In its second episode of the season, The Office this week takes the time to show us what has become of Dunder Mifflin’s former temp made boss, Ryan, as well as give us an update on nearly every single one of the romances we’ve been introduced to over the years. But, as important as all of those relationships are to fans of the show, there is still plenty of time for regional manager Michael Scott to take his incompetence to new heights as staff continues to demonstrate the everyday awkwardness the NBC sitcom does so well.

The show opens with the newly revealed couple of Jim and Pam spending some time together in front of the vending machine. Thinking they are alone, Pam bids her secret boyfriend goodbye with a brief kiss on the cheek. This does not go unnoticed, however, as corporate HR representative Toby, is nearby and witnesses the brief romantic encounter. Driven partially by jealously, Toby leaves a memo on Michael’s desk requesting to give the staff a lecture about appropriate public displays of affection among co-workers. When first Michael takes offense to this lecture, thinking it’s regarding him and Jan, followed by Angela insisting that the lecture is unnecessary as well, Toby reveals that inappropriate behavior was actually from Jim and Pam, forcing the two to reveal their relationship to the office. As the rest of the branch celebrate, Toby grows more depressed.

Later, Dwight meets with his secret girlfriend to make amends for killing her cat out of what he believed to be mercy in last week’s episode. In an attempt at a touching gesture, Dwight offers Angela a feral cat he caught on his farmland he named “Garbage.”  Angela grows angry at Dwight for not understanding what she is going through and Dwight again abandons the cat in a nearby office after Angela leaves.

Soon after, Ryan finally returns to the Scranton branch for the first time since being hired at the corporate office in New York. Sporting an expensive suit and a hip new beard, Ryan busily pounds away on his Blackberry before finally greeting Pam and the rest of the staff. Happy to see their former co-worker, Kevin and Andy Bernard quickly join Michael in teasing the former Scranton temp as they had grown accustomed to over the years, only to have Ryan explode in their faces in a temper. The three quickly back down but Michael, in his office, insists to the camera that Ryan was just putting on a show for the rest of the staff.

In the conference room, Ryan begins his presentation to the Scranton workers. The presentation is based around the future of Dunder Mifflin called “Dunder Mifflin Infinity.”  The concept is a streamlining of the company to a more web-based and tech-savvy business plan moving the company forward and helping it evolve with the times. After the meeting Creed expresses his concern to Michael in private about how this new direction will only result in “old people like them” becoming obsolete. Although Michael insists that he is not old yet, Creed assures him that he is old enough.

As Creed and Michael talk we are given a brief Jim and Pam moment as Jim finally tells Pam that, months earlier, he discovered Dwight and Angela were dating. Pam then reluctantly admits that she actually has known about Dwight and Angela for years. This is interrupted when Phyllis enters the break room in order to express her concern that Pam distribute calls fairly among the salespeople, despite the fact that she is “sleeping with one of them.” Jim claims that this was the very reason why they wanted to keep their relationship a secret in the first place.

Later, Ryan meets with Michael to discuss the future of the company. Though Ryan continues to explain that Dunder Mifflin is changing with the times and moving towards the future, Michael is resistant and insists that the old ways of business are still the best. Following his difficult meeting with Michael, Ryan is then forced into an even more uncomfortable conversation with Kelly, the Scranton employee that he is apparently still dating. Ryan insists that he is serious about being with Kelly and Kelly tells him that he better be sure of it because she is pregnant. We immediately find out in her interview that she is lying.

As Ryan and Kelly fight about their relationship, Dwight and Angela appear to move forward with theirs as Angela asks Dwight to dinner. Dwight is excited, thinking that this is a gesture of forgiveness.

Finally, the last office couple is seen as Jan stops by the office to have lunch with Michael. After a brief yet incredibly awkward encounter with her replacement, Ryan, Jan and Michael both complain about the new boss. When Michael expresses his concern about the company getting “younger”, Jan suggests threatening an “ageism” suit. Michael is intrigued by this suggestion, especially after he finds out the definition.

