Of all the things that the mockumentary/cinema-verité style did for The Office, chief among them was that it provided the show with a format perfectly suited for a series finale. Look at all those other sucker sitcoms who have to nestle their end-of-show character assessments and recollections into some sort of hackneyed story, while the good folks of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton just got to look directly into the camera and tell you whatever thoughtful and eloquent thing sprang to mind. There's no room for soliloquy in your run-of-the-mill sitcom.
Like Cory said in the comments of our list of The Office's top 25 episodes, last week's "A.A.R.M." could have been a finale except it lacked a certain direction for many of the characters. The series finale, without pretense, was a where-are-they-now and, seemingly, everyone got their happy ending, as you would expect. Except Toby. But you probably expected that, too.
Before sitting down at the banquet that was "Finale," there were certain things we knew going in with regard to what we'd be dining on: (1) Pam was going to redeem herself, (2) there was going to be a lot of manipulation, and (3) by the end of it, we'd feel like it was the last day of senior year and all your friends were going far away for college.
After Jim and Pam made up, the show decided to capitalize on the large gesture Jim made to come home. Basically, over the course of the season, the audience was split on whether or not Jim was being a jerk for moving forward on plans to move to Philadelphia; some supported Jim for chasing a dream and some supported Pam's disillusionment and concern with regard to Jim's distance. By making sure he made the big move back to Scranton, quitting on his dream and stationing himself at a paper company that represents mediocrity, the show brought the entire audience over to Jim's side. Pam overhearing Darryl's news about Athlead, which Jim rejected as not being in-line with his life anymore, was basically a telegraph to us that she was about to make that decision for him.
It was the ultimate in Jim's Betterman story. He was the prototype for every Betterman story on The Office. Angela was engaged to Andy but Dwight was the Betterman. Erin was dating Gabe but Andy was the Betterman. Val and her boyfriend were no match for Darryl Betterman. Even Angela at the end of the series was a Betterman. It's about meekness and inheriting what you want.
Jim hosted an "aw shucks" clinic at the panel, which was populated with fewer audience proxy questions than I thought there would be. The fact that most of them had to do with Jam was about right, though. The point was that, with Jim defending Pam's doubt and being unfazed when the audience reacted so strongly to their relationship, we saw a microcosm of what we now know wore Pam down to start showing the house and clearing the path to what Jim wants. Pam loved her stagnant life. But Jim was the Betterman.
The panel itself started to open the floodgates of manipulation. It started with Andy getting some love from the documentary fans, continued through the Jim and Pam questions, and peaked with the Erin story. Erin searching for her birth mother is a vague recollection somewhere deep in my memory of the series, so vague that I'm not even sure it's a real memory or one created by this episode. "Oh, right. The birth mother thing. Yeah, I totally remember that." I remember Devon more than I remember Erin looking for her biological mother.
And, yet, when she ran to her mom and hugged her, I couldn't help but get a little misty. That shouldn't have felt earned at all (and I would venture to guess that more than a few of you might've rolled your eyes at such an endeavor). Maybe it's my affection for the Erin character or maybe it was just the performance. Or maybe I'm just scarred by watching that Belle & Sebastian cartoon as a kid and whenever a child gets reunited with their mother after years of absence, I get a little trembly. Whatever it is, I'm recognizing that we shouldn't've felt anything for that moment but it still seemed to work on some level.
The panel, however, only set the floodgates ajar. We headed into Dwight's wedding and it was one Guten Pranken on the audience after another, the dam completely open. And it opened with a bang. I should've known that, in order to keep the secret, Steve Carell would straight up lie to everyone with that flimsy excuse of, "Oh, I think it's truer to the character if he never returns." Garbage. Hot garbage. I can't believe I fell for that. Of course Michael Scott would attend Dwight's wedding and be the bestest mensch and hang out with all of the people that he loves the most in the world. It's the only thing that makes sense. But I'm glad his return was still uncertain because the reveal was made that much sweeter.
Following that, the hits to our tears ducts just kept on coming. The wedding itself in accordance with the Schrute tradition. Stanley made a Phyllis bird sculpture and we got to see them dance together. "Come on, Toby! Let's go to the after party!" Jam selling their house. Pam reminding us about the butt mural. Everyone going upstairs to hang out together. Pam returning to her receptionist desk. And then came the video testimonials.
The emotion that you want at the end of a series is that you know everyone is riding off into the sunset for their own good. You'll miss them, but you want them to be happy and continuing somewhere. Giving us the words of wisdom from every individual cast member (except, curiously, Angela) to absorb while we were sniffling and trying not to embarrass ourselves with tears was the tricky way to work in old footage while also making sure to give us that feeling of satisfaction. It felt okay to say goodbye because it was the right atmosphere. Nothing was too abrupt. Nothing was painfully overwrought. Everyone got their shot (okay, Pam got to go twice) to speak the erudite and sentimental things we all think for these characters. And I'm okay with that.
It was the kind of finale where you take a big sigh of relief at the end. Your brow wasn't crinkled like it was at the end of Seinfeld. You didn't roll your eyes like when Will Smith turned out the lights on Fresh Prince. But you also weren't overwhelmed like you might have been at the end of Mad About You (seriously, go back and watch that series finale—it's amazing). It was just right. For as much as we complained about the latter half of the series and yearned for the Michael Scott years, the ending was more about the fact that you took a journey with these characters. Even though we're parting ways and the last few miles or so were pretty bumpy, we're still good with these people.
And we can all agree that Athleap is a ridiculous name for a company.
– It was a good idea to include everyone in the opening credits for the end of the series. I know that it was probably a business thing or some motif that made it so that only a handful of characters were in the opening but I'm happy to see that everyone got to be featured.
– Anyone else wish now that Bill Hader had taken Ed Helms' place as Andy for this past season?
– That being said, what a good way to turn Andy's character around. What a way to show growth in the span of a single episode.
– It was nice to see the show confirm that I'd want Jim to plan my bachelor party. I want to shoot a bazooka.
– "Gentle, Jakey! Gentle!" I'm really happy that they put a really, really awkward scene in the middle of the episode. Get back to your roots, show.
– Mose is still a Top 5 character on this show for me. I think it's just the stiffness of his running. The kidnapping was extraordinary.
– CreedWatch: I was a afraid the only thing we were going to get from Creed was that he was on the run from the cops, that we wouldn't see him for the rest of the episode. But we got plenty, including a little singalong. And his last words, "Let's do this." I'm going to miss you, Creed.
– Why not have Angela walk down the aisle to "Sweet Child of MIne" by Guns and Roses?
– With that, "That's what she said" is officially done. You must now all to switch to "Phrasing!" if you haven't already.
– "I feel like all my kids grew up and married each other." Ah, yes. Vocalization of the Friends syndrome that The Office represents.
– "This stupid, wonderful, boring, amazing job." Way to put it in a capsule, Jim.
– Lastly, these two idiots deserve each other.
What'd you think of "Finale"?