Keeping the pace of last week’s season premiere, this week’s episode of "The Office" has shown diehard fans that the crew at the Scranton office of Dunder Mifflin have weathered their leading man departure well, and the patchwork of dysfunction they all operate under continues in a fashion jut as entertaining as the first seven seasons.
Mysteriously intimidating CEO Robert California's gravitas and motivational impact among the staff was the spark that lit the fuse for "The Incentive" to take off, with Andy Bernard challenged with the task of doubling his staff's productivity in the quarter – without any logical way how. He initiates an incentive program point system, in which the staff can win an assortment of useless items with points they've accumulated. This naturally goes over like a lead balloon, and Nard Dog is left scrambling – until, at Jim's prodding, he makes matters interesting by promising the staff that they could tattoo whatever they wanted on his ass for 5,000 points, which would effectively set them on course to reach their goal in no time.
We've never seen the office at Dunder Mifflin so dedicated to productivity and getting the job done. Stanley actually showing some animated enthusiasm for the first time ever, Kevin, Oscar and Angela throwing numbers and barking angrily at anyone coming close, and even Dwight getting in on the teamwork was an exciting sight to anyone – except Andy, that is, who hadn't actually thought through the commitment he was putting on the line until it seemed that it was actually possible.
They reach their goal, and we sadly cast aside Pam & Angela's dueling pregnancies, a Darryl ex-wife subplot (is he going to just get scraps this season? It seems his role has been criminally diminished) and Kevin's abbreviated speak ("It saves so much time!") for the sake of heading out to the tattoo parlor, where a terrified Andy is about to get Phyllis' design of "his ass actually giving birth to a baby". Lovely image.
Halpert always seems to play both the subtly vital antagonist and the cooler head of reason, a dichotomy of character that keeps him one of the more fascinating personalities on the show, despite his relative Pam-inspired milquetoast persona most of the time. As with Michael's more breathless near-breakdown moments, it's Jim who follows a panicky Andy outside for a dose of much-needed perspective and psychological massage.
Andy puts his chin up and commits to the ink, and in the final moment the staff switches the unsightly original design for a cute little dog with a collar that reads "Nard Dog". The new boss is thrilled, the staff met their goal, and the challenge that Robert California's terrifyingly intimidating zen-aggressor laid out was effectively accomplished. It's a true notch in the belt for Andy's fledgeling leadership, and a reassurance to the staff that while the flavor may be different, this buffoon at the wheel may very well do just as well as the old buffoon.
The lack of attention to subplots in the show's singular focus is forgivable if it's not a repeated feature. It's necessary to establish our trust and belief in Andy as the office leader, and there are a few token moments necessary to concrete those emotions. The tattoo parlor moment, coupled with the rush of effective incentive within the office, was a heartwarming dose of promise that the floundering, terrified new boss is worth keeping our attention invested. The show is delicately trying to reinvent itself in a post-Carrel world, and cautiously, slowly, it's working well.