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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Column: Surprise, surprise

“The Office” has really gone downhill. It’s one of my favorite shows, but Ellie Kemper’s hotness can only compensate for so much. When Michael Scott left, he took the show’s ingenuity with him, and “The Office” appears to be dying slowly. It would take a crazy idea to salvage it now.

And that’s where Toby comes in.

Toby’s the most boring antagonist I’ve ever seen, but it would be an amazing coup if he were revealed to be the Scranton Strangler.

From a character development point-of-view, it makes perfect sense. Toby is lonely and downtrodden, consigned to being Michael’s punching bag for seven seasons. The most memorable Toby moment in the series is when Michael declares: “If I had a gun, with two bullets, and I was in a room with Hitler, Bin Laden and Toby, I would shoot Toby twice.”

Nobody really seems to love him, as he’s divorced and pays hundreds of dollars for a Christmas present just so he can win his daughter’s affections.

When Toby was a child, he was forced to testify against his divorced parents and choose between them, an episode capable of imparting permanent scars. It would be far more efficient for a serial criminal to use a gun, but strangling would be more personally cathartic for a man with deep-seated emotional issues.

Referring back to the plot, Toby is also a man who simultaneously craves and resents love. His stilted relationships with Pam (the receptionist) cast him in a suspicious light. In the episode “Night Out,” Toby puts his hand on Pam’s leg in an awkward moment. Upon realizing how awkward the moment is, Toby sprints and nimbly scales a chain-link fence.

Very few middle-aged HR reps could hop fences as deftly as Toby does. It could be attributed to a release of adrenaline, or it could be attributable to a double life as a criminal.

In reality, it’s a stunt double scaling the fence. But within the reality of the show, it’s Toby. In any case, it’s one of the first major signs that Toby is more than he appears.

Coincidentally (or not), on the day Jim and Pam’s daughter, Cece, is born, another Scranton Strangler murder is reported. At this point in the show, it’s clear that Toby once liked Pam, and it’s not a stretch to think that Cece’s birth threw Toby into a jealous rage.

Andy was going to have the front page of the newspaper framed as a gift, and the original headline would’ve been “First Day of Spring.” Indirectly, the Scranton Strangler cast a shadow over a special day for Jim and Pam, and the evidence points to Toby’s involvement.

In the episode “Frame Toby,” Michael plants “marijuana” (Caprese salad) in Toby’s desk and calls the cops. Toby becomes uncharacteristically defensive and aggressive, asserting that he has rights and that he doesn’t consent to searches.

Toby seems to romanticize crime. At one point, he mentions that he’s writing a mystery novel, and that his greatest fantasy is to launch a mystery podcast. He also can’t resist going with Dwight to stake out Darryl’s house. Crime is one of the few things Toby expresses passion for.

That’s all just conjecture, though, which is a nice way of saying that I’m talking out of my ass. I doubt that’s how the series will actually end, and I doubt that this article matters to anyone who is not a die-hard “Office” fan.

But Toby’s situation is a reminder that almost nothing is set in stone. A show that’s been trending downward for multiple seasons could finish strong. A man who’s been kicked around for nine years could steal the show.

Imagine what a twist that would be, a dark drama masquerading as a lighthearted comedy, slowly building up to a crescendo that we’re completely oblivious to. If Toby were unmasked as the Scranton Strangler, it would be difficult to ever trust a co-worker again.

In the episode “Casino Night,” Michael asks Toby: “Why are you the way that you are? I hate so much about the things you choose to be.” Michael’s words might prove shockingly prescient, and for better or worse, the people in your life will always have the capacity to surprise you.

Share your conspiracy theories with BEN CHANG at bcchang@ucdavis.edu.


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