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When Steve Carell left The Office at the end of the seventh season, he wisely said over and over again that he wasn't planning any return appearances, not even for the finale. He had moved on to jump start his movie career, and the Dunder Mifflin Scranton office had moved on without him-- it didn't really make sense for Michael to pop back in, and everybody knew it.
But series finales are always exceptions to the rule, when we learned yesterday that the finale would be in the format of a reality TV reunion show, it came along with word that Michael Scott would return too-- after all what good reality TV producer would let one of its main characters skip the reunion, anyway? And yet, the people behind The Office continue to deny it, even after the latest round of rumors about Carell's return-- "He didn't want to overshadow the ending that all of the other characters deserved," the series creator Greg Daniels said last week.
From here on I'm going to just operate under the assumption that Carell is indeed coming back, because I think it's the only thing that makes sense (and his surprise appearance at a finale event in Scranton last Saturday is yet another strong hint). But that leaves me wondering-- why do the creators want us to think he won't? If we're going to be led into the finale supposedly thinking that Michael won't make an appearance, then presumably the characters will be too. Will we see them hoping openly that Michael makes a comeback, and looking disappointed when he's not sitting there with them in the studio at first? Will some of them-- Andy, maybe, or even Dwight-- be worried about what will happen when Michael comes back into their lives? The show has spun its wheels creatively a good bit since Carell left, but the characters have all changed in some way-- Michael might have been a dope of a boss, but he's still a boss whose return could cause a lot of characters to look at themselves in lights they might not like.
My hope, though, is for something a little more bittersweet. Bringing Michael back into the mix for the big reunion show might cause some reminiscing, and some awkward reaction shots when they play back some choice scenes from over the years (I'm basing this off a lot of years of watching Top Chef reunion shows). But if we're lucky, we might get a few shots of what happens behind the reunion episode, where Michael is returned to the fold of the people he loved-- and who might not have that much to say to him. Michael Scott loomed large in our imaginations for seven years, but for these people, he's also a boss who has moved on, and allowed them to move on. What kind of interactions have you had with old coworkers when running into them years down the road? How much would you really have to talk about? The Office, in its best moments, has always known how to mine that awkward gray area where work relationships don't quite become actual friendships. Could Michael Scott's return be their finest use of it yet?
The Office finale airs on May 16. Share your own speculation about what Michael's return might be in the comments.