‘The Office’ Recap: “Finale”

***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***

I waited for the finale of The Office with the anticipation I had when Seinfeld bowed out after its 9 seasons. And though The Office dipped in quality quite significantly in the last two or three seasons, I still watched the finale with a sense of bittersweet melancholy. After 9 years, two without its lead, Steve Carrell, the last episode of The Office was aired last night. It fit in perfectly with the show’s last season, and though it was far from a perfect episode (in fact some of the second and third season episodes were better), it was a decent goodbye to the show with some fantastic peaks along with a string of mediocre to flat notes. All in all, it was a satisfying closer, that while undeserving of the hype, was still a fitting tribute to the much-decreased show.

The plot picks up a year after the documentary has aired. In the ensuing year a lot has happened to the staff – Darryl became a huge success with Athlead (now called Athleap) and moved to Austin;  Nellie moved on and relocated to Poland (“The Scranton of the E.U.”); Stanley, our favorite office curmudgeon, retired to Florida; after being unceremoniously sacked by Dwight, a resentful Kevin picks himself up and opens a bar; Toby, the perennial amateur crime novelist, moved to New York and is rooming with six people; Creed Bratton’s real-life musical background as a 60s rock star has been folded into his fictional self, as he’s a fugitive from the law and is forced to fake his own death; Oscar, perhaps stung by his ruinous affair with the senator, is mounting a senate campaign of his own; and poor Andy who had a disastrous audition for a talent contest, was further humiliated when his emotional breakdown went viral, but found a job in the admissions office of his alma mater, Cornell University. They all descend on Scranton to attend Dwight’s wedding to Angela, as well as to attend a panel on the documentary.

In the year that passed, apparently Jim and Dwight became fast friends. They always shared a bond, despite their mutual antagonism, but it appears that it’s all in the past. Jim was appointed best man and is in charge of putting together a fantastic evening – it’s interesting to see Jim and Dwight get along so well – I’m really curious what happened in that year that made them so close. Jim’s relationship with Dwight isn’t all roses and sunshine; he still likes to indulge in pranks and has planned a few for the wedding. None of these pranks are the cruel hijinks he pulled in the past (i.e. setting Dwight’s stuff in Jell-O, convincing him that a bat which flew in the office was actually a vampire bat, dressing up like Dwight and needling his paranoia about identity theft, etc.). Instead these are gentle fun pranks, one of which would become a highlight of the episode (more on that later).

The women of Dunder-Mifflin also gathered for Angela’s bachelorette party. It went particularly bad, but then nose-dived when the stripper came and it turned out to be Meredith’s underachieving son. Thrilled and proud of his entrepreneurial spirit, she encourages his business endeavour by catcalling and whistling enthusiastically, bumping and grinding and giving him tips on strip-teasing: this is one of the few moments that recall The Office at its cringe-worthy best: and Meredith demonstrating a particularly salacious pelvis thrust in Angela’s face was priceless.

As if watching the incestuous stripping wasn’t bad enough, Mose appears and kidnaps Angela in some weird-ass Shrute family pre-wedding ritual. The guys from Dunder-Mifflin congregate at Kevin’s bar to find Angela – this turns out to be another Jim prank, designed to reunite Dwight and Kevin, who after talking it out, embrace sweetly. Again, watching a defanged Dwight is interesting – not great interesting, but not exactly bad either – just weird. Oh, and Dwight does find Angela. In the trunk of Mose’s car – and we get another awesome scene of Angela’s language being bleeped, when she’s pulled out.

The next day, the Dunder-Mifflin crew assemble for the panel. It’s like those panel discussions at the Paley Center or at Comic-Con. David Wallace joins, as well. Initially a flop, Andy finds himself to be the breakout star, with some of his catchphrase catching on with the long line of audience members waiting to get in. Jim’s DVD Valentine to Pam is especially popular with the female members of the audience and aim pepper Pam with accusatory questions of why she forbade Jim from following his dreams, and how exactly did she pay him back; Jim, fully back in “awesome Jim mode” leapt to his wife’s defense at each turn, endearing himself even further with the women in the crowd. Pam wins back her audience by being candid and admitting that she also was wrong to be so weary of her husband. Meanwhile, Erin’s minor subplot of her search for her birth parents culminated in a teary reunion with guest stars Joan Cusack and Ed Begley, Jr. who admit they are her parents – the three embrace to the cheers and awwws of the audience as the camera does a nice close up of a smiling, but tearful Phyllis (remember, Phyllis at one point thought that she was Erin’s birth mother – and there was something sad, but right, about Phyllis’ damp-eyed reaction to the scene).

At the wedding, we get to meet up with Scranton’s most favorite dysfunctional couple: Kelly Kapoor and Ryan Howard. Kelly arrives for Dwight’s wedding with her hunky pediatrician hubby, Ravi, while Ryan shows up on his own with a baby strapped to his chest – his girlfriend dumped him, leaving him with the tiny tot. The two sit next to each other and immediately the old sparks fly.

