Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christmas TV Episode #7: "The Office"

4.) "The Office" 3.10 A Benihana Christmas (Watch it now.)

This episode is crucial to several of the character dynamics in "The Office" (which are all particularly well-done, bravo), and how these dynamics are going to play out over the coming seasons. The dynamics I'm speaking of in particular here are those between Jim and Pam and Jim and Michael. In this episode, we see the first of a long, escalating line of glimmers that sort of clue us in on the fact that Jim is, indeed, still in love with Pam, and that the possibility of a real relationship between them has not been diffused in any way. Jim is dating Karen at this point, but the rebound theme in this episode (Michael, having just been dumped by Carol, experiences his first rebound relationship after a silly, well-rendered lunch at Benihana), finally introduces the idea that Karen may, in fact, be just that--a rebound--and the reality of their relationship takes a turn. Karen is not a placeholder, because their relationship is given quite a bit of expository weight (the fact that they both buy each other the same Christmas present says quite a bit all by itself), and while maybe we're not rooting for this relationship to work out, we certainly believe that it exists outside walls of Dunder Mifflin. It becomes clear, however, or the writing in A Benihana Christmas sort of makes it clear, that Karen is not the "girl in question." Karen is the rebound, because like Jim says: a rebound "can be a really fun distraction, but when it's over, you're left thinking about the girl you really like, the one who broke your heart." Jim's expression at this point, and the moment that follows, in which the camera kind of just stays on him and Michael sitting on that couch, is really telling of some complicated, internal realization, in which Jim self-reflects on the advice he's just given Michael, and is not surprised, but concerned, with what he's just unleashed.

In this episode, Pam's Christmas gift to Jim is an elaborate prank on Dwight that she's been working on for months, but Jim won't accept the gift at first, on the grounds that he's just gotten a promotion and shouldn't participate in this type of tomfoolery anymore. Pam is hurt, and so when she befriends Karen after that, I'm not quite sure if she's doing it totally out of compassion or a desire to make Karen feel welcome in the office. It seems to me that at least part of her is forming an alliance with Karen to make Jim feel uncomfortable. Even if she doesn't know this at the time, the agenda sort of lurks beneath the surface, adding even more tension to an already strained relationship. When Jim does end up accepting Pam's Christmas present in the end, the moment is so nonchalant that we don't really realize what this means. He's not given up on Karen, certainly not, but he has acknowledged something about himself that maybe he wasn't ready to before, something he hasn't acknowledged since leaving for Australia and transferring to the Stamford branch: he wants Pam in his life, and he liked his life better when she was in it.

Back to that scene on the couch with Jim and Michael, which is, I think, one of the subtler, more nuanced exchanges we've seen between these two particular characters--I think this scene is so great in that it really foreshadows a lot of what we're actually seeing on current episodes of "The Office." Now, Jim has been promoted to Branch Co-Manager and is technically on the same pay scale and same level as Michael Scott. Their relationship now is so interesting, because they're both isolated from the employees, and they both sort of get the same shit that Jim spent four seasons just giving to Michael. This new dynamic really changes the show, because Jim is off-kilter. He's not used to being the outcast, and Michael, who has this awed admiration for Jim (because Jim is laid back, he has a wife and a baby on the way, and he's got a great wardrobe and great hair) is now conflicted over having to share his boss responsibilities, because, I think, he enjoys the time they get to spend together sharing them. Anyway, this current tension in the Jim-Michael relationship is foreshadowed and set up nicely when they have this little moment on the couch in which Jim explains the rebound relationship to Michael, and internally, they're both sort of struggling with the same thing (on WAY different levels, mind you), so this connection is very real and very present in the scene.

Benihana Christmas, I think, is one of the best episodes of "The Office," simply because it really does a nice job juggling all of these complicated relationship dynamics with the outer story of rival Christmas parties and a guys lunch at what Michael refers to as "Asian Hooters." Is this episode Christmassy? Yes! Right from its opening scene, in which Dwight brings in a Christmas miracle to gut and prepare for the office as a snack.

UP NEXT: "I'm not sure, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I see...a nipple."

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