The Office's Best Episode: Initiation

By Kelly West 2011-11-21 08:33:06 discussion comments
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Once again, we're tackling another show in TV Blend's weekly series "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. Jesse took on Futurama’s best episode last week and this week Kelly continues things by looking back at the U.S. version of NBC’s The Office. Read below, argue with us in the comments, and enjoy the new series!


I actually felt lucky when I snatched up The Office for the “Best Episode” feature. Not only does it remain one of my favorite comedies on television, but there are also so many fantastic episodes to choose from. I couldn’t make my decision in haste, which is why I set out to re-watch the first seven seasons of the series (thanks Netflix!) before making my decision. And after watching hours and hours of The Office, I found that I was no closer to making this choice than I was before.

I considered going with one of bigger episodes, like Niagara or Casino Night. These pillar episodes are hard to ignore, especially considering I can’t seem to get through the end of Niagara without tearing up. But in the end, I felt I needed to go with an episode that defines what’s so great about The Office to begin with. An episode that captures the brilliance and humor in the mundane, while also showcasing the characters we’ve come to know and love over the course of more than a hundred and fifty episodes. In doing this, I narrowed it down to “The Injury” and “Initiation” and went with “Initiation” largely because it includes Ed Helms’ character Andy, and also because it’s really hard to top Pretzel Day, even with a George Foreman grill.

The fifth episode of The Office’s third season, “Initiation,” has Dwight and Ryan on a sales call, the Scranton Branch celebrating “Pretzel Day” and Jim in Stamford dealing with a squeaky chair.
Dwight: And just as you have planted your seed in the ground, I am going to plant my seed in you.

The episode opens with Dwight attempting to outsmart Ryan with a bunch of brain teasers, all of which Ryan already knows the answers to. This is the start of the duo’s brief partnership, which will have Ryan shadowing Dwight on a sales call. Dwight’s always been something of a know-it-all, and he’s often eager to show off the glory that is Schrute Farms. Factor that in with the fact that at this point in the series, Michael’s man-crush on Ryan was at an all time high, which never went unnoticed by Dwight, and it’s no surprise that Dwight would prolong the day by dragging Ryan out to his beet field and forcing him to participate in a number of pointless tasks, like planting a beet seed, answering questions about Michael Scott, and attempting to make him wrestle his cousin Mose.
Dwight: What is Michael Scott’s greatest fear?
Ryan: Um, loneliness. Maybe women.
Dwight: Wrong. He’s not afraid of anything. Also, I would have accepted snakes.

In the end, Dwight does end up giving Ryan some good sales advice. Of course, he saves all of that for a cram-session in the car on the way to the sales call. Ryan doesn’t make the sale and after egging the front of the office, the two head to the bar for a couple of drinks. It’s a bonding moment that never really goes anywhere, but it does show the human side to Dwight. And Ryan’s willingness to put up with everything Dwight makes him do is a mark of his ability to admit, if only to himself, that he does have a lot to learn and he’s not going to get all of that knowledge from business school.

Meanwhile, back at Dunder Mifflin Scranton, it’s Pretzel Day. While Jan has Pam logging everything Michael’s doing all day, Michael is spending a good chunk of the day waiting on line to get a free pretzel downstairs. The only person who shares his enthusiasm for the pretzels is Stanley.
Stanley: I wake up every morning in a bed that's too small, drive my daughter to a school that's too expensive, and then I go to work to a job for which I get paid too little... but on pretzel day... well, I like pretzel day...

Michael ends up getting hyped up on too much sugar, courtesy of his pretzel with “the works” worth of toppings, and after tossing out some great suggestions about how to improve office efficiency, and making one sales call, he falls asleep at his desk for the rest of the day. You’d think that would have been a problem, considering there wasn’t much on Pam’s list other than “Cosby Impression,” but as it turned out, he made a huge sale while high on pretzel-toppings and carbs. And this, in a nutshell, is how Michael Scott is where he is. He may not be the best at managing, socializing or prioritizing, but he’s a hell of a salesman.

“Initiation” is a point in the series when Jim was still in Stamford and we were just getting to know Karen and Andy. The trio were featured in a simple arc about a squeaky chair, which none of them wanted to get stuck with. Jim pays Karen back for sticking him with the chair by singing The Cardigan’s “Love Fool,” which in turn gets stuck in Andy’s head... “What ever happened to those guys?”

The episode ends with Jim and Pam on the phone from Stamford to Scranton. It’s obviously the first conversation they’ve had in a while. Maybe since “Casino Night.” And it’s a nice re-connection between the two characters. It’s awkward and tentative at first, but it’s also evident in their voices that they missed each other and that each was probably wondering when they’d have this conversation. It’s the official re-start in their relationship.

In essentially studying the series from start to finish, I realized that a lot about what’s so great about The Office is in the little things. The series has continued to build on itself over the years, making it as much a show about office life as it is about the characters who spend a good chunk of their day with one another, working and sometimes playing together despite their differences. In that respect, I could find no better episode than “Initiation.” The episode isn’t a game-changer for the series, but it’s the best example of why The Office is as beloved as it is. Whether it’s celebrating the little things that make a day go by a bit faster, like a free pretzel, trying not to get stuck with the squeaky chair, or spending some time in the field (literally), The Office is a character story with a setting many can relate to. “Initiation” taps into that perfectly. That's what she said.
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