Ryan Howard started his first day at work at Dunder Mifflin, as a referral from a temporary agency on the pilot episode. During the first three seasons, Ryan served the role of being the everyman who reluctantly came to work at a dysfunctional environment. He had no attachment to the job, and the prospect of a brighter future gave him the ability to cope with the constant nonsense of work, but also planted a retributive streak inside of him. In addition to being the everyman character, Ryan was also the romantic foil to Jim. While Jim had been unable to get in a relationship with Pam for years, Jim became the catalyst of Ryan getting pulled into a relationship with Kelly, after Jim worked in the annex for just a day. This storyline added to Ryan's frustration with the company, and unintentionally twisted the knife inside of Jim. The other role that Ryan, along with the rest of the office possessed, was in showing just how far Michael would go with his poor management. In Ryan's specific case, he became a lowly servant, yet, was also held in great reverence by Michael. Of all the roles that Ryan has possessed on the show, his strange relationship with Michael remains the most relevant, and was thus further explored in this episode.
Through the years, Ryan had made more than his fair share of mistakes in the workplace, especially after his promotion to corporate. Despite the tension that Ryan created between him and the rest of the staff, Michael had constantly remained loyal to Ryan. After Ryan got fired, Michael went against David Wallace, and gave Ryan his job as a temp back. When Ryan ended up working as a shoe bitch, Michael went against Pam and hired him for the third time. Since the buy-out, Ryan has barely had any storylines surrounding him. The only thing new with Ryan in the last year and a half, was his constantly changing attire, interest in photography, and his second try at creating a social networking website. Conversely, the one constant that has remained is Michael's unrequited loyalty to him, despite Ryan's arrogance and poor treatment towards everybody at work.
This episode was not about Ryan's self-destruction, but about Michael's own personal growth. Ryan's investment in his website was only the background that allowed Michael to work on his own issues. This was one of those few episodes, where Michael was perfectly written, as it portrayed him as having unmet personal needs rather than being just plain dumb. It showed Michael's one-way relationship with Ryan, his self-actualization that he regularly attempts to obtain through his employees, and his rarely seen ability to properly mediate negative sentiment from his staff. The episode proved that Michael was able to turn on his brain and start thinking, after he was prompted by Pam to look at himself and what Ryan had done to him. Michael's interrogation of Ryan was very reminiscent of The Coup, where Michael carefully played with his prey by being overly compliant and generous. In both cases, this got Michael the answers he needed, as he was able to get an accurate first-hand assessment of his employees. Only this time, Michael managed to get his employee to concede defeat, without Michael making himself look bad in the process.