Grading the Series Finales: The Office

Title Finale (9.24/9.25)

Written By Greg Daniels

What Happens? One year after the Dunder Mifflin documentary aired, the whole gang reunites and is filmed once again for two very special occasions: a panel discussion about the documentary and Dwight and Angela’s wedding. After catching up with various characters, we learn that Darryl is making a lot of money and loving life in Austin as he enjoys the success of Athlead, which has now changed its name to Athleap. Jim, however, has stayed in Scranton but appears happy with his decision and his life with Pam. Andy’s breakdown at his singing competition audition went viral, and he’s now a nationwide joke—but he did get a job in the admissions department at Cornell. Kevin and Toby were both fired by Dwight, Nellie moved to Poland (the Scranton of Europe), and Stanley retired to Florida.

The day before the wedding, Jim does his best to throw Dwight a fun and Schrute-friendly bachelor party, which is his duty as “bestest mensch.” Meanwhile, Angela is kidnapped by Mose at her bachelorette party and forced into the trunk of a car as part of a traditional Schrute pre-marriage ritual. The wedding day begins with the panel discussion, where Andy discovers he has fans, Erin finally finds her parents, and Pam has to face some tough questions about her reluctance to let Jim follow his dreams.

Following the panel, the wedding preparations begin in earnest, but Jim tells Dwight there’s a problem—the bestest mensch is supposed to be older than the groom, so he can’t do it. But he finds an even better alternative when Michael Scott shows up with a smile and a classic “That’s what she said!” Michael, now a family man with kids of his own, happily sits back and basks in the joy of watching the love that grew out of his office—even the dysfunctional love of Kelly and Ryan, who run off together into the sunset, leaving behind Kelly’s boyfriend and Ryan’s baby (who is then given to Nellie).

Before going to a big reception for the documentary back at Dunder Mifflin, Jim and Pam stop at home, but Jim is surprised to find a realtor showing their house. Pam reveals to him that she had been secretly showing the house for months because she wants Jim to be able to live his dream in Austin with Athleap and have his family there to support him. Seeing the documentary made her see that some things are worth the risk; sometimes you need to do the big, brave thing.

The night ends with a private party in the office where each member of the Dunder Mifflin team says goodbye to their friends who are moving on and to the people behind the cameras.

Best Moment The moment Michael Scott appeared onscreen, I knew that this finale was going to go down as one of my favorite series finales ever. For so long, NBC had been trying to deny all reports of Steve Carell being a part of the finale, but I think everyone knew that a finale of The Office without Michael Scott would just feel wrong. Michael needed to be there—not just for the fans but for the characters as well. Dwight’s face when he hugged Michael was one of the most beautiful single moments of the finale, and it was because it signaled that everything was right in the world: Dwight was marrying Angela, Michael was there to be his best man, and Jim had just pulled off the best prank ever. The emotion in that scene was just right. It wasn’t cloying or heavy-handed; it was filled with the sense of joyful pride that a reunion between these characters needed to have. Michael is proud of Jim and Dwight like a father is proud of his kids, and he should be. But he doesn’t need to say it: It’s all in Carell’s smile. And then he follows that smile with the most-anticiapted “That’s what she said” moment of the series, reminding everyone of the way this show can deftly walk the line between sentimentality and silliness. This moment was everything I’d been waiting for and everything I could have hoped for. It was that kind of perfect series finale moment when you could see the emotions of the actors coming through in their characters in a way that worked wonderfully with the material they were given.

Finale M.V.P. Every actor was at their best in this episode—as it should be. But I think Rainn Wilson stood out above the rest because of the incredible amount of emotional depth behind his performances. I’ve always loved Dwight for his ability to make me laugh, but he made me cry more than once in this episode. I’ve already talked about the sheer joy on his face in his reunion with Michael, but what especially got to me were his reactions in smaller moments. I loved the scene where he fired Jim and Pam so he could give them the best severance packages possible. I loved the warmth in his eyes as he held Angela and listened with everyone else to Creed singing. And I loved his final talking head more than I would have imagined possible. There was something so quintessentially Dwight in the way he made sure to call his coworkers his subordinates, but then the way he talked about his relationship with all of them left me an emotional mess—in the best possible sense of the word. It was a wonderful way to sum up what all of these characters have come to mean to each other, and it felt right that it should come from Dwight. Wilson’s delivery was so genuinely touching; you could feel how much these people meant to the character and how much this show meant to him as an actor.

