Let's get this out of the way right now.
Dwight Schrute: "I can't believe you came."
Michael Scott: "That's what she said."
As previously stated, Best. That's What She Said. Ever. And Jim bowing out of his Bestest Mensch duties so Michael could take over? Not his funniest prank ever (hard to pick, though I'm partial to the time he replaced Dwight's desk with nothing but wrapping paper), but definitely the Best Prank Ever.
While the official word until very recently was that Steve Carell wouldn't be appearing in this episode, I never doubted that we would at least get a cameo. And he was used perfectly here. Carell had previously stated that he thought that Michael had grown past needing the camera's validation, and as such we saw him mostly in the background, dancing with friends or showing off two phones’ worth of kid pics, thrilled that after so many years he finally had the family he always wanted. But ultimately, the old goof just couldn't help himself, and we got one more classic Michaelism before he returned to Holly and the Scott Tots. "I feel like all my kids grew up, and then they married each other. It's every parent’s dream."
Carell is famously one of the nicest actors in Hollywood, and it's easy to imagine that whatever reluctance he had to return might partially have been out of fear of overshadowing the rest of the cast on their final bow, but the way he was used here felt like just one of the many callbacks that executive producer and episode writer Greg Daniels peppered throughout this episode, like bringing back minor characters like Devon (fired way back in season two) to Carol the Realtor (Carell’s wife Nancy) to the stripper from Bob Vance's bachelor party. (Her charms did nothing to assuage Dwight's hankering for onion loaf.) I even began to think that Pam or Jim might have arranged for the Ben Franklin impersonator to dance at Angela's bachelorette party, but I'm glad they went in another direction. Most of the humor of this episode was sweet, playing on our affection for these characters and our nostalgia for this show. But the revelation that Meredith's face-tattooed son Jacky would be the evening's entertainment ("someone needs to get their pipes fixed or cleaned or whatever?") felt like Daniels showing that even amid the tearful good-byes, this show could give us one of its most cringe-inducing moments ever. But hey, Meredith seemed proud. ("Give 'em a good show, entrepreneur!")
I'm sure that this was the first episode that many old fans had seen in a while. While The Office remained one of NBC's highest rated shows, the numbers, buzz, and general goodwill dropped significantly after Steve Carell left. So did the quality, for a while, but I'm glad we got this last season. The jokes popped more consistently, and the characters felt more dynamic than they had in a while. It wasn't without its faults, but I'm willing to call it the fourth best season of the show overall, which is by no means faint praise. The Office was always about more than just one character, and this final season was a chance to see how everyone else would end up now that Michael had found his happy ending.
This ninth season has had a theme of characters deciding to move on, struggling to figure out what the next step is, or feeling trapped and desperate. The final episode took place a year after last week's episode, which ended with the debut of the years-in-the-works documentary The Office: An American Workplace. The documentary crew is back for one last round of interviews, to be used as bonus features on the DVD editions, though even Dwight knows that nobody buys DVDs anymore. (Didn’t stop NBC from hyping the upcoming season nine DVD during the run-up retrospective, though.) During these last interviews, we get glimpses of how everyone has changed in a year. Maybe it was seeing themselves on TV, maybe it was the passing of time, or maybe it was love, but we got the sense that even though the camera crews — and by extension, us — were leaving, everyone would be okay. Well, maybe not Toby. But the fact that Angela apologized to Phyllis after snapping at her and then seemed to actually want to hang out with people at the after-after-party seemed like profound personal growth.
A year after turning down his dream job, Jim seems truly at peace. He long ago accepted that Dwight is one of his closest friends whether he likes it or not, and seems honored to have been selected Bestest Mensch. Though he admits that he has spent the past twelve years tricking Dwight, for the bachelor party he will perform only Gutten Prankens of joy. And why not? Dwight, long thought to be a hapless idiot, has made Dunder Mifflin more successful than ever. If Jim's Ultimate Dwight Bachelor Party Experience seemed a bit reminiscent of the Everyone Gets Their Ultimate Bachelor Party Experience episode of Parks and Recreation, well, let's just blame Mike Schur. But not too harshly. (And seriously, Dwight had never looked happier than when he shot that bazooka.)
