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Sunday, 7 of March of 2021

The Office – “Goodbye, Michael Scott”

“I’ll see you guys on the flippity-flop.”

Jim and Michael shake hands to say goodbye.

I feel like they should’ve hugged it out bitch.

I waited a good long while to watch this episode of The Office. Not from any sentimentality or trying to put off the inevitable. Let me assure you, my feelings for this series very much resemble marriage in a Bronte or Austen novel: I’m only in it for duty. No, my feelings for characters subsided ages ago and I can only hope for the situations to assemble themselves to my sense of comedy. Seems like a low bar, I know (and it is), but you’d be surprised how often my expectations for a show I used to guffaw at no longer hit that shallow height.

But this episode was important and I wanted to give it my full attention, not the divided approach I give Traffic Light or Breaking In where I watch and work on non-TV-related things at the same time. Michael Scott leaving Scranton is a big deal. And with the escalation of emotional intensity up to this point in the season, I was ready for a tearjerker, even from my jaded, cynical, robot eyes.

Consider the exit of John Dorian from Scrubs. I say “exit” despite the fact that he stuck around for a few episodes in that abominable ninth season but, for intents and purposes, “My Finale” was supposed to be JD’s swan song and they went all out. The entire episode is a farewell tour of the hospital, peaking with Cox’s admission that he actually likes JD, followed by the Hallway of Guest Stars and Recurring Characters, and then, in case you were a soulless viewer and still weren’t weepy to that point, they threw in JD seeing his future projected on a screen. To that, even while watching it, I said, “Bill Lawerence, you manipulative bastard.”

Obviously, there’s a certain level of emotional manipulation allowed for these kinds of episodes, particularly when such a beloved or central character exits a series. They can go over the top and not necessarily destroy the tone of the show since it’s expected to be a bit schmaltzy. And with the way things have been going on The Office in the last few episodes, with the proposal and the reworked song from Rent, I was prepared for a doozy, hanky in hand.

Imagine my surprise.

That’s not to say there isn’t some level of manipulation. Michael does go from person to person to say his goodbyes, turning the farewell tour on its head a little bit, particularly with the invented clock. By establishing all the plans for Michael’s announced leave date and then showing us the clock was actually ticking down a lot faster than we thought, there is a sense of urgency that, I suppose, may have contributed to some desperate cries from some of the more dedicated viewers, especially with Pam not being in the office near the end. There are some tearjerker moments, particularly when the hearts of the show connected (Jim saying goodbye and Pam meeting him at the airport, not to mention Michael’s fatherly advice to Erin and even paintball with Dwight), though more subdued than I would’ve thought. The episode never sinks to montage (admittedly a structural break for the show), never