'The Office' sends a lot of mixed signals

office-body-language.jpg "The Office" asked us to read "Body Language," and what could have -- should have -- been another cover-your-eyes moment for Michael Scott turned out to be one where he came off surprisingly sympathetic.

The show pulled off kind of a nice little trick with this episode. Normally, when Michael bumbles and stumbles his way into a gut-wrenchingly awkward situation, it's pretty much all his fault. But the way that bar manager Donna (guest star Amy Pietz, doing a fine job at being the most inscrutable flirter, like, ever), first seen in "Happy Hour," was acting around him, well, who wouldn't be confused?

Certainly not the entire staff at the Scranton branch, who were no better at reading Donna's nonverbal cues than Michael was. Everybody, at some point, was wrong about what she was (not) saying -- but it also felt exactly right that no one would believe Michael at the end of the episode when he ran back upstairs to spill the beans about their kiss. Because, really, how many times have we seen him screw something like that up? Their skepticism is entirely justified, but for once, entirely wrong.

What remains to be seen, though, is where Donna falls on the spectrum of women we've seen Michael date. Is she more Holly, whose own goofiness complemented Michael's so well, or is she more like Jan -- i.e., in need of therapy? I'm hoping that she falls more toward the Holly/Carol end of things and turns out to be one of those women who falls for Michael in spite of both herself and his actions. (Although I fear that, after rebuffing him several times in the office and the exceptionally weird moment in the hallway, that she may be Jan Lite.)

I also really enjoyed that Michael's misreading-but-not-really of Donna allowed the show to play another beat in Pam's relationship with him. She seems to have forgiven him for the debacle with her mother and is once again showing her compassionate side, sticking with the romantic idea that Donna might actually like him longer than anyone else in the office. "She could've left a while ago," she notes. "Most printer sales are done over the phone, Ms. Boob-shirt."

The B-story had Gabe pushing Darryl to join Sabre's minority-executive program and Dwight -- angry that being a glasses-wearing, cholera-surviving non-organic farmer and genius didn't make him eligible -- decides to persuade Kelly to apply instead, reasoning that he could then manipulate her into doing whatever he wants.

There's a flaw in that plan, however: Ryan, who sees her advancement as his own ticket back to management. It played out somewhat predictably, with Kelly playing up her heritage to Sabre Lackey Gabe and Dwight getting increasingly frustrated, though I'm inclined to think it might have all been worth it just for Dwight's exasperated talking head: "Just once, I'd like to be a puppet master and have nothing go wrong. Is that too much to ask?"

Other notes from "Body Language":

  • Ladies and gentlemen, after a long absence, we have the return of the Creed Bratton moment of the week. When Phyllis notes that some people can't help oozing sexuality, he observes, "You ever notice you can only ooze two things? Sexuality and pus. Man, I tell ya."
  • Mindy Kaling made her episodic directorial debut tonight (she also helmed the "Subtle Sexuality" video) and did a solid job, I thought.
  • A couple of good Jim and Pam talking heads this week, with Jim looking very puzzled over Pam's voice changing when she tells a bad joke and this exchange: Pam: "You can flirt with someone to get what you want and also be attracted to them. How do you think we got together?" Jim: "'Cause I stopped by your desk 15 times a day." Pam: "I was after your money." Jim: "Well the joke was on you." Pam: "Yes it was."
  • Darryl, on choosing his softball league over the training program: "I got my whole life to be a minority executive. Only have about a year left in these knees, though."
  • No Andy-Erin stuff this week, which is fine, but I absolutely loved Erin's out-of-nowhere commentary as Dwight tried to rope Stanley and Oscar into the training program. Just her going "Mmmmm" by way of support for Stanley's response had me cracking up.
  • For that matter, so did Stanley's response to Dwight: "I'll smack you in the face with a rainbow."
  • Nice bit toward the end of the episode with Pam trying to comfort Michael: "I was wrong too. I thought she was interested in you." Michael: "She suckered you too ... was it the cleavage?" Pam: "Yeah -- and the shoulder cutouts."

What did you think of "Body Language," and what do you make of Donna? Where does she fall on the Holly-Jan scale?

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Photo credit: NBC