I'm running out of ways to say just how great The Office still is, six seasons in. This week's episode, "The Lover" -- written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky and directed by Eisenberg -- was a textbook example of how to make a great half-hour comedy feel fresh even while relying on characters that have been doing the same things for years now. Michael has had awkward relationships before, and Dwight has done quasi-Machiavellian things, and etc., but the episode was still a strong installment that could only happen now.
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The cold open was great: To greet Pam and Jim on the return from their honeymoon in Puerto Rico, Michael came out in sunglasses as "Blind Guy McSqueezy," almost grabbing Pam's chest and entertaining only Dwight in the process. "It's a character I've been workshopping," Michael told the camera. "The women in my improv class absolutely hate him."
The payoff of the episode was that Michael's flirtations with Pam's mom at the wedding two weeks ago have indeed paid off. "I have recently taken a lover," he tells Jim, before dropping the bomb that it's Jim's mother-in-law. Jim is horrified, and his blurred expletive is one of the few times the show has done that. (Pam does it later.) Jim begs Michael not to tell Pam, but it comes out when Pam discovers Michael has a date and presses him for info, thinking it'll be fun gossip. He admits he's seeing the mother of a coworker, and the look of dawning comprehension on Pam's face is priceless, as is her screaming run out of the office. (Michael's reaction was cute, too: "That could have gone one of two ways, but I never expected her to get upset.")
Pam's anger spiral led to her lashing out in meetings and having some awkward back-and-forth with Michael like a child and parent, and it also bled over into Jim's life. Earlier, Dwight gave him a wooden mallard that had a listening device inside, so Jim went to the mattresses and spent the rest of the episode screwing with Dwight's head. The best was when he called Andy into his office, cranked up some opera, and talked about Dwight so much they started pointing at him; Dwight, only able to hear the music and see the gesturing, slid into an awesome paranoia. (Bonus: The music made Creed cry!)
Michael tried to play Toby off Pam, even going so far as to be nice to him, which Toby ate up like an abused puppy. But -- smartly -- the story didn't wrap up neatly by the end of the episode. Michael felt bad for alienating Pam, but he also clearly has some level of feeling for her mom, and the speech he gives about being nice and generous and just wanting to find happiness was moving, in its way. Pam calmed down a bit, but not much, and was able to lean on Jim. And Jim beat Dwight, catching him out and forcing him to wash and buff Jim's car as an apology, which Jim told Pam was something Dwight had done just to make her feel better. Seriously, between this and 30 Rock, NBC owns the funniest hour on TV.