Tonight, we spend our last Christmas with the crew from Dunder Mifflin Scranton. An event so momentous that the party planning committee completely forgot to make plans for it. After struggling to come up with an idea, it, at the scheming of Pam, gives the reins to Dwight who creates a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas. It’s essentially an excuse for Dwight to put on goofy costumes, serve smelly food, and talk about weird traditions that perplexes the rest of the office because it’s not what they’re used to. Not particularly remarkable, it’s the type of bit that only works because of Rainn Wilson’s commitment to it.
The party takes place on the day Jim plans to leave early to go to Philadelphia. With Athlead opening the following day, he wants to be there on time for its inaugural so he booked a hotel, which will allow him to get a restless night’s sleep. Jim quitting Christmas causes Dwight to whip him with a traditional shepherding stick and become so depressed at the departure of his frenemey that he shuts down the party. There’s an awkward good-bye between Jim and Pam in the parking lot that was filmed in such an oddly solemn way that I briefly wondered if the episode was going to end with Jim’s death. (An otherwise-absent Clark walking in saying, “Jim’s bus was shot down over the Ohio River. It spun in. There were no survivors.”) However, Jim decides not to go to Pennsylvania early but return, to the delight of Dwight and Pam, and go to the big city in the morning. This moment made me ponder how the Athlead story is going to pan out. If Jim was unable to cut the cord now, will he be able to when it actually matters? If not, how will the show present his possible decision to stay in Scranton- as a positive thing (i.e. this is his home, this is his family) or a negative thing (i.e. his inability to move on is a sign of weakness).
Darryl is also involved in this segment because he is angry with Jim for not keeping his promise in getting him a shot with Athlead. Wanting to tell off his co-worker, he gets so drunk on holiday punch that he recognizes an “Emma Stone thing” in Meredith. While it is a conventional sitcom trope, Craig Robinson proves that he’s an unfortunately underused asset for the show. At the end, Jim reveals that he got him an interview, and a blotto Darryl passes out on the table with the food.
Elsewhere in The Office, the Pete and Erin relationship heats up as they watch Die Hard together because Erin never saw the action classic. In the middle of the movie, the still-missing Andy texts Erin and lets her know that he and his brother sold the boat, got drunk, and are staying on vacation for the next few weeks. Pete attempts to comfort her, and Erin is conflicted because she’s still technically Andy’s girlfriend. Kemper plays the scene well and makes it clear that Erin’s not toying with Pete as she tells him to keep his arm around her. As I’ve mentioned several times over the past few weeks, I enjoy that they’ve returned Andy back to “villain” status, but I’m surprised just how far into the black they’ve pushed him. He’s more ignorant than purposely malevolent, but the show has completely (and thankfully) reversed his position from the past two seasons. In other steamy Scranton stories, Toby and Nellie hook up during the closing credits.
With “Dwight Christmas,” we end the first half, more-or-less, of the final season of The Office. While I’d be hard pressed to say the show is exceptional this year, it is certainly respectable and respectful. Undergoing a creative resurgence, it has fixed a lot of the problems that has plagued the previous years. Ongoing plotlines such as Oscar/Angela’s husband affair and Athlead give the show a greater sense of continuity and universe, especially when compared to the dreadfully insular feel of last year. The Pete/Erin relationship has a lot of the heart missing from Andy/Erin, and unlike last year’s couple, their inability to get together does not feel forced. I also have to give the show credit for not making the unrequited love between Jim 2.0 and the secretary seem like a rehash of Jim and Pam’s pre-love affair. And overall, the show is legitimately funnier.
Where Season 9 has probably gone the most right is remembering that the strength of The Office is its ensemble. (Who would have guessed that Oscar and Angela would be in such major roles as we approach the end?) The Office didn’t need a larger-than-life figure such as Robert California after the departure of Michael Scott. It apparently doesn’t even need Andy Bernard- and I still say that propping Helms up was one of its fatal flaws. Even Pete and Clark are good additions because they’re funny enough without being zany or standing out, which helps bring the show back to its original, more grounded premise. With every episode having multiple storylines, most cast members do get a chance to shine- not just those with a hit movie.
I’m glad to see The Office going out on a higher note than I would have given it credit for at the end of the last season. I hope it at least maintains the same level of quality we’ve gotten since September when we return in 2013 to wrap up this almost decade-long part of our TV viewing experience.
• Dwight shows a photograph of a Great Depression era-looking family (his family, but it looks old timey because of a computer program; he can also make it look like The Matrix) and talks about his brother Jeb. Did Dwight ever mention having a brother before on the show? I can’t remember a Dwight brother coming up prior to the ill-fated Farm fiasco.
• Nellie and Toby bond over his jury duty on the Scranton Strangler case, a subplot that still receives online attention as people believe the true culprit is Toby, Creed, or Gabe.
• Speaking of “Dark Andy,” he mentions getting drunk with his brother without mentioning that part of the reason for the trip was to help his brother dry out.
• I’m surprised Erin didn’t call Hans Gruber Severus Snape. She seems like a Harry Potter fan
• Thank you for reading. Happy new year.