Did The Office Really Earn Its Sentimental Happy Ending?
Pam and Toby are dancing to a slow song in the middle of Dwight and Angela's joyful wedding, at an unusually gorgeous version of Schrute Farms. Toby is weeping uncontrollably. "Its it me?" Pam asks, thinking probably of Toby's awkward crush on her from way back in season 4. "Is it Nellie?" Toby, barely able to speak through his sobs, can only muster "It's everything."
That was the moment of The Office finale that got me-- poor abused Toby, who couldn't hack it in Costa Rica and who rode his 15 minutes of fame with the Scranton Strangler as long as he could, was upset again, but this time, we were all right there with him. The finale of The Office understandably went for all the big emotions, and left its central characters far, far happier than you ever would have imagined them when they first appeared, with terrible haircuts and worse clothes, on television in 2005. The show became happier and weaker as it went along, allowing Michael Scott to find love, getting Jim and Pam together and keeping them (mostly) happy, and in last night's finale, handing Angela a character transformation so dramatic she was dancing and grinning through her entire wedding, riding happily on Phyllis's back
And, of course I'm happy to see these people happy, and I teared up right along with everybody else when Michael showed up to be Dwight's Bestest Mensch (best Gutenprank ever indeed, Jim). But is it wrong to have wanted to just a little bit more of The Office's prickliness, or even its ability to show how sadness comes mixed right along with happiness in real life? The moments of the finale that I loved the most were the weirdest, like Ryan poisoning his own child to talk to Kelly ("You gave your child an allergic reaction just to talk to me?"), or Mose making eyes at the lady scarecrow, or the entire running gag about Creed faking his own death. But none of them really approached the kind of bittersweet emotion that I associate with The Office's best moments.
Given the chance to wrap up their story, the writers went for the full sentimental rundown-- and I can't blame them for it. That's what nearly every TV show does when given the chance to end the story on their own terms, whether it's the entire cast of Lost gathered in a church or the final episode of Seinfeld effectively becoming a flashback episode. And as glad as I was to weep alongside everybody else saying goodbye to these characters and seeing so many of them end up happy (Stanley's retirement shack looks like paradise), I also think they had the opportunity to make that happiness a bit more complicated. Pam and Jim running off to Austin, and being fired by Dwight as a show of friendship, is fantastic-- but would an acknowledgement of how tricky that is have been so hard? Kevin getting fired and going to work at a bar was admirably dark, but the way that he and Dwight sorted it all out, and Kevin wound up happier than ever, was a bit easy. And when Dwight rattled off his relationships with his "subordinates," and lists Pam as his best friend, the clip they showed comes from "The Injury"-- an episode in which Dwight and Pam only get along because he has a head injury. That's a wonderful irony, and a potential sign that Dwight is as delusional as ever-- but the episode passes it off as simple and genuine.
In the end I think I like Ryan and Kelly's ending the best-- running off literally into the sunset, with Ryan shouting "I've finally mastered commitment!" The characters think it's a happy ending, but knowing these two, we know it's anything but, and they're probably headed into another one of the crazy spirals that proves how much they deserve each other. The Office was always about the difference between the life you wanted and the life you actually had, and peeking into that gap even when the characters couldn't do it themselves . All these characters deserved the happy endings they gotů but not getting what you deserve can be a more interesting, and more true, way to go.
For a full recap of the final episode, click here.
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