The Office: “Junior Salesman” and “Vandalism” (9.13/9.14)

TV Reviews
The Office: “Junior Salesman” and “Vandalism” (9.13/9.14)

Part of what made The Office such a success early on was its insistence on taking its time. It was two full seasons before Jim and Pam so much as kissed and another two before they finally wound up together—prior to that, viewers had to take what they could get and find satisfaction in the little details. An inside joke, a stolen glance across the office, another near-confession of feelings: these weren’t just bones thrown to an audience of hopeless romantics; they were the building blocks of a compelling character relationship, and they were laid in real-time.

I’m not sure what this thing with this boom operator is—OK, I’ve got a pretty good idea, more on that later—but I know it’s happening way too fast.

We met Brian the boom guy for the first time last week when he entered the frame to console Pam after her fight with Jim, and it worked extremely well in that instance. The camera crew at Dunder Mifflin has been virtually invisible for nine years now (save for the outstretched arm of whoever Michael handed his mic pack to when he made his exit), so literally bringing them into the picture successfully illustrated the severity of the situation. These guys—who have apparently become pretty fond of their subjects over the years—have managed to keep their distance all this time, so surely this isn’t your run-of-the-mill spat. It’s a major fight that could have serious ramifications on Jim and Pam’s marriage, so Brian has no choice but to swoop in and comfort our damsel in distress. Fine. Great.

But then this week opens with an awkward, stealthy shot of Pam and Brian’s legs as we hear them discussing how the producers are cracking down on crew members talking to subjects. There’s some gravity to what they’re saying, but they laugh and crack a few jokes about it too. What exactly is this footage supposed to be? Is the camera guy just messing around before filming for the day begins, testing his light perhaps? Or has he noticed something developing between Pam and Brian and made a creative choice to film their interactions for the documentary?

The rest of “Junior Salesman” basically serves to set up the gut-punch of “Vandalism.” Dwight has been tasked with hiring a junior salesman to cover for Jim’s Philadelphia-related absences, and he brings in all his weirdo friends to interview for the job. They are predictably bizarre and moderately funny, but it turns out they’re all terrible at selling paper. Dwight realizes this, and eventually (with a little coaxing from Jim and Pam, who want Pam’s new desk buddy to be as tolerable as possible) he decides to hire Clark. Jim tells the camera that the people around you matter and reminds us that he fell in love with Pam by sharing the office with her for years. The implication here is that while Jim’s worried about who will be sitting next to his wife, maybe he should be a little concerned about the guy who’s been holding a mic over her head for nine years instead.

“Vandalism” is where everything kind of hits the fan. While Jim and Darryl are arguing over dirty dishes in their new, shared apartment in Philly and Oscar and Kevin pay a visit to Angela and the Senator’s fundraiser, Pam’s out for revenge after discovering someone in the warehouse has spray-painted butts all over her mural. Dwight and Nelly volunteer to help her track down the culprit, and once they figure out it’s some cartoonishly mean warehouse guy named Frank, they bring him in for an HR meeting. Toby fails to do anything though, and Pam’s not satisfied, so she and Dwight set out to avenge her mural. After finding out from Darryl that Frank’s prized possession is his truck, they head to the parking lot and paint all over it (with water-based paint that’ll wash off in the rain). Pam makes an unflattering portrait of Frank pooping, and in a touching gesture, Dwight attempts to recreate Pam’s mural on the “butt” of the car.

Frank storms out and catches them in the act, and of course he’s livid—so much so that he charges toward Pam and for a second it looks like he actually might hit her. But then it’s Brian to the rescue as he swoops in to protect Pam, blocking Frank with his trusty boom and then roughing him up a bit. Finally, we see another private moment between Brian and Pam, as Pam says she’ll explain to the producers that he was defending her and we learn he and Frank have both been fired. But like any valiant, personality-less knight in shining armor, Brian knows that sometimes the noble thing to do is fall on one’s sword, so he doesn’t fight the decision. He does, however, give Pam a look pretty similar to the one Jim gave her at casino night right before he told her he loved her way back in season two and say “If you ever need anything, ever, please call me.” Cut to Pam looking equally confused and grateful.

Have we seen the last of Brian? Will Jim’s physical and emotional distance actually push her into the arms of another man (temporarily, at least. There’s no way The Office is ending with Jim and Pam unhappy or apart.)? That seems to be what’s being set up here, but it all feels too rushed and forced. We’ve only seen Brian briefly in three episodes now—not nearly enough time to establish any real chemistry between him and Pam—and all of a sudden he’s being hinted at as a threat to Jim and Pam’s marriage? It’s an interesting idea, and it’s certainly one of the more out-of-the-box episodes of The Office we’ve seen; I just wish the writers had thought of it sometime last season instead.

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