The first impression, as Michael Scott’s plane took off for Colorado after his extended final episode? That was a surprisingly stealth exit — anticlimactic, even. If Steve Carell’s send-off can be reduced to only one YouTube-able moment, then it was certainly last week’s modified rendition of “Seasons of Love,” a hokey, heartwarming tribute that allowed some actors to step out of character for the benefit of their friend. But on second thought, what better way to go?
Most shows tend to unload their best material in the penultimate episode, and though The Office has a couple of weeks left (which, on a more calculated level, might have explained the understated treatment of Carell’s departure), it was refreshing to see that the writers didn’t try to top themselves with a more profound farewell. As Vulture noted, they might have already stretched plausibility for the sake of saluting their fictional boss. Anybody who’s held an office job knows what it feels like when one day somebody quits (or worse): The staff snaps out of their routine, gossips about what it means, and sometimes realizes that the person they spent 40 hours per week with has become a part of their life and will be missed. Then Monday rolls around. Soon enough, it’s business as usual.
So while, as a viewer, theatrics are often more entertaining, as an employee, the subdued leave-taking felt right. Life goes on. Shredders still need to be priced. The twist, if you could call it that, came at the twenty-minute mark when Michael himself realized as much. At the beginning of the episode, he told the cameras — oh, right, the documentary — that he would save the sadness for tomorrow. “No drama.” But fears of improv class credits not transferring and channels being different prompted a freaked-out phone call to Holly that revealed otherwise. This low-key day was his last.
And, technically, nothing much happened. Michael trashed his self-purchased World’s Greatest Boss mug (Creed found it) in favor of a similarly worded and staff-awarded Dundie. Over fried bull testicles, he told Dwight the job wasn’t his to give and, in return, Dwight advised him to avoid carrying salami around black bears. To insecure Andy, he bequeathed his ten most important accounts. To oblivious Kevin, he cautioned: “Don’t be a caricature.” (Amen.) Also: “You should never settle for who you are.” (When who you are is Kevin, agreed.) In fact, the final hour saw Michael really relishing his role as boss, imparting advice where he felt it was needed. To Gabe: “A little cover-up on your Adam’s apple will make it appear smaller, which will make you look less like a transvestite.”
Speaking of Gabe, he was coming apart at the seams, following first Andy and then Erin into the bathroom to alternately threaten (him) and beg (her). As for Creed being in the women’s room? Well, Creed can do no wrong.
Meanwhile, in another fine subplot, the Dream Team of party planning (plus Meredith) labored to agree on the appropriate menu for Michael’s bon voyage. Angela was infuriated by the thought of cleaning up cupcake bottoms (Elaine was really on to something). Meredith wanted an erotic cake baked by some Ethiopians: “They show everything.” Over Pam’s objections: “No, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not just black. They do it all.” Phyllis appreciated hearing that the women’s bodies were realistic: “It feels good to be represented.”
And then there’s Deangelo — his permanence at Dunder Mifflin is looking mighty unlikely. Accompanying Andy on a sales call, the former fatty explained how he got his start: by strong-arming the thief who tried to steal Jo’s dog. This unfolded at an animal shelter so that he could illustrate. Yeah, it made no sense, but it was great. Ed Helms, looking utterly befuddled as he and Will Ferrell passed the unwitting mutt back and forth, at one point stopping so Deangelo could twirl with him, was worthy of several rewinds, as was the twirl itself. Deangelo nearly botched the call by expressing ambivalent confidence in Andy: “Ever play Russian roulette? Spin the chamber, Boris.” Luckily, Andy, in his salmon-colored pants, saved the day.
Now, on to the good-byes that everyone actually cared about. Toby finally earned Michael’s best-disguised disgust. Deeply comforting was the discovery that his equally dolorous brother, Rory, lived in Boulder, where he was prepared to push his gloomy demeanor and homemade jam on his new neighbor. Dwight finally earned a letter of superlative recommendation that brought tears to his eyes — or rather, an expression that looked like it was holding back tears, if he actually had any — and one final paintball game. Jim earned the truth — or rather, he figured it out, when Michael rushed Phyllis through her mittens and called an impromptu four o’clock meeting that ended in Ping (everyone groaned) crying. Obviously, John Krasinski and Steve Carell weren’t doing a lot of acting in this scene, which made it even more effective. Michael: “Why am I so sad?” Indeed, why are we all so sad? Because, yeah, sometimes good-byes are a bitch. Jim: “Tomorrow I can tell you what a great boss you turned out to be. The best I ever had.” Credibility was strained, but in the name of sentiment.
Then, finally, the parting we’d all been waiting for, the one with the best character on the show, if not all of television, brought to us by the smartest woman in the entire world: Kelly Kapoor. Just kidding. Theirs was an unfussy exchange. Pam, who had been “pricing shredders” (really, seeing The King’s Speech), when Michael left, somehow got through airport security without a boarding pass to give Michael a hug. The microphone was off, the penultimate farewell having occurred between Michael and the camera crew: “Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?” Again, the silence might have been a cop-out, or at least convenient from a dramatic standpoint, but Dwight’s almost-tears, Jim’s high praise, and last week’s song already achieved the bearable level of poignancy.
Over the years, Michael Scott wasn’t the most evenly drawn character. He was childish. Sometimes, he was worse than childish, bordering on mentally disabled. Rarely, he was a surprisingly competent boss. This isn’t an obituary so we’re not going to get blindly solemn or say things like, “He loved to laugh” (even though it’s true, he did). As far as parting words go, Michael’s did a pretty great job of summing up his cockeyed yet sweet worldview: “The people who you work with are just, when you get down to it, your very best friends.”
It’s hard to imagine the show without Steve Carell. “Uh-oh,” as Dwight said while Deangelo tore through the cake with his bare hands. Then again, these later seasons have not been among the series’ best. Carell made the right decision for the character and maybe the change will inspire more confidence in the supporting players. Here’s hoping the audience doesn’t give up just yet. If there’s one mantra every office drone should know, it’s this: Everyone’s replaceable.