After initially being weird about the pending nuptials (which is so unlike him), Schur's Cousin Mose finally got into the spirit of things and performed the ceremonial bridal kidnapping. In order to get his bride back, Dwight has to find her at a bar and buy everyone drinks. (It's nice to see that Dwight has made up with James Urbaniak and the rest of his crew.) Jim picked a very specific bar, though. This bar. Kevin's bar. Kevin and Dwight hadn't spoken since Dwight fired Kevin and Toby, and it was time to clear the air. Since Kevin was terrible at math and hygiene, he's probably happier owning a bar than being an accountant anyway, and after Dwight assured him that he was only fired for work performance and not something actually important, the two made up, and Kevin got to show up to the wedding and sound almost eloquent reading from the Book of Solomon. Gutten Prank No. 3, accomplished.
But before the wedding, there was the live Q&A, which seemed like Daniels and his writing staff (many of whom made cameos in the audience, as did Jennie Tan, who runs the fan site OfficeTally.Com) channeling their memories of awkward PaleyFest chats. When people attacked Pam for not believing in Jim's career, he stood up for his wife and admitted to his mistakes from the past, from "not communicating" to "being a little selfish." This probably did not dissuade Jim's many female admirers in the room. Pam admitted letting fear guide her decisions, and the challenges her "fairy-tale romance" endured before "It got deeper and it got stronger." Again, some members of the audience probably didn't want to hear that.
But other audience members at the chat had completely different agendas, like Joan Cusack's character, who asked Erin (who seemed surprised to even get a question) if she hated the mother who put her up for adoption. No, Erin insisted. At least not "hate hate." Then it took Erin what seemed like an eternity to figure out that this was her mother. And hey, Ed Begley Jr. is her dad! (Kind of a shame he didn't get more lines, but there was a lot to stuff to get to in this episode.) Bonus feature Q&As: always good for bringing estranged families together in heart-warming fashion. And please drop by the Scranton Cultural Center next week for the Irish Step-Dancing Semi Finals.
Not all of the characters had major life changes like Erin and Dwight. Stanley just retired (and got divorced yet again) and became a much less grumpy walrus. He even carved Phyllis a wooden statute. Phyllis is basically the same, which is fine because Phyllis was always just happy to be there, though she did miss Stanley so much she tried to fatten up his replacement. Meredith seems like a bit less of a mess (though I demand to see the degree), Daryl is doing great with the newly christened Athleap, and is still with Val. We're not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, because it's not like the show will flesh her character out now. Oscar is running for State Senate, and he's finally going to get the people that left-turn lane by the Arby's that the Senator promised. Creed is on the run from the law (though he didn’t run far). Toby is living in New York, working on the Great American Novel. (What, Chad Flenderson Tales aren't good enough for you anymore, Toby?) Paul Lieberstein reportedly hates acting, but I hope he doesn't focus on becoming a full-time writer going forward. No actor besides him can utter a line like "I have six roommates" with the right level of pathetic enthusiasm.
But not every character gets to show personal growth. Ryan and Kelly are both invited to the wedding, which is either unrealistic or Angela really has matured. Kelly is still with her husband the pediatrician and is as shallow as ever (good thing she didn't ruin her Jimmy Choos on that disgusting mud), while Ryan brings along an infant son named Drake. (His baby mama "went out to get a charger for her e-cigarette. Oldest story in the book.") To get some alone time with Kelly, he gets his child to eat a strawberry, thus triggering an allergic reaction so Kelly's husband will take care of him. This is the most romantic thing Kelly's ever heard of. They instantly run off together, which is both sad and kind of heartwarming. These two idiots deserve each other, because no one else deserves the punishment of being with them. Especially not little Drake. Given the options, he might be better off with Nellie. If Ryan asks, the two of them will be in Europe somewhere.
