One of the smartest things 30 Rock did was having two season finales. “A Goon’s Deed in a Weary World” gave the characters closure while the following week’s twofer of “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” gave them an epilogue. All too often, series finales attempt to cram everything into the final few minutes. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it does both. Walter Bishop’s sacrifice at the end of Fringe‘s “An Enemy of Fate” succeeded tremendously on a thematic and emotional level (and pulled it off so much better than Lost did). However, the question of “when in the timeline did Walter Bishop disappear?” put a damper on its effectiveness. Yet some pseudo-science explanation of what changed and how and when probably would have the diluted the power of the ending culminating with Peter getting the white tulip in the mail. It’s tough to pull off, especially when your final season starts on a misstep that it has no choice but to carry to its end. (Though John Noble really deserves an Emmy nomination for his work on Fringe. Man was incredible.)
Which brings us to The Office and the uncreatively titled “Finale.” Following the 30 Rock method, we “catch up” with the gang some time after the show proper wrapped. Of course, it’s not the real world year break between the UK’s “Interview” and “Christmas Special,” but a “What Ever Happened To…” is natural for a show of this type. The question then becomes whether it will be self-laudatory and sappy, or a natural conclusion to a show that only recently remembered what it’s about. Will it be the ending of The Office or the ending of The Office: An American Workplace?
But before I get to that question, let me say…CALLED IT!! (Kind of.) In the third episode this season when the mural subplot was introduced, I wrote “I’m guessing that the series ends with the unveiling of a mural that contains all of the Dunder Mifflinians from years past with Michael Scott front and center.” While the series didn’t officially “end” that way, the awful-looking mural is unveiled at the start of the second hour and it is of the Dunder Mifflinians. So take that.
Anyway, back to the question. Was the finale the ending of The Office or the ending of The Office: An American Workplace? And the answer, thankfully, is the latter. Unlike “Goodbye Michael,” which was really farewell Steve Carell, “Finale” says good-bye to Jim Halpert, not John Krasinski; Stanley Hudson, not Leslie David Baker; and Creed Bratton, not Creed Bratton.
The episode takes place over a weekend, one year after the events of “A.A.R.M.” It’s an important weekend for the gang as it coincides with the return of the documentary crew, a “What Ever Happened To…” Q+A panel for the crew of The Office: An American Workplace (for the DVD release), and the Dwight/Angela wedding. Since we last saw them one week ago, a lot of changes have happened. Toby and Kevin have been fired. Nellie’s moved to Poland. Darryl’s moved to Austin, Texas, with the immensely popular Athlead (now known as Athleap). Creed faked his own death due to illegal activities he engaged in while playing for The Grass Roots in the 1960s (Creed, the actor who plays Creed, was indeed part of the “Midnight Confessions” band). Stanley retired to an isolated location in Florida. And Andy became a temporary Internet celebrity known as Baby Wawa due to his crying on television during the a cappella competition show before becoming an admissions officer at Cornell. (Crossover possibility with that horrible-looking Tina Fey/Paul Rudd movie from earlier this year?)
But the episode isn’t about what’s been going on over the past year. It’s about bringing them all together for one last hurrah, and it works emotionally and comically. It’s an easy-going 75 minutes that takes its time and lets things breathe. The show knows that it’s the last time we’re going to be spending with these characters, and it clearly wants the audience to enjoy these final few minutes with them. There isn’t much in the way of plot, and with the exception of the frantic bachelor party, it almost consists entirely of character moments. Pretty much all of the characters say their personal goodbyes…even some we haven’t seen in a while when they come to Dwight’s wedding.
Before we get to that, the characters have to go through their Q+A panel. Consisting of the current cast plus David Wallace, it plays like a less intense/less satirical version of a Pawnee town meeting. Audience members talk/ask about how romantic Jim and Pam are, which reminds me just how bland the Halperts have become. Meredith reveals she earned a PhD. Erin even meets her birth parents (Joan Cusack and Ed Begley Jr.). It serves absolutely no purpose since her quest to find them fell into the Abyss of Forgotten Plots, but closure is key here so good for her.
With all of the talk about the importance of Michael Scott leading up to “Finale,” the panel showed that he really isn’t all that integral to The Office. Listening to the questions and seeing the people on stage made me realize that the show has evolved beyond him. I didn’t care about what he was up to or if people asked about him. We concentrated on him because of how the series was set up, but I’m sure to people watching the documentary itself, he was just another employee, no more significant than any other.
Which brings us to the wedding. Right up until the walk to the aisle, Jim was Dwight’s best man, but he plays him one final prank by saying that tradition dictates that the best man cannot be younger than the groom. This, of course, leads to the appearance of Michael Scott ready to stand by his former Assistant to the Regional Manager when he takes his vows. Even though Carell doesn’t do much (he’s mostly in the background), I found it good to see him there for this final ride and, more importantly, not to take center stage. He has a family now, and he has one good line (“I feel like all my kids grew up and then they married each other! It’s every parent’s dream!”), but he’s not the be all-end all of the series. And it’s nice the show accepted that.
Once Angela becomes Angela Schrute, the episode glides to its ultimate conclusion. As I said, it’s more about the characters than plot developments. Nonetheless, some things do happen. Kelly returns with her pediatrician boyfriend (Mohinder from Heroes) and encounters Ryan, who is now a father to a baby whose mother left when she went out to get a new charger for her e-cigarette and never came back. How I missed him and his hipster ways. Kelly and Ryan run off together, which leaves the baby parent-less. Although Mohinder wants to call Child Protective Services, Nellie adopts/kidnaps/borrows him and plans to take him to Europe. Nellie and her quest for her own child, yet another soul in Abyss of Forgotten Plots. I’m sure there are other callbacks made throughout the episode that I completely forgot about or didn’t recognize- fan service at its best. Even Devon is hired back, and I mentioned wanting to see what happened to him back in Customer Loyalty (S09E12).
Subsequently, everyone returns to the office for one last shindig. Before we get to that, Jim and Pam return home where we get some closure to their marital strife. Pam still feels bad a year later about keeping Jim from his dreams. So, following his lead of making life-changing decisions without consulting the spouse, she decides to sell the house so they can move anywhere and do anything. I wouldn’t call it a satisfying ending to a storyline that never really delved into its own heart, but it lets Jim and Pam escape from Dunder Mifflin.
Back at the office, everyone gets drunk and reminisces because it will probably be the last time most of them will see each other. Michael thankfully isn’t there, because if he were, it would be more about him than the people who stuck with it until the end. Dwight fires Jim and Pam (so that they get severance packages) and reflects fondly on his relationships with his subordinates, including his best friend Pam. Those who have left talk about how hard it will be to leave again and not originally appreciating the time they had with these folks. Creed sings and plays on his guitar. (That’s right. Creed gets the last song, not Andy!) And Pam gets the last word as she realizes the purpose of the documentary is to show the beauty of everyday life. I focused on the monotony and the sadness, but considering how this series turned out, I guess differing worldviews would inspire different readings.
And that’s it. The end of an era. A show that was in danger of being canceled after six episodes ended up as NBC’s flagship comedy for nigh on a decade. Yet The Office was not NBC’s best offering during this era. 30 Rock was more critically acclaimed and, in my opinion, more consistently funny. The first three seasons of Community had an obsessive cult following rare for network and non-sci-fi television. And Parks and Recreation is probably the overall better series with its more complex characters and ability to make the “documentary” style seem more like an artistic decision than because it’s an actual documentary.
Yet something about The Office connected with audiences more than those other series. Whether it was the Jim and Pam relationship or the Michael Scott character or the futile attempts to find pleasure in a miserable job, the show acquired a significant fanbase, one that moved on from the main characters to find favorites in the side ones, the honorable mark of a true ensemble program. It even seemed to become more of a cultural reference point than higher-rated contemporaneous sitcoms Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother. (Of course, when you’re involved with a show, you’re more likely to notice references to “Creed” or “Dwight Schrute” than you are to “Alan Harper” or “Ted Mosby.”)
This isn’t to say The Office didn’t falter throughout its run. I’m sure everyone has their own personal moment when the show “jumped the shark.” For some, it might be the rise of Michael Scott Paper Company. The horrid wedding dance in “Niagara” certainly didn’t help matters. And “Threat Level Midnight” should have broken every last defender out of their zombie daze. But, even though it was clearly time for The Office to go, I was never disappointed to have it on the air. Overall, I enjoyed this 8+-year journey, and I enjoyed writing about it for the past two seasons. I hope you did too.
• There were a number of strong elements of tonight’s episode, and I can’t get into all of them. Special credit goes to Mose staring lovingly at a scarecrow, the return of Matt Jones as Zeke, cats as wedding gifts, and Kevin forgiving Dwight for firing him after realizing that he was canned solely because of poor work performance.
• There are complaints and nitpicks I can make (Andy being happy, the size of the audience at the Q+A panel), but The Office ended on a legitimate high note, so why belabor the bad parts? Though I still would have liked to see Robert California one last time.