After 201 episodes of Dunder Mifflin adventures, The Office – which set the trend for dry, music-free, single-camera American mockumentary sitcoms for years to come and spawned a countless trail of recaps, spoilers, reviews, thinkpieces, and GIFs – waved its final goodbye last night. While the past two episodes “Livin’ the Dream” and “A.A.R.M.” felt more like caps to this season’s storylines, “Finale” served as a celebration of the show that went from the struggling underdog it was back in 2005 to the powerhouse NBC Thursday night leader of nearly a decade. The episode – which included some weirdly awesome cameos by Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Eric Wareheim, Greg Daniels, Allison Silverman, and more – picks up a year after last week’s events: Stanley has become Florida Stanley permanently, Ryan and Kelly run off together (leaving a baby and fiancé behind), Mose and his scarecrow share glances, Erin reunites with her Joan Cusack/Ed Begley Jr. parents, Dwight and Angela get married, Jim and Pam sell their house to live the happy Austin dream together, and after much speculation and denial, Michael Scott returns for his final glorious That’s What She Said.
In my midseason review back in January, I posed three main takeaways: it’d all come down to Jim and Pam, supporting character development would take priority, and the finale would be better without Michael. And while Michael did appear after all (however subdued his delivery may have been), the episode was still clearly an homage to the show as a whole and its unforgettable ensemble cast. We got post-documentary updates on every character – Dwight fired Kevin via a chocolate cake, Toby’s living the NYC writer life with six roommates, Creed is wanted by the police and has a long grey beard, Oscar is running for Senate – but more importantly, we watched them see their own evolutions on television as well as obtain the kind of self-perspective most of us – those who haven’t been on camera for nine years – will never have. Not all of the Dunder Mifflinites escape such supreme self-awareness unscathed (illustrated best when Kevin tells Andy “Yeah, people hate you” or Andy’s line “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days while it was going on instead of after they were over”), but for Jim and Pam it was the perfect relief and reassurance after a season full of tension, disputes, and miscommunication. Jim gives credit where it’s due quite simply: “Everything I have I owe to this job. This stupid, wonderful, boring, amazing job.” Pam, on the other hand, expresses her gratitude for how much she’s learned in pure Beasley fashion:
It took me so long to do so many important things. It’s just hard to accept that I spent so many years being less happy than I could have been. Jim was five feet from my desk and it took me four years to get to him. It would be great if people saw this documentary and learned from my mistakes. Not that I’m a tragic person, I’m really happy now, but it would just make my heart soar if someone out there saw this and she said to herself ‘Be strong, trust yourself, love yourself, conquer your fears, just go after what you want and act fast because life just isn’t that long.’
Looking back on the show, it seems that The Office’s popularity turned into its biggest weakness over the past few seasons. Some fans idled after Jim and Pam’s wedding in “Niagara” (2009), some stopped watching after “Goodbye, Michael” (2011, which some say should have been the last episode), and some couldn’t survive through the Sabre Store arc and new characters Robert and Nellie last season, not to mention Andy’s growing annoyance factor. And while The Office is certainly guilty of a few faulty plot lines (see Angela’s recent poverty), unnecessary characters (see The Farm spinoff rejects), and awkward douche chills (see pretty much every Andy moment ever), it can’t detract from the many bittersweet, hilarious, and deliciously cringeworthy moments it’s offered throughout cast change-ups and the growing challenge of staying inventive for nine seasons.
It’s easy to take for granted this trusty comedy comfort food we’ve gobbled up on bored Thursday nights for years, but while most of us would agree that The Office got more than its fair share of survival time on NBC, there will never be another sweetly unsure Pam, another uppity Angela, another badass creep like Creed, another perfumy Phyllis, another everyman Jim, or one more taste of what Rainn Wilson eloquently called the “aching vulnerable ambition of Dwight.” I may not have cried as much during the episode as I thought I would, but after Pam gave her final thoughts (“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”), the credits rolled, and we were left with no more “Next Week on The Office” teasers, the end of a television era set in, and it was the absence that drew the most tears from me. When it comes to showing the beauty in ordinary things – painfully ordinary things – The Office has consistently done a damn fine job, and in its memory, may our hearts soar with the eagle’s nest forever.