Welcome, friends, to the final edition in the rich tapestry that is The Office Christmas episodes. Next year, look forward to the final Valentine's Day, Arbor Day, and final season finale episodes!
Anyone who's deigned to watch NBC programming this past week has been inundated with promos begging you to look back at what actually is a rich history of winter-holiday-themed Office offerings. Think back to Yankee Swap and Jim's tea kettle of memories, Meredith's intervention, the time Michael was a jerk and ruined Christmas by playing Jesus. One of my personal favorites: the snowball massacre during "Classy Christmas" and how no one told Jim to go home and get a shirt that wasn't stained with blood and shame.
So where did this episode fit in with the rest of those? Did it aspire to the heights of Christmas chicanery displayed in "Benihana Christmas" or was it uneven like the rest of this Farewell Season has been?
Well, it didn't have Andy in it, so that's a check in the "nice" column.
It did have mention of him, however, in a lazy, manhandled sequence. In case you'd stopped watching The Office and just came back for a Christmas special, the show really, really wants you to 'ship Pete and Erin over that Jim and Pam shark and they want you to be okay with it happening at the cost of Andy. They've been laying it on thick all season with awkward flirtation (and the vilification of Andy), but none of it has been so lacking in subtlety as it was during "Dwight Christmas."
It's the lack of subtlety that made this episode a bastardization of the winning formula employed by The Office first few seasons. Maybe we're an educated audience now after watching Jim and Pam hurdle their obstacles, but the way Pete and Erin ended up cuddling in front of Die Hard was uninspired. My love for Erin wasn't enough to let her "I'm still Andy's girlfriend... but you can leave your arm" lines slide. The groundwork was weird and clumsy: Andy, who just last season risked his job to declare his love for Erin, is now so neglectful and selfish that he's keeping himself busy on a boating journey into some mainstream-movie-inspired vision quest, switching off that overly attentive wannabe lover who courted her with like 30 birds and a marching band in favor of being a literally absent lover.
It's almost like the writers hate Andy just as much as we do. He's been so over-the-top villainous this season, his return would require tying Erin to some railroad tracks just to be consistent. After a few consecutive weeks of seriously truncated or completely absent opening themes, I'm starting to think this is a personal thing against Ed Helms.
Since Pete and Erin are more of a footnote to the season right now and not the heart of the show, we had to look for that core elsewhere and we found a better suggestion of it in the Jim and Dwight bromance. Rivals, sure, but these are two men who understand each other with uncanny accuracy, as knowledge of your foe is important in a war of pranks. These guys are frenemies who often tend to lean more toward the friend part. So Dwight's violent reaction to Jim leaving (it was kind of impish afterall) was touching, even if the moment meant Jim being caned by a dude in a Belschnickel outfit. Sometimes you just have to beat the man you love with a switch to show him how much you love him.
There were, however, whiffs of an invented cliffhanger. After Dwight freaked out about Jim leaving, Pam walked him out and they said their goodbyes, which, you would assume wouldn't need to be drawn out since Scranton is a mere two hours away. But they dropped lines like, "Well, this is it" and "I'm never going to see you again" and "I can't believe this is actually happening"—all of which were obfuscated by humor but, sarcastic or not, those are things that characters on their way out would say. The knowledge that NBC would bombard the universe with "Jim's Last Episode on The Office" advertising if that were the case is what shook the doubts from my mind that there was any chance he was actually exiting. But I believed it momentarily and immediately felt kind of stupid for it, especially when Jim returned almost instantly.
So where does the episode rank in the pantheon of The Office's Christmas specials? It's not without merit (Darryl getting wasted, Nellie and Toby starting their makeout initially just because she wanted to shut him up, Meredith bending over to take a switch) but it was never as cohesive as even episodes of the recent past, and it navigated the seasonal warmth and attitude with all the grace of a captain drunk on nog. While I don't think anyone misses Kelly terribly, the show really could've used their perennial holiday episode writer Mindy Kaling.
– CreedWatch: "Tapas Swiss Miss." I felt like Creed was trampled on in this episode. While I liked the quick hit of Creed agreeing to nonsense, it felt like he was just parroting (he might as well have said "purple monkey dishwasher"). The explanation for it ("Spanish tapas and Swiss Miss hot cocoa. What's so hard to understand?") didn't improve a line that was hard to understand. Not sure what could've been done better but the writers didn't really give Creed great service this episode.
– Kevin, however, did have a couple of good moments, particularly in the early part of the episode. His rant about the minification of cakes gave me pause for how much I like cupcakes, and his visible hurt when he got the line from Die Hard wrong was priceless. Not to mention he and Angela were adorable together once he donned the Santa suit. Maybe a little too adorable. Hm. How many of you are Kevin/Angela 'shippers?
– Toby played interference for us by occupying Nellie with stories about the Scranton Strangler case, and somehow that made things a little more interesting with the makeout session. It's a weird culmination of the flirty thing they've had this season (remember Nellie dressed up as Sexy Toby for Halloween?). Well played, Toby. Well played.
– When Erin suggested that she and Pete watch Die Hard, Pete asked her if she was sure, like they were in high school and he was laying his virgin girlfriend down into bed whiie her parents were out of town. They weren't about to have clandestine sex; it was watching an action movie in the breakroom at the office. Maybe check those hopes a little, Peter.
– Dwight: "You quit on Christmas, Christmas quits on you." Awwwwww. He's the sweetest, most petulant coworker a guy could ask for.
– Darryl, drunk on moonshine punch, discussing something he realized about Meredith: "She has, like, an Emma Stone thing." And that's how she has children.
– Though I knew of Black Peter before, I did not expect a Mose-in-blackface joke to appear in this episode. But do you ever really expect blackface?