The biggest situational reveal this episode was Andy Bernard. In these past few seasons, Andy has become a receptacle for retrofitted Michael Scott jokes, and for a while it seemed like Andy might end up like David Brent at the end of the original version of The Office, a reality show has-been desperately clinging onto his sixteenth minute. It didn't work out that way. His cry-if-I-wanna tantrum from The Next Great A Cappella Sensation struck a chord with people. "Not a very compassionate chord." He finally got the fame he wanted, but not the way he wanted. His tantrum became a viral video hit, and even earned a Saturday Night Live parody. (Dammit, The Office, don't try to make me process my sadness over losing Bill Hader on SNL while I'm in the middle of processing my sadness over losing you.) For a while, Andy was up there with the Star Wars kid and the Double Rainbow guy. Oddly, this seems to have been a good thing. Andy has finally learned that there's more to life than just wanting attention. He's been chastened, and it seems to have helped him gain a measure of peace. When a douchebag starts making fun of him at the bachelor party, he blows him off with barely a shrug.
Andy gets concerned looks and concerned bear hugs throughout this episode, but he keeps insisting that he's fine. Turns out he is. He was invited to speak at Cornell's commencement as a joke, but he turned on the Nard Dawg charm and killed it. Now he works in the Admissions Department. He seems happier and less angry, if wistful. But hey, that's what seeing old friends at weddings will do. "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good ol’ days, before you've actually left them. Someone should write a song about that."
And finally, there's Jim and Pam. Look, from the moment the idea of Jim and Pam leaving Scranton so Jim could have a job that actually challenged and fulfilled him was planted, we knew where this was going. Austin. Well, at first Philadelphia, but the tacos in Austin are real, so it’s a fine change. Now, this story line may have been stretched out a bit, and the idea that one of the documentary crew members had a thing for Pam was a shocking development that fizzled out, but the fact that it ended more or less the way everyone expected it to doesn't mean it was less of a success. Jim and Pam's first prolonged fight showed that they didn't have a fairy-tale romance, they had a real marriage, which isn't always as cute or magical, but it’s real and it can stand up to the world's challenges.
Pam is finally ready to leave Scranton, and surprised Jim by selling the house without him knowing. Well, he wouldn't have known if the buyers hadn't been late. Jim's not the only one who can make a Big Jim Gesture. Jim insists she doesn't have to do this. She agrees. She wants to, which is more important. Later at the after-after-party in the office (the lame PBS after-party made people pay for pillows, even when they had their picture on them, and had executive producers horning in on the group photo), Pam takes a call at her old desk. "I'm sorry. Jim Halpert doesn't work here anymore."
After Dwight fires them both for the severance (they'll always have a place in the barn), the last few minutes are talking heads where we get to hear the characters riff one more time. One more petty annoyance from Oscar (no one appreciates his origami), one more dumb Kevin comment ("if you film anybody long enough, they're going to do something stupid. It's only human natural"), one more moment of Creed being weird before the cops take him away. (He may look terrifying with his long beard and bald head, but he's still got a pretty singing voice.)
Though Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, and John Krasinski got most of the attention and big laughs, the series' true MVP was Jenna Fischer. She could land a good frustrated look with the best of them, but her vulnerability and warmth provided the series its humanity. Her character changed the most organically throughout the series' life, and in a very unshowy way, she provided a center that made these characters seem like an ad hoc family, not just a collection of types. So it's appropriate she uttered the final words we heard as we move from her taking the painting she drew of Dunder Mifflin off the wall, to Michael Scott placing it on the wall after buying it at her art show years ago, to a final image of Dunder Mifflin itself.
"I thought it was weird when you picked us to make a documentary, but all in all, I think an ordinary paper company like Dunder Mifflin was a great subject for a documentary. There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that kind of the point?"
The Office argued that there were no mundane people, only people stuck in mundane situations, clinging to each other to make it a little bit easier. And now The Office is closed. Thanks for reading and discussing this with me, and thank you to Vulture for the opportunity. Now I have to go find my box of Dunder Mifflin tissues.