I almost wish I hadn't known the backstory to this episode before I watched it.
"The Farm" began as a backdoor pilot for a Dwight spin-off, but when NBC decided to pass on it, they converted it to a regular episode of The Office. I'm inclined to say that NBC made the right decision but, really, they should be George Costanza-ing everything these days. Tuna on toast isn't working out for you guys. It's time to get the chicken salad on rye.
In any case, in the process of converting the episode to something that could fit into this final season of The Office, they combined it with new footage to create a Frankenstein episode. And I'm curious as to whether I would've noticed the seams so easily had I not known anything beforehand.
The reason for my knowing either way is that so many sitcom trope characters were introduced on the Dwight side of things: the snobby sister, the cute kid, the nitwit brother, the all-you-need-to-know-is-I'm-pretty love interest. Badger. Actually, I'd watch a show about Zeke and Mose carousing.
But, because it was half a pilot, it had a gravity to it that seemed unnatural to the rest of the episode. Dwight made a new life for himself, one completely separate from the rest of the Scranton clan both physically, with a very conscious exit from Scranton's only representative, Oscar, when Dwight started firing shots into the coffin, and stylistically, with a different sentimental tone than that of The Office (mockumentary's tendency to make the camera an active character sometimes subverts some of the sentimentality).
To give credit where it's due, the Dwight portion of the episode did an especially decent job establishing tone, characters, and direction in literally half the time usually allotted. The kid felt like sort of a cheap play, something critical audiences and those accustomed to the normal beats of sitcoms are familiar with, particularly since that's a recurring trick in television even recently (The New Normal and the late Ben and Kate leap to mind), and the love interest had very little focus. But the siblings, the neighbors, and the feeling for what it's like to hang out in the Schrute neck of the woods were impressively demonstrated.
The ending was the one thing that I think would've clinched it for me believing this was a backdoor pilot even had I not known. First, any cold open or coda that doesn't end in a strong physical or ridiculous punchline on The Office is always suspect (think back to a few episodes ago, when Brian and Pam talked in front of the unmanned camera). Then there was the open-endedness of Dwight walking onto the farm with his brother and sister, the beginning of the new life. The tone didn't match. None of this was necessarily bad on its own, but because we know what we know, it came off less like a weird outing for Dwight and revealed the stitching of people trying to patch in a standalone episode... which by mere approach made it feel larger and grander, the seams of the monster.
And in those seams: cupcakes that make you poop.
While Dwight and his rural folk learned to live, die, and play catchy music on a country porch at sunset (because even the bumpkin parts of Pennsylvania know The Decemberists), the rest of the Scranton branch suffered a Packer attack that included laced cupcakes. While it was nice to see Packer again (and, just like I requested in my first round of dos and don'ts for The Office's final season, there was no Packer abuse and he got his very own episode instead of a brief mention), compared to the Dwight stuff, everything contained within the other plot seemed trite and blue. But with that being said, because of how the Schrute story felt like it was on fast-forward, the Scranton story just felt like any other mediocre plot from the past two seasons.
Though I should've, I didn't realize Packer was up to something until he made his way back out of the office. And then the things that happened because of the drug-laced cupcakes, or at least the stories people told the morning after, didn't really inspire much laughter. I feel like this was mostly because of the people telling those stories. Phyllis and Nellie had bad trips that fit their characters (of course Phyllis would buy a bunch of American Girl outfits) but neither one was especially funny. Even Andy and Kevin's flashback sequence was fairly lame; between Andy's fake DJing and the two trying on each other's clothes, it was a poor flex of the writers' comedy muscles to get through this story. I feel like more interesting things happened when they were all on espresso.
Why didn't Creed or Meredith or even Erin speak up? Their stories would've been far more interesting. At least Clarke squeezed in a funny: "It wasn't my best night. But it wasn't my worst."
Maybe we should look at the unintentional (or maybe intentional) effect of this episode that showed Dwight moving forward, how much gravity that entails, and how it was a complete tonal shift from his life in paper sales and the comparative absurdity and triviality of life at the Scranton branch. I felt a flutter of sadness watching Dwight descend that hill, even though I know we have another couple months' worth of episodes. As we prepare to say goodbye to these characters, maybe we should be looking forward to themes like this, ones that aren't writers going through the motions of filling time with toilet jokes and working blue but honest ways of saying farewell.
– Dirtball. I'll allow it.
– CreedWatch: "$3.75 a cupcake, actually. $3.65 if you buy a dozen." … "I never forget a number. Names: in one ear and out the other. Places: nope. Faces: that's rich. But numbers: I have a gift. I guess that's why I'm an accountant." It was a bit of an esoteric turn for Creed's punchline tonight. If you're not a superfan of the show, you might just assume that Creed actually IS an accountant, at which point this joke would just seem to ramble for no reason. Even knowing that Creed isn't an accountant didn't help. Really? He couldn't have said anything after tripping all night?
– Any show that wants to include Badger is a friend of mine.
– The shotgun blasts into the coffin were almost certainly the edgiest thing The Office has done since Packer did unspeakable things to Michael Scott's office carpet. That Oscar ran away in horror was the icing on the cake. He was the perfect character for that scenario. That would've been too much for Jim and Pam to smirk at the camera while Dwight pumped his aunt full of lead. Nellie might have also been an interesting choice for that scene.
– Do you think the pilot would've worked? It's hard to tell for me. There are so many successful spin-offs in the history of television, but so many more terrible ones. Compare Cheers with Frasier. Both good series independent of each other, and Fraiser worked at least in part because of how different it was from its predecessor. It was still a multi-camera that took place on only a handful of sets, but the tone of the show was completely different. Now look back to Joey just after Friends ended. The shows were too similar and it eventually fell into NBC's very full cancel-it-quick outbox tray. It's hard to tell what the style of the Dwight series would've been since they were trying to blend it together with The Office, but a big part of it would've been dependent on that.
– From my observation, the only continuity issue I see is between Dwight essentially asking Angela to run away with him last time we saw this show and Dwight being enamored enough with a local girl to perform weird, gross courting rituals. Come on, Dwight! You might already have a Schrute baby!