Steve Carell’s final season. Well, my wait ended this evening with “Ultimatum.” This was the great episode I’d been waiting for.
The titular ultimatum is in regards to the relationship between Holly, the love of Michael’s life, and A.J., her current beau. The gang apparently was on vacation for the holidays, so nobody knew whether or not he had proposed by New Year’s, or if their relationship is over. Needless to say, Michael was anxious.
It seems quite clear now that having Holly around brings out the best in Michael as a character. It was a tour de force for him in this episode. Knowing how emotional he was going to be regardless of the outcome of Holly’s ultimatum, he prepares to calm himself down emotionally the only way he knows how, by videotaping himself trying to calm himself down. Of course, there was the sad video and the happy video, but Erin and Michael kind of ruin the sad video by laughing at the word “snot.”
There was a lot of comedic gold with Michael and Erin’s interactions in this episode, and I might as well call out how tremendous this episode was for Erin in general. She managed to steal the show in an episode where there were a lot of strong performances and story lines. Incidentally, this episode was written by Carrie Kemper, the sister of Ellie Kemper, who plays Erin. Why, could it be that Ellie’s sister knows how to write to Ellie’s strengths as a performer? Is that even possible?
Anyway, back to the storyline. Michael and Erin go about setting up his happy box and his sad box, preparing for either scenario. Then, Holly shows up, but her ring finger is nestled in a mitten, leaving everybody to wonder a little longer. A few people follow her to the annex, where she finally realizes what everybody is waiting for. The reveal; she has no ring. Break out the happy box! Cue the Michael and Erin party (which was awesome)! Start up Michael’s happy video, which managed to make the whole thing even better! It was a joyous stretch of episode.
However, the joy would be dashed eventually, when Michale overhears a conversation between Holly and A.J. on the phone. He starts to think that maybe their relationship isn’t over, and so when Phyllis agrees to try and talk to her about it, Michael reluctantly agrees, but only if she brings Erin to balance things out. More Erin oddness brings some laughs to the following conversation, but the important thing is that Holly rethought the whole ultimatum thing. Needless to say, this is awful news for Michael. Thus, naturally, he decides to lash out in anger.
At this point I need to mention the “B” story about the New Year’s Resolution Board. You see, Pam met the office administrator from Vance Refrigeration and thinks she’s great (Phyllis, for her part disagrees). Pam is inspired by all the motivational stuff she does for Vance and decides to bring some of that to Dunder-Mifflin. As such, she starts a New Year’s Resolution Board where people put their resolutions on index cards, because there’s nothing better than putting your personal, private goals on display in your workplace.
Anyway, they have a little meeting about it that Pam leads, which includes a nice moment where Pam throws Erin a frisbee and Gabe tries to intercept it but botches it. I don’t feel like they do those moments enough anymore. However, Michael hijacks the conversation to berate people for not sticking to their resolutions, a not so thinly veiled dig at Holly. Unfortunately for Kevin, he becomes the brunt of Michael’s anger. Since he isn’t sticking to his “eat more vegetables” resolution, Michael decides to foist some vegetables on him, even sort of feeding him agressively at one point. Holly is upset by things and flees the room. When Michael goes to console her, he finds her crying and unwilling to talk.
To rectify his mistakes, he brings Holly into a meeting he’s having with Kevin and Creed in which he apologizes to them in a fashion that is clearly more directed at Holly. This results in a hug from Kevin, and it may have been the catalyst for Holly asking A.J. for a break from their relationship.
This was a very well done “A” story. It was funny, but as is usual with Michael and Holly stories it had a lot of emotional heft as well. A little lighter and funnier than the Christmas stuff, but still more dramatic than a lot of things on the office.
Fortunately, the adventures of Dwight, Andy, and Darryl brought plenty of lightness and hilarity to the mix. Andy’s resolution is to learn to make dinner for one. However, he eventually adopts Dwight’s resolution of meeting a “loose woman.” Darryl tells them the bookstore is the place to do that, but only because his resolution is to read more, and this way he gets to eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the way. At the bookstore, he buys a Kindle (or a Kindle like device, at the very least) but then has to hide it from Dwight and Andy, what with working for a paper company and all. Meanwhile, Dwight and Andy strike out.
Dwight decides to take them to a strip club, but Darryl tries to convince them otherwise, since it is noon on a Monday. They then decide to go across the street to a roller rink to try and meet ladies. It does not happen, but that’s alright with them. Andy grooves by himself on the rink to some Dave Matthews Band while Darryl secretly reads from his Kindle or Kindle like device. Dwight, meanwhile, skates across the road to the strip club. In the thrilling conclusion, as they are about to leave, the guy running the music says he’ll put on the strobe light, so the three of them head out onto the rink to get their groove on. It was very “Cafe Disco” and very awesome.
There were a couple of other good Resolutions Board based jokes before Pam scraped the project, primarily Oscar getting another dig in on Angela’s state senator significant other. Also, Creed’s resolution to do a cartwheel led to a couple of good jokes. First, Erin does a cartwheel which leads to Creed showering her with a barrage of curse words. Incidentally, Kevin had some choice words (and a choice finger) for Holly earlier in the episode when he mistook a gesture of hers. Then, in the cold close, Michael tries to help Creed do a cartwheel. He fails, but proceeds to claim success anyway.
You know what this episode didn’t have much of? Jim, which is something that is going to make quite a few people happy, as I’ve read some Jim bashing this season. If I’m not mistaken, he only really appeared in the cold open. He comes into the office looking for his Blackberry, only to find Dwight holding a meeting of the Knights of the Knight. They are like the Guardian Angels, but they aren’t the same group. Dwight gets defensive immediately with Jim’s presence, expecting some snide remarks that never come. This is the kind of Jim and Dwight stuff I like, as opposed to the over the top maliciousness of the Christmas episode. Just two guys who don’t like one another busting each other’s chops. It doesn’t need to go beyond that.
The Office returned from the break stong with this great episode. With Holly still around, I think there is promise for some more real good stuff around the bend. I expect Michael to stay within the parameters I like, and the supporting cast is strong as always, especially in an episode like this where Dwight, Erin, and Andy were all used well. Those are characters that in the past have shown that they can be mismanaged easily. Not in “Ultimatum” however, and that’s one of the reasons I thought this was the first great episode of season seven.