Most Memorable Line “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?” (Pam)

What Didn’t Work The episode certainly got stronger as it went on. The first half went by without giving me much to feel emotionally connected to, but that thankfully changed as soon as Michael appeared. I also wish there had been more to Michael’s appearance. I know Carell left on a strong note, and I was happy that he didn’t take over the episode. But it felt weird to have him absent from that last scene in the office. At least he should have been given a few more lines at the wedding. I suppose it’s better to be left wanting more than to feel like something was done in a way that was too heavy-handed.

I also found myself feeling uncomfortable during the panel when the fans were beginning to gang up on Pam. I know it was realistic and set the stage for her big revelation later in the episode, but it felt almost too meta to me, which is weird because I’m usually fine with finales that have more than a few “meta moments.” Maybe my unease came from the fact that the fans sounded a lot like me in recent weeks, and it made me feel guilty for saying nasty things about a fictional character, which is a weird feeling.

What Worked I loved that each character got an ending that felt right for them. It was a finale full of “Of course…” moments, which are my favorites. Of course Oscar would be Philip’s godfather. Of course Angela would have people bring cats to her wedding (I’m assuming as gifts?). Of course Ryan would give his baby an allergic reaction just to be alone with Kelly, and of course Kelly would find that romantic. Of course Michael would have kids but he’d also still see his Dunder Mifflin employees as his kids (who married each other, setting up another instant-classic Michael Scott line). Of course Pam would see the documentary and decide to let Jim chase his dream. Of course Andy works at Cornell now. And of course Creed got arrested in the end. Each ending felt tailored to each character in a special way, giving the episode a wonderful sense of closure.

There was so much love in this episode, and it spoke to how much this cast has come to care about one another. From the way B.J. Novak looked at Mindy Kaling before kissing her to the way John Krasinski held Jenna Fischer as they sat in the office at the end, there was such a wonderful warmth to this episode—a warmth this show always had in its best moments.

Most of the time, I judge a series finale by how hard it’s able to make me cry, and by that criteria, The Office had one of the best finales I’ve ever seen. I got choked-up when Michael first appeared, but the tears really started when the office phone began to ring and I knew Pam was going to pick it up. The way that moment was shot from Jim’s point of view—like so many shots of her doing the same thing in the first seasons of this show—was incredibly beautiful. Who knew, “Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam,” could make me cry harder than almost anything else I’ve seen on TV this year? It was the perfect way to close the book on the show while recalling the simple beauty of its beginning.

As Pam said so perfectly, there is a lot of beauty in ordinary things. That’s what the show was all about—the stories found in our mundane lives that become less mundane because of the people in them. The Office was a show about ordinary people in an ordinary job, but there was whole lot of beauty in those ordinary lives. Sometimes, as a writer, I’m struck by how perfectly one sentence can say what most of us would need a whole thesis to explain. Pam’s line was one of those sentences. Whoever wrote that should be proud.

There were a lot of beautiful lines in those final talking heads, but none more beautiful than this one from Andy:

I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.

Some may say that the good old days for The Office ended when Michael Scott left, but I think last night’s finale proved that there was still something left of those good old days to be shared one last time. And I’m so happy I tuned in to watch.

Final Grade A – . This wasn’t a perfect series finale, but it hit all of the emotional beats it needed to hit perfectly. And that’s what I want most of all from a series finale—something that makes me reach for my tissues and moves me beyond anything I was expecting. I fell in love with The Office during the summer before Season Five, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. This was a finale worthy of the show’s best days, and that’s all I could ask for as a fan.

 

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10 thoughts on “Grading the Series Finales: The Office

  1. A-? Really? You’re right, you could never be a teacher because you are too hard of a grader. You were a sobbing mess and said it was probably the best finale (after Boy Meets World) you have ever seen, which means A.
    Oh , and besides Andy’s quote, this gem is not getting much attention, which I believe is a serious oversight, as it just sums up everything you need to know about the character who said it.
    “I feel like all my kids grew up, and then they married each other. It’s every parent’s dream.”- Michael Scott

    • I love that you only comment when you think I reviewed something wrong. 😉 I think the reason I didn’t give it an A was because of what we said around halfway through: We hadn’t cried yet. And as you know, I love to cry when I watch TV. The ending was definitely an A, but the beginning was more of a B for me, so that’s where the A – came from. And yes, that Michael Scott quote was one of the best.