The next day Creed enters the office sporting a new jet-black spiked hairstyle along with a new wardrobe in an attempt to pass himself off as a much, much, much younger person.

Later that day, Ryan enters the conference room thinking that he is going to give a tutorial on the new company Blackberries but finds the staff already sitting down waiting. Apparently Michael has already called an immediate staff meeting in order to discuss the issue of age discrimination in the work place. To prove his point he begins by talking about the old lady from Titanic and the “Where’s the Beef?” lady and eventually brings in his guest speaker, company co-founder Robert Dunder. His attempt to use the company namesake as proof of old peoples’ worth backfires, though, when Mr. Dunder ends up rambling on about his old friends and various other stories. As the staff slowly begins to nod off, Michael abruptly escorts the old man out of the meeting.

Later that evening, we peak in to Dwight and Angela’s dinner. Unfortunately for Dwight, Angela only asked Dwight out to dinner in order to break up with him, since she can’t forgive him for killing her cat, Sprinkles.

The next day, Michael presents his plan to Ryan. Michael’s plan involves putting together expensive gift baskets to deliver to all of their former business partners in an attempt to win them back using old fashioned business methods. Despite the fact that Ryan, along with the rest of the staff, think that the idea is stupid and a waste of time, Michael commits to going to each business regardless. Heartbroken and in need of company, Dwight begs to go with Michael on his “quest” and Michael agrees.

As the two set off to deliver the baskets, Ryan, after finishing an argument with Kelly upon discovering that her pregnancy was a lie, tells an awestruck Kevin and Andy about his life in New York and the various celebrities he has run into. When Jim explains how he is less than impressed with Ryan’s somewhat arrogant attitude, Kevin and Andy make fun of him for not understanding how to be cool, offering that maybe he should attend “Awesome School” in order to learn.

Out in the field, Michael and Dwight meet with their first ex-client and unsuccessfully try to win him over with the gift basket while, back at the office, Ryan asks if Pam would be interested in redesigning the “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” logo. Pam is excited with this potential opportunity.

Michael and Dwight soon are meeting with their next ex-client. This time they try even harder to prove the importance of a personal touch to business, showing detailed knowledge of the owner’s personal life and family. The potential client still insists that a gift basket is not enough and Michael is forced to talk about Dunder Mifflin’s upcoming website and new business model which, much to Michael’s dismay, sparks his interest much more than any of the attempted personal gestures.

Discouraged, the two Scranton employees head off to the last business but, when the online navigational system of the car gives Michael unclear directions, he accidentally drives the car straight into a lake. After a needlessly stressful escape, the two head ashore. As the tow company drags the car out of the water, Michael and Dwight complain about technology and decide to head back to their last ex-client and reclaim their gift basket.

Back at the office, Pam shows Ryan the samples she made up. When he asks to see them over dinner, it becomes clear that he is just trying to ask Pam out on a date and she informs him that she is currently seeing Jim. Ryan nervously walks off, hiding his face from the camera and avoiding eye contact with Jim who witnessed the entire conversation.

Meanwhile, Michael and Dwight make it back to their former clients office and, after throwing an unbelievably inappropriate fit in his waiting room, leave with the remains of the reclaimed gift basket.

As The Office enters its fourth season with Jim and Pam finally together, it seems to be grasping wildly to find some sort of drama to fill the void left by the inevitable pairing of the main characters. Nearly every crush and inter-character romance was addressed in this episode as if the writers are trying to find a possible substitution for the Jim/Pam drama that has been such a staple of the series. This apparent struggle, however, is barely noticeable when the show still has such a large and incredibly talented supporting cast to draw from. Despite the fact that this season may be without the same romantic tension that filled the previous years, it still has enough developed characters to move the story forward and deliver enough good laughs to keep most Office fans satisfied.

-George Freitag, Buddy TV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of NBC)

George Freitag

Staff Columnist, BuddyTV