The Office Recap: ‘Michael’s Last Dundies’

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“Well this is gonna hurt like a motherf*cker.”

2011 has been a hugely impressive year for The Office in its development, experimentalism, focus on individual characters, and approaching its unknown post-Michael Scott future, and at this point my anxiety level is through the roof. Every week it seems that Office episodes are in direct competition with Office press, and as curious and as nerve-racking as it gets, it’s also given the show a unique kind of excitement — it’s as close to live as a pre-taped and scripted show can be in many ways, and during last night’s episode, I couldn’t tell anymore whether I was watching Michael Scott or Steve Carrell.

In “Michael’s Last Dundies,” Michael teaches Deangelo how to put on the annual Dundie Awards, which sets the stage (just like last week’s episode “Training Day”) for a Michael-focused but ensemble-supported episode, a format which I’m sure will continue in Carrell’s last episode next week. The plot focuses completely on Michael’s near departure and allows for plenty of Office nostalgia, except for that one part when Erin breaks up with Gabe during her Dundie acceptance speech for the Cutest Redhead of the Office Award, telling him “I’m not attracted to you. I cringe when you talk.”

The Gabe breakup was a weird throw-in moment in an episode that was otherwise drowning in Michael Scott sentimentality, and I’m divided between feeling proud for Erin’s decisiveness and feeling icky for the way she blindly follows Pam’s advice and humiliates Gabe in front of everyone. Andy looks pretty happy when it happens, but he should think twice. Girl’s unstable.

What makes the Dundies so great is how seriously everyone takes them, and since everyone knew this was the last time Michael would be choosing the superlatives of the year, they were more invested than ever. Some notable winners include Meredith for the Best Mom Award, Stanley for the Diabetes Award, Andy for the Doobie Doobie Pothead Stoner Award, and Dwight for the Promising Assistant Manager Award, which only makes him more furious he wasn’t considered or even recommended for the manager position (“This is for you, trash can,” he says while tossing his trophy in the trash). Michael also includes Deangelo with the Michael Scott Award for Best Host, but since Deangelo has panic attacks when he tries to perform, he yells his speech while blasting music on headphones King’s Speech-style, prompting the entire Dundie crew to get kicked out of the restaurant. They bring Michael back to the office to finish the show, and they have some things planned for him. Ah, the Dundies: “They’re like the Golden Globes, just less mean,” Michael says. One of my favorite lines of the night.

Deangelo seems like a great character to fit into Dunder Mifflin, but we already know Will Ferrell’s not staying on the show. And Rainn Wilson has mentioned leaving, and so has Mindy Kaling, and if The Office wanted to ease my panic attacks after a constant flow of casting and celebrity guest announcements, the last thing they should’ve done was had the entire cast sing a rewritten-for-Michael “Seasons of Love.” We just had to watch Michael’s emotional proposal to Holly, then Michael’s emotional acceptance of the new manager, and now we have to watch Michael cry while everyone sings to him in harmony? Sometimes too much excitement can weigh a show down or make things seem oversentimental or indulgent, and even though I cringed when I heard the cast start to sing “nine million nine hundred eighty-six thousand minutes,” their ensemble power makes it work. I’m sad more than I’m laughing, but at least the sadness is real.

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.