Prepping Dwight, Jim informs the groom that Shrute rules don’t allow for the best man to be younger than the groom, so he must step down as best man – cue in the replacement best man – drum roll, please…Michael Scott. Steve Carrell’s appearance is a stroke of genius. Not because he got to ham it up – in fact, his appearance is really just a slightly elongated cameo. Carrell looks fantastic, by the way, and the salt and pepper in his hair is fetching. Also, his dignified presence gives Michael a gravitas that did not exist when Carrell was a cast member of the show. Carrell’s participation was a badly-kept secret, but what was surprising was just how subtle and lightly the appearance was handled.

The wedding was an okay scene, punctuated by some tender moments, as well as by some freaky ones. Like for instance Angela and Dwight stand in front of the minister in shallow graves that they’re meant to be buried in when they finally die. And when the guests are invited to the reception, they’re instructed to heave the bales of hay they were sitting on to the reception to use as seats.

As proof that he hasn’t changed, Ryan feeds his baby a strawberry to illicit an allergic reaction. Handing the kid to Ravi, he feigns concern. When alone with Kelly, he professes his love, she does the same and they run away together. Yup, they run away together. Ravi comes back with Ryan’s baby only to find his wife gone; Kevin clues him in on what happened and Ravi hands the baby to Kevin in disgust, telling him to call Child Services. Nellie quickly offers to take the kid, thereby closing her poignant storyline of wanting to be a mother.

In a convenient plot twist that makes no real sense for the episode, Pam and Jim return to their house, running into Michael’s real estate agent ex, Carol Stills (Carrell’s real-life wife, comedienne, Nancy), who is showing their house to a couple. As a surprise, Pam was selling the house so that the Halperts can move to Austin, where Jim will join Athleap.

Everyone assembles back at the office warehouse, where Pam unveils the mural Nellie commissioned. It was supposed to be a history of paper, but instead it was a mural of everyone who worked at Dunder-Mifflin. Everyone assembled for a photo, before the gang makes its way to the office, for a final toast. Creed pops up, having squatted in the office. Bratton shows off his musical chops and serenaded the melancholy office mates as they gather together one last time. Jim and Pam share their Austin news with Dwight, who fires them so that he can give them a generous and handsome severance package. Each member gives one more confessional – each beautiful, before they all walk out, Pam taking her watercolor of the office building with her.

There were some moments that made me smile, but few that made me laugh out loud. Also I felt really manipulated by the hugs moments, though, there were some poignant and profound solitary moments, including:

  • Erin earnestly asking the crew how it was able to capture the lives of the staff – “How did you do it?” she implored, with heart-breaking urgency, right before she asks, “and how do cameras work?”
  • Oscar, while folding paper (I thought he was making a cootie catcher), wisely muses that the documentary made something great and wonderful out of something as mundane and normal as paper – he then produces a origami swan, before he berates the camera crew for neglecting to highlight his origami talent in the nine years he was being filmed.
  • Jim was always very conflicted about his job at Dunder-Mifflin – he would characterize it as boring, but in this episode, he was full of gratitude as he reflected that because of Dunder-Mifflin, he had a wife, two kids, and friends.
  • Darryl admitting that when he was a warehouse employee he was a clockwatcher, eager to go home, but was sad to leave Dunder-Mifflin for the last time.
  • Andy tearfully wishing that someone would tell him when he’s in the “good old days” before he’s passed them.

It’s funny because I really was sad when the show was over – not because I thought the show was great towards the end – it wasn’t, but I knew that I’d miss the characters. My favorite Office moments/highlights are:

