The penultimate episode of The Office had all the elements of the ninth season of the show – the good and the bad. The show’s more sentimental impulses were explored, and there was some grand returning to the absurdist comedy of the show’s early seasons (I swear at some moments, I thought I was watching a second season episode), and there were also parts of the show where the writers were floundering with characters that were badly developed.
The cold opens are often the funniest moments of the show and in this episode viewers weren’t disappointed. Dwight’s now regional manager. It’s strange wrapping my mind around this fact – for 8 seasons, Dwight’s been plotting and planning until finally making it. Once promoted to regional manager, I knew Dwight would implement some of his goofy management skills and distinct managerial style.
So Dwight – always with an eye for making things strange – introduces a new security system he bought from a failed jewelry business. Every morning Dwight emails the staff with the password – cryptic sentences with a response. Kevin ambles in and Erin announces, “The tea in Nepal is very hot,” to which he replies, “But the coffee in Peru is much hotter,” and is buzzed in.
It’s Dwight’s turn and instead of saying much hotter, he flubs his line and says far hotter and is refused entry. Despite Erin’s willingness to bend the rules, Dwight refuses insisting he gets the punishment – and is showered with steam, until he can’t take any more and starts pounding on the glass door to be let in. Creed’s priceless reaction: waiting with his dry cleaning.
When the opening credits rolled by, I got wistful at all the best shots – I especially loved Erin rolling around in the work bus. I normally don’t like opening credits, and I prefer when The Office starts with the truncated version. But it felt fitting now, especially with the show ending.
So to viewers who didn’t want last week’s episode, the sight of Angela and Oscar living together and raising Philip could be very confusing. But it’s actually a nice thing: Angela’s bunking with Oscar after her divorce from the senator – interestingly enough, Angela is housed in Oscar’s walk-in, so we can say that Angela’s living in a gay man’s closet. As predicted we get the “it’s like they’re married” jokes – a little disappointing that the writers went to such an obvious route. But I do like that Angela and Oscar have put aside their differences and moved forward – I liked their adversarial relationship, but when they were vying for the affection of the same man, it got a little ridiculous.
Dwight on the other hand is planning on proposing to his girlfriend, Esther – the comely milkmaid we are introduced to in “The Farm” the jettisoned backdoor pilot. The ring he has was his grandmother. Sweet, right? Not so fast. It came from her ass. Yup, it was removed from his grandmother’s ass after a gun fight during some prohibition-era scuffle. He coined it the “buttock bullet ring.” Much more distinct than Tiffany’s.
While all this is happening, we have to also muddle through the awful subplot of Andy auditioning for something called America’s Next A Capella Sensation – an American Idol ripoff. It’s strange seeing Andy dressed in civilian clothes instead of his preppy suits (he looks like someone’s soccer dad in his button-down shirt and book bag that he’s wearing with a single shoulder strap). There’s poignancy to the subplot – after all, Andy completely burned his bridges with Dunder-Mifflin. In fact, he didn’t just burn them, he blew them up. So we know that this is all or nothing for the Nard Dog, and it’s terribly sad to see him trying so hard, knowing how high the stakes are at that point.
Back at the office, Jim is having a little fun with Dwight and this is when the episode shines brightest. It goes back to the best moments of the early seasons of The Office when Jim would antagonize Dwight with pranks. Despite being hounded by Athlead to join their West Coast trip, he refuses, insisting that he won’t lose Pam over his second job.
What’s cool is the interplay between Jim and Dwight work so beautifully – it’s as if they’ve never lost a single moment. The Jim story lines were getting pretty dark, so it’s been a while since we’ve seen Jim just needle Dwight for no reason.
Because Dwight’s insisting that he won’t broke any nonsense at the office, Jim takes it upon himself to ensure the office doesn’t suffer from any nonsense. He works extra hard, exuding false sincerity and mock seriousness as he instructs his coworkers on the sins of nonsense.
Pam at first is thrilled – “I love goofy Jim,” she enthuses to the camera. But after a quick talk with Darryl (more on him later), she realizes that maybe Jim’s given up a lot for her; she starts to be concerned that he’ll resent her for giving up Athlead. Jenna Fischer is great at portraying a lot of emotions in a simple take – and her looks of amusement slowly melt into anxiety. All this tomfoolery is in aid of Dwight’s search for an assistant to the assistant regional manager – a bogus title that Jim cooked up to mess with Dwight, who eats it all up. How ridiculous does this nonexistent search go? There’s even a complicated obstacle course for the potentials, who have to pass through it carrying steaming cups of coffee.
Dwight calls a meeting in the conference room, now flanked with a huge, heroic portrait of himself . The documentary that we’ve been watching being filmed is finally being aired, and Dwight’s being a miser with the staff taking time off to leave early to watch the thing. It’s interesting to see just how the characters will react to seeing themselves portrayed on television – Meredith gets gifted with some awesome lines as she professes that she was on “her best behavior” at all times, because she was capable of “truly vulgar crap.” Stanley on the other hand is worried about his series of extramarital affairs coming into view.