  2. I agree with your A-. I was watching while I was doing other things (I’m a very distracted multi-tasker this week between my lingering New Girl feels and preparing for a trip) and nothing could quite pull me fully into watching the show, especially not in the first half hour. But I still loved it and I will probably watch it again when we get back from our vacation. I agree that every character got their “of course” moment – it was fun to see Michael and Kelly and Ryan and Creed all doing and saying the crazy things you would expect from the good ol’ days. I felt like they balanced the meaningful moments with the humor. The panel was a clever way to handle the reunion and fallout from the doco airing. I felt really horrible for Pam for a moment too – like it really got too real and too mean – I was glad Jim jumped in and defended their decision. And then it all worked out anyway. I think I enjoyed all of the characters more during this episode that I have for a while. The last few months Andy has been really pissing me off, big time. And Michael always made me feel uncomfortable (too unpredictably awful sometimes – I have issues with vicarious embarrassment!), but it turns out I have really missed him and it was so nice to see him back and looking mature and happy. But still with a few of his awesome Michael Scott lines.
    The retrospective was really good too. Interesting to see a bit of the British show and Ricky Gervais talking about how someone said that he played the Michael Scott character was hilarious – good to see that he found that funny and a sign that the show was working.
    My hubby was out and missed the whole thing, so we’ll definitely have to sit down and watch together some time. And then I might have to re-watch seasons 1-4 or 5 at least. Especially now that I can watch Rashida Jones as an awesome person instead of an annoying threat to Jim and Pam’s romance!

    • First of all, I hope the trip you’re preparing for is fantastic! I have one coming up in a few weeks, so I know I’ll be multitasking like crazy soon, too. I also really enjoyed the retrospective. It gave some fun insights into the show—especially the early seasons. I really loved that Ricky Gervais was part of it; it was nice to connect the US version to its roots in the UK before the finale.

      • Thanks. We’re off this morning – cruising Alaska for 7 days! Should be amazing. I just got my act together, now that all my packing is done, and left you a mega comment on the New Girl finale. So I think I completed my to do list! woohooo! I am going to be mostly off the grid for the week – arrrgggghhhh! Thank goodness all my shows are wrapped up and I had a chance to process all of them with you and the other fangirls. Otherwise I’d be going crazy right now. Talk to you soon 🙂

  3. Oh how to express what I feel. I really envy your talent with words. I loved this. It was completely an “I can see that” finale. And it was perfect.

    Personally, I liked that Michael didn’t say much. What he did say was just perfect and did not overshadow his own ending either in the series. Of course I wanted to see more of him. But I understood why he didn’t say more and show up more. I would have loved to see him at the end, but at the same time it felt okay. These were the ones who had been left. They hadn’t said good bye yet. Michael has.

    Dwight. Somehow over the past few seasons, this somewhat completely unlikeable character has become a delight. I cry for him and cheer for him, and last episode, when he received his promotion, I wanted to laugh and sob. This is a man who has many quirks and can quickly grate. But at his heart, he is as loyal and as faithful and as loving as they come (lol–Dwight IS “The Office”). He has pulled at my heart in ways I never expected: when he re-did Pam and Jim’s kitchen (putting the comedy of the moment aside), when he fired them to give them the severance packages, when he was so worried that Jim could not be his best man…..or at the very very end, when he describes his relationships with everyone in the office.

    Just the emotions. Oh my gosh. Everything they said pulled at my heart. They, the characters and the show, touch all my hopes, and my fears, and my dreams. I don’t want to miss the good days and be scared of taking that one risk. Pam’s talk to the camera was very meta. When she talked about hoping that one girl paid attention, I felt like that one girl. I am that girl. I have always identified with Pam more than any other character on television. No matter how many other shows I watch and other heroines I cheer and cry for, Pam touches me in a way that no other character does.

    For me, that is the beauty of the Office. This is a show about the people I know. It is a show about my life, and what my life could easily become. I live in the MIdwest; my life is not glamorous. The people I know are not famous and will never be. But it is MINE in a way that this show showed me it could be.

    I am living in the Best Years. And I do not want to forget this.

    I want to be Pam in the best ways. I want to learn to treasure the little moments and people’s little oddities. I want to do the brave and bold thing. I do not want to sit at home and realized the best days have passed me by. The best days are the ones that we have been given today. Now that this show is gone, I think I’m about to realize just how much I loved it.

    Sorry for the book. Too much emotions 🙂

    • Don’t ever apologize for writing too much here, especially when it’s as eloquent and heartfelt as what you just wrote. You say I have a talent with words, but I think it’s you who has the true talent for talking about what made this show so special. I think we all have a character who makes us feel the way Pam makes you feel, so I’m thrilled that you got to have that beautiful final speech from your favorite character to hold on to after the show is gone. This was a beautiful comment, and I am so thankful you shared it with us!

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