  • Erin – I love, love, love Erin. Ellie Kemper was a much-needed addition to the cast when it started to fray a bit; the show needed a bright presence – someone who wasn’t as sullied with irony or disappointment. Erin was lovely, funny and adorably ridiculous. She also was enthusiastic about everything. Kemper is also a fantastic comedienne with the best reaction takes ever.
  • Subtle Sexuality – Kelly’s and Erin’s girlband which had a hit with “The Girl Next Door” an anthem for all the bespeckled underdogs who felt left out. The series of Webisodes that featured Subtle Sexuality were classic and scribe/actor Mindy Kaling scored huge points as the delusional but conceited Kelly Kapoor.
  • The Edward Albee dinner party scene in season four’s “The Dinner Party.” In it, Michael Scott’s abusive and corrosive relationship with former Dunder-Mifflin VP, Jan Levenson-Gould reaches an ugly climax when the two let their doomed relationship melt in front of their dinner party guests. Melora Hardin scores huge points as the extravagantly disturbed Jan, who deals with adversity by blithely ignoring it. The rage that simmered beneath the surface of the pair finally boiled over in a  hard-to-watch match between Carrell’s Michael and Hardin’s Jan. The two actors did masterful work and were gifted with some great lines and physical comedy.
  • The cold open to “Niagara” that has the whole office drowning in projectile vomit because of Pam’s morning sickness. Unwilling to accommodate his pregnant coworker, Dwight ignores Pam’s pleas for sensitivity and understanding, and proudly and defiantly, peels a hard-boiled egg in front of her, prompting her to toss her cookies into a waste basket, which causes a chain reaction of vomiting from others who are nauseated from the smell and sight. The scene becomes almost Polanski-esque with people covering their mouths in vain as vomit shoots through their fingers – extra credit goes to Angela Kinsey who played the scene like a trooper and stole it with her moment of throwing up through her hands.
  • A classic Jim prank – he dresses up like Dwight – with cheap drug store props, and only needles Dwight’s paranoia of identity theft. Then Dwight later turns the tables with a brilliantly inept and passive aggressive imitation of Jim, which Wilson plays beautifully.
  • The Karen/Pam rivalry – what’s great about the Karen vs. Pam rivalry over Jim’s affection was that sides weren’t easily drawn: while Pam will always be our girl, Karen (Rashida Jones) was also pretty cool, and a great catch for Jim.
  • The Christmas party war between Angela’s committee and Pam’s committee – Karen and Pam, still friends, before their relationship soured, join forces to stage a coup during the annual Christmas party in season three. Angela’s party planning includes rice Krispee treats, candy canes, and carols; Pam’s and Karen’s has Karaoeke and margaritas – it’s kind of awesome seeing Angela seething with resentment and rage; and an extra fun scene, she passive aggressively tears down Pam’s party announcement and storms off, only to see Karen do the same with her flyer.
  • Dwight saving Jim from a murderous Roy with pepper spray.
  • Whenever Dwight does something lovely for Pam.
  • In an earlier episode, Pam is showing her art work at a gallery and is disappointed when no one shows – except for Michael, who is blown away by Pam’s work and is beaming with sincere pride. The two share a moment – one of many that the characters have throughout the show.
  • Pam’s last-minute goodbye to Michael as he leaves in his final episode – she rushes toward him, holding her shoes in her hands because she had to go through airport security. We don’t know what they said to each other (the microphones were turned off), but it makes sense that the one person who truly knew him was the one who said goodbye last.
  • The Michael Scott Paper Company – the multi-episode arc had Michael join forces with Pam and Ryan after leaving Dunder-Mifflin. The episodes showed Michael at his best and worst – he indulged in his most destructive impulses, but he also rose to the occasion, securing jobs for himself and his colleagues when David Wallace offers a generous buyout.
  • Holly Flax – I thought Holly was peachy keen.
  • Whenever Phyllis got down with her bad self (though it’d often be followed by her injuring or pulling something).
  • Michael organizing a run for rabies and carbo-loading on fettucine alfredo; it all ends badly as Michael is disabled with cramps and crawls to the finish line in tears and vomit.
  • “I declare BANKCRUPTCY!!!!!!”
  • Whenever Michael got to be mean with Toby
  • “Niagara” and “Phyllis’ Wedding” – both wonderful episodes with Michael inserting himself into the weddings, puffed up by his own self-importance.
  • “Women’s Appreciation Day” when Michael takes the ladies to Victoria’s Secret and offers to buy each of them lingerie.
  • In “Stress Relief” in the fifth season that had the Dunder-Mifflin crew unleash some savage putdowns when Michael offers himself up to a roast.
  • Holly’s misguided, but well-intentioned belief that Kevin was mentally challenged. His terse, monosyllabic speech patterns didn’t help matters when Holly, the new kid on the block, thought Kevin was a “special” employee of Dunder-Mifflin. What was great about Holly is that if one ever wondered what Michael Scott would be like if he were a beautiful blonde, then just turn to Holly…
  • When it’s Casual Friday, and Meredith’s outfit flashes the office – her coworkers either got an eyeful of her exposed top or expose bottom, depending on which direction her barely-there skimpy romper would shift. The pixelation added to the horror of the comedy.
  • The composite drawing of Phyllis’ flasher that end up looking like Dwight.
  • Prison Mike
  • Michael Klump
  • Date Mike
  • Michael and Holly informing the Buffalo branch of Dunder-Mifflin that it’s being closed, during a Slumdog Millionaire sketch at a company picnic
  • Phyllis’ and Karen’s makeovers, when the older sales rep takes the Standford transplant under her wing and the two get done up in hideous mall hair and garish clown makeup that reminds their client of his wife.
  • Michael runs over Meredith with his car.
  • Michael drops a watermelon on Stanley’s car.
  • Michael collection of empty cologne bottles and Fillet O’ Fish wrappers in his car.
  • Scott’s Tots.
  • “Diwali Day”. The whole episode. Classic.
  • Jan’s return as a pregnant, obnoxious earth mother/artisanal-crafted basket case. An added bonus: a thoroughly inappropriate rendition of “Son of a Preacher Man,” to her unborn child.
  • Whenever Jim gets drunk it’s funny – a notable example: completely blotto, he rides his bike, or he swerves his bike more aptly, into a bush.
  • Pam juggling imaginary balls.
  • Darryl and Erin unknowingly contribute to the mouse infestation of the office.
  • Whenever Darryl looked into the camera – I know Jim’s mugging was more-heralded, Darryl’s look of frustration was just as classic.

Do you have a favorite The Office moment?

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Filed under Comedy, Sitcom, Television

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