Perhaps there are signs of life in ‘The Office’ after all. After the pre-Thanksgiving episode only delivered a few mild chuckles, ‘Mrs. California’ has several hilarious moments, as well as several awkward scenes that are the best since Steve Carell’s departure.

The premise is simple. While Jim is chatting with Andy in his office, a panicked Robert runs in and instructs Andy – through the window glass – that his wife will be coming in shortly and that he should, under no circumstances, give her a job at Dunder Mifflin.

It sounds easy enough, but for Andy, it’s not. And it’s hard to blame him. Robert California is a master manipulator and thoroughly confusing. At this stage of the game it’s still difficult to tell what motivates him, and his mixed signals to Andy are maddening (and awesomely absurd).

Mrs. California is played perfectly by Maura Tierney. She seems genuinely caught in the middle (and off guard) by her situation, seems cooperative, but remains authoritative. Somehow, she and Robert seem to go together.

How can Andy not be confused when Robert tells him things (in front of his wife) like, “I would be eternally grateful if you found a job for her” with an empty stare that could mean, “I’m lying and I’m going to kill you if you hire her” or “I love cheese.”

Andy agrees to give her a job, until Robert calls him and chews him out. Then Andy tries to get rid of her by asking people to be rude to her. Kevin and Oscar, in particular, seem especially good at it. Angela, who normally wouldn’t have to try, isn’t given the chance, at least on camera.

Finally, Mrs. California (only once referred to as Susan) gets the truth out of Andy. An amusing chase-down of Jim (who climbs the fire escape to the roof) ultimately reveals that Robert does not feel comfortable with his wife working at Dunder Mufflin. She doesn’t fault Andy, though; at the end, she seems to suggest she’d like to see him socially. Uh oh.

Meanwhile, Dwight plans to create a company gym and invites Darryl to be the first to join, since everyone will want to do what the cool black guy does. Dwight’s first try, with weights adorned with old wheels and an axe stuck in an old tree stump, is described by Darryl as “Saw V.” That’s about right.

But, back to Mrs. California. Hiring Tierney was clearly a smart move. The plot hints that she will be back, and the producers would be smart to bring her on for a multi-episode arc. Do you agree?