And so we reach the almost end as the end of tonight’s episode, “A.A.R.M.”, coincides with the airing of the first episode of The Office: An American Workplace. I know that there have been questions about why they are still filming, so I’m going to fanwank this. The final episode of the show has not yet been produced, and they were filming right up until the airing of the first episode. They have eight nights to put the final touches on the last episode, not including next week’s Epic Recap Event set several months down the line, which gives them plenty of time to conclude the original run.
“A.A.R.M.” is another successful episode, albeit not as successful as last week’s installment. I actually think “Livin’ The Dream” could have sufficed as a penultimate episode. Although this episode closes out some very important storylines, the ambiguous, open-endedness of “Livin’ The Dream” could have been a more powerful cliffhanger as we wait and see what’s much further down the road for the crew at Dunder Mifflin. Not to mention it had a lot less filler.
During this hour, the Jim and Pam relationship comes close to the forefront. With their relationship woes a major area of contention for the entire season, I figure this will be my last chance to comment on the couple before we get our final answers. Jim has decided to remain in Scranton while avoiding Athlead, who wants him to go on the three-month, 32-city tour. Although Jim has been putting on a brave face, Pam wonders if he’s lying for her sake. After seeing Darryl, she expresses her concern by saying, “I’m afraid this is not enough for you. I’m afraid I’m not enough for you.”
These are two different issues requiring two different answers. Unfortunately, like the rest of the season, only one is given any attention- Jim and Pam Forever. No one doubts that Jim loves Pam, but the missing heart to this entire debate come in the words “this is.” Athlead was not Jim’s attempt to escape Pam; it was his attempt to build a better life for his entire family. Although he did not reveal his intentions to her initially, the implication was there. Right now, “this” is being Assistant to the Regional Manager (Dwight Schrute) at a paper company that, even if it can survive the death of paper and Schrute leadership, does not have any room for advancement. That is not enough, nor should it be for anyone, let alone a young father. And even though Jim gives a speech to Dwight about the power of love and how love defies logic, his adoration of Pam does not cover up that he has retreated to the same old, same old. Which actually might be kind of poignant considering we end at the beginning of the series, but the show doesn’t offer any negative moral judgment for his choice.
The problem is seemingly resolved by proving to Pam that he actually loves by her asking a favor from the documentary’s producers. The favor is commissioning a clip show showing their most romantic moments from the past 9 years, which might not have any bearing on how he feels now, but it’s a kind enough gesture. I also like to imagine that the filmmakers had it in the can as their final screw you to Brian the Creepy Mic Guy, who threatened the entire project by attacking someone going after Pam. Just in case Pam was leaning towards an affair, put that in front of her and watch her melt.
To further ensure his victory, Jim gives her the letter from the teapot in Season 2′s “Christmas Party.” And everything presumably goes back to a happy sort of normalcy in the Halpert House. Even though Jim says he won’t resent her for getting him to give up Athlead, I’d like to imagine that there’d be something lingering. Because he wasn’t doing it for himself, he was doing it for their kids.
I should also make it clear that when it comes to the Halperts’ problems, I blame neither Pam nor Jim. I blame the writers for purposely ignoring the core issue in this storyline. Or commend them by purposely having both characters remain blind, not discussing the key issues, and wordlessly agreeing to stay stuck in the rut that defines their existence.
Elsewhere in The Office. The episode’s title “A.A.R.M.” refers to Assistant to the Assistant Regional Manager. In the new office with zero tolerance for nonsense, Jim convinces Dwight to run a contest to determine the Assistant to the Assistant Regional Manager, the advisor to the advisor. The staff must go through a variety of tasks that they all fail at … except for Dwight, which was Jim’s intention all along– to make Dwight the assistant to his own assistant. What would have been a throwaway in a conventional half hour episode (e.g. “Paper Airplane”) benefits from the extended running time. Most modern episodes become overloaded with subplots, which destroy the comedic heart by not giving it the time it deserves. By allowing the comedic set pieces to play out and giving different characters things to do, it shows why jokes should simmer.
In addition to running for being his own lackey’s lackey, Dwight continues his subplot with Angela. Ready to propose to Esther, he begins to question his feelings for his former lover… especially after she brings her son to the office. And, although she claims Philip’s not his, he doubts it. (Spoiler: Philip actually turns out to be Dwight’s, and she was lying to get him to marry her for real and not because it’s his bastard son.) After Jim gives Dwight the aforementioned speech about love, he chases her car with his and proposes to her. His preceding statement, “I will raise 100 children with 100 of your lovers if it means I can be with you!” is more romantic than Jim’s sappy video. So, much like her breakdown from a couple of episodes ago, once again, Angela gets points over Pam.
In the C-plot, the camera follows Andy as he tries to audition for an a cappella show that seems like a mash up of American Idol and The Sing Off. In a clever bit, the people waiting on line for the show treat the Office camera like a show camera- waving signs, cheering, being boisterous, etc.. Less clever- everything else about the plot. At least the judges (including Clay Aiken) tell Andy that he’s not good enough. With his tail between his legs, Andy returns at the end to join his former co-workers to watch the documentary at Poor Richard’s.
In an even less important plot, Darryl returns secretly to collect some belongings after not saying good-bye to people because he’s already relocated to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, he’s caught during the A.A.R.M. contest, and everyone demands that he spends some time with them. Realizing he can’t leave, he gives them the opportunity to do one thing and they choose dance party, because that’s what people do I guess. Everyone has fun, and Darryl realizes he’ll miss the zaniness.
• Comparing the final episodes of this season to the final episodes of the Michael era, I think “A.A.R.M.” did something else better than “Goodbye Michael.” Jim’s speech to Dwight about following one’s heart felt more honest and more powerful than Jim’s speech to Michael about him being a great boss.
• I enjoyed several of the changes to the office made by Dwight, particularly the hierarchy mobile and the paintings. There’s a portrait of him and Mose that’s quite distinguished.
• The Schrute engagement ring came from a bullet taken from his grandmother’s ass because she was shot by Adolph Coors, the “gangster patriarch of the Coors dynasty,” while bootlegging.
• I liked Jim and Dwight doing the Dwight and Michael positioning in the boss’ office.
• There are a couple of good talking heads discussing how they feel about the show airing. Stanley says how over the course of filming he’s had three affairs and, if he’s found dead, it’s probably his wife. Creed: “If my parents see this, I am toast.”
• That mural subplot went nowhere- or should I wait to comment on that next week?
• Let the bloated zombie corpse that used to be Community die.
• I will not be recapping or even watching the Retrospective (airing from 8 EST to 9 EST), but will review the 75 minute, last episode of The Office. Let’s close this out next week.