We take a break from the folks at Dunder-Mifflin to return to Andy’s who’s made a friend, a crazed blonde girl who’s just as deluded as he is. They start off in a sing duel before casually flirting with each other. Andy’s moment of serious mouth diarrhea comes when he imagines Martin Luther King, Jr. performing at the singing competition. He compares the contest to the “March Washington,” and muses how great it would be if Dr. King would sing “I Have a Dream” from Les Miz.
Andy’s subplot gets even more tiresome and torturous with the cameo of Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath who gamely plays a vacuous version of himself. The subplot lurches forward to Andy’s seething reaction at seeing a vet being given attention. He wants to exploit the whole “adversity” angle of the reality show and he disappears, only to return in stage makeup, dressed as an old man. But just as Andy’s about to be in the front of the line, an employee of the contest announces that the judges are done and the auditions are over.
And we get a tiny glimpse of just how badly Andy needs all this. His friend tackles the security and Andy crashes an audition. We then see the judges panel: Clay Aiken, Santigold and Aaron Rodgers. They coldly reject Andy’s please for an audition, but he barrels through, regardless.
And as we all know, Andy’s repertoire consists of a lot of old fogey songs no one listens to anymore. He sounds line a solitary barbershop quartet. The judges react to this by being dicks, laughing openly at his sad choices before he crumples onto the floor in tears. And mercifully, this subplot is over.
At the office, Angela and Oscar are fussing over Philip, and Kevin feels neglected. He’s peeved that the baby’s getting all the attention and no one is looking at him; it’s a pretty funny scene, especially when Kevin rants in a confessional, “Philip, Philip, Philip, it’s all about Philip. I hate Philip.”
Seeing Kevin act childish is par for the course for the guy, and yeah, it’s a little cheap, but it’s pretty funny. To make amends, Angela and Oscar reach out to him like parents of a spoiled kid, with a new baby. There’s a mini-resolution when Philip “gifts” Kevin with an iTunes gift card.
And while Jim has given up on Athlead, Darryl hasn’t. But he hates goodbyes, so he’s plotted his clandestine exit, only to be caught by his soon-to-be-former coworkers. Instead of acquiescing to doing whatever each coworker wants, he agrees to do one thing. After much deliberation, the folks at Dunder-Mifflin want to dance – and dance they did, Darryl boogies through the office, stopping to groove with each coworker. This is a great goodbye for one of my favorite characters on the show – it was sweet, but not gooey – like Darryl – a character who remained the most likable and didn’t let himself get caught up in pettiness.
But the writers ladled on the sentiment when it came to Jim and Pam. After realizing just how much Jim gave up for her, she was worried he’d resent her and that she wouldn’t be “enough for him.”
Jim’s stunned – he cannot understand the concept of Pam not being enough, so he can’t think of the words to say to comfort her. It’s such a foreign idea to the guy because he’s so in love with her. So he turns to the cameramen, asking them to break a rule for him.
And while Jim is away with Dwight, Pam watches a DVD the crew put together for him – it’s basically the kind of sweet montage shows play for their series finales. We get to see all the greatest hits of Jim/Pam – the teapot from a Christmas episode years ago, their wedding in Niagara Falls, the booze cruise from second season, their Halloween episodes, a lovely moment with Pam falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder – they were all there. Of course we’re tearing up. During all this Dwight and Jim are having a heart-to-heart where the two former adversaries are now sharing; Jim gets a well-acted, but slightly sappy monologue that plays over Jim’s DVD for Pam which centers on the importance of love. Before I got too misty-eyed, I started to feel a teensy bit manipulated and wished the writers pulled back just a bit when crafting this scene.
And Dwight – of all people – gets his own awww moment when he proposes to Angela. He chases her down with his car and swerves to block her way causing her to almost crash into him; I love the instant Angela leaps out of her car and curses at him – I don’t think Angela’s ever been bleeped so it was kinda awesome. Dwight proposes on bended knee, promising to love Angela and Philip and a hundred other babies from various lovers, to which Angela drops a lovely bombshell: Philip is Dwight’s baby – so all those suspicions Dwight had throughout the episode were warranted. And again, I wish the writers just stopped at Dwight’s moment of chivalry and not made Philip Dwight’s biological child – it felt a bit like a cheap cheat.
And the episode ends at a neighborhood haunt with all the Dunder-Mifflins getting ready to watch themselves on the documentary. Andy joins them and we hear, like a ghost, Steve Carrell’s voice as Michael Scott chatting with Jim, from the show’s pilot some 9 years ago; it’s strange to see our friends from Scranton raring up to watch themselves, as we’ve watched them.
Next week’s episode marks an end to the show – It’ll be great to catch the reactions of all the characters and how their machinations will affect their working relationships.