This final season of The Office has had an "if not now, when?" air about it. You can feel that the producers have realized that all those ideas that have been on the writers' room white boards and mental notepads have a firm expiration date, so if you want to have Holiday Troll Dwight steal Christmas, this is the last chance. This cleaning-out-the-files vibe has led to some unexpected moments (I wonder how long the Pam and Jim unraveling has been in the works? It's one of the most meticulously crafted plots this show has ever done), but tonight's episode is a reminder that sometimes the reason the show's writers never got around to doing a story is because there isn't much of a story there.
Dunder Mifflin is a paper company. If a writer were to sit down and think of 25 stories to tell about a paper company, a paper airplane competition would eventually make the short list. So it seems like an idea that should have happened a while ago. There's a good reason it didn't, though. Turns out there's not much natural drama to it. In an effort to get Dunder Mifflin to push more of their Airstream Deluxe (it's practically made of plastic!), the good people of Weyerhammer sponsor said competition, with the winner getting $2,000, which Nellie definitely did not forget to tell everyone about.
It's a slight plot mechanism, though most of the humor of this episode was watching everyone freak out over such a weightless endeavor. Though she lost the cash, and her shit, Erin was the MVP of the matchup. Ellie Kemper hasn't had much to do since Andy and Erin broke up, but she was clearly having fun exploring the dark side of her usually sunny-to-the-point-of-simple character. (Maybe Ellie Kemper got a taste for being a bad b— after her Mindy Project guest turn.) Life in the orphanage taught her to fight for every potential snack, pillow, or parent, and though she's worried that Pete will be shocked by her aggressive side, she throws herself into the game, talking smack to Clark and beating the crap out of an innocent box when she whiffs her chance at the big money. For his part, Pete is still on this show, which I had forgotten about, and looked horrified when Erin screamed "eat it, piggie!" to Clark, but not so horrified that he wanted to risk her wrath by doing much to stop her.
But the real story wasn't about everyone competing to win the money, it was about Angela competing with her pride. After separating from the Senator, she moved into a studio apartment with her son and her cats Bandit2, Krinklepuss, Tinky, and apparently a million others. She had her chance with Dwight and she can't change her mind now and become "one of those gold-digging tramps you read about that try to bag a farmer." Dwight tries to act like it's all good. He has Esther, he has a new farm, and he keeps telling himself that "when it came to manured fields, Angela was at best indifferent." But he cheers so loudly for her during the airplane run that even Esther realizes something is amiss. (She doesn't have much of a character trait beyond "earnest," which is still more than some third pegs in a love triangle get these days.) Dwight tells Esther that Angela needs the money (she's kind of like a gambler, but not in the stand-up-and-cheer way like the song), but when Esther reveals that they are rooting for her, she demands that Dwight not blow the game. (Lucky for Dwight, Creed knows a guy who can turn $2,000 into $800.) Angela has too much pride to accept Dwight's pity, much as she has too much pride to open up to Dwight and admit how she really feels, because she can't stand the idea that he might reject her once and for all. So really, the love triangle isn't Dwight vs. Angela vs. Esther, it's Dwight vs. Angela vs. Angela's Pride, which is a matchup the show finally needs to resolve before it can end.
Andy has always shown a love of thea-tah and need for approval, so the idea that he would try to make it as an actor was probably inevitable, but also something the producers couldn't commit to until it was okay for Andy's character to quit his job. The scolding he got from David Wallace for ditching work to go sailing didn't keep Andy from blowing off his responsibilities to shoot his first gig, a video about eye safety that will be seen by "tons of workers in the industrial chemical community." When written down, this plot was even thinner than the wings of those airplanes. Andy has to wash his eyes out for the video, but he (all of a sudden) can't do it because he gets freaked out by the thought of anything going into his eyes. (Given the option, he'd rather go full Lena Dunham than have stuff happen to his peepers.) It's not much, but Ed Helms always makes a meal out of Andy's preening tendencies, and he really gets to show off here. Andy might not have done much professional acting, but he certainly has the lingo ("I made a character choice to be a scientist that really enjoys his job") and diva attitude down. He's even picked out the traumatic childhood memories he'll use next. With the help of a bored-out-of-his-mind Daryl (not sure why Daryl's would even want to come along to this, but Craig Robinson's laconic cool balanced out Andy's tweaked-out energy nicely) and some encouragement from his agent/best friend/drill sergeant Carla (I was worried about the Roseanne Barr guest casting, but her weary, over-it attitude works for the character), he's able to go deep inside, find a true place, and then dunk his eyeballs in the damn water. Of course, he then immediately demands another take. Actors.
After attending couples counseling, Jim and Pam are making an effort to show how much they appreciate each other. By saying things like "I acknowledge and appreciate that you went out of your way to get me tea" and "If I had spoken my truth earlier, about not wanting to move to Philly, then maybe we wouldn't have had this opportunity for couple's therapy." (That last part was at least meant to sound helpful.) Though they are trying to make this work, the two of them come off like they're trying to trick Dwight into something. It's all forced mannerisms and careful speech. And it only takes one instance of Jim picking up the phone while Pam is talking to make it all seem useless. Jim decides to just swallow his truth. Pam wonders if it's all just too late. ("My heart just feels so blocked up.")
What happened next is the stuff a million Tumblrs and GIF blogs are made of. Like everything else in this episode, it's slight on paper, but it works. Jim tells Pam "this was really weird and it was really hard," but he wants to keep trying. He then leaves for Philadelphia and forgets his umbrella. Pam hesitates, then brings it to him. Jim hugs Pam and tells her he loves her. He rubs her back tenderly. She doesn't do anything for what feels like forever. Then she kisses him, and they tell each other "I love you."
This will probably be debated heavily by fans, but I'll go on record as thinking the flashback to the wedding and the voice-over was completely unnecessary. Oh sure, it got me in my tear spot (I'm not made of stone), but after rewatching the episode it's clear that Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski didn't need the extra help. Their little touches (him desperately leaning his head into her neck, her passive look of confusion) were more than enough to tell the story of them deciding that, yeah, they really did want to keep trying. Though most of this episode felt slight but likable enough, their hug was small, but gigantic enough as is. The wedding flashback should have stayed one of those ideas that they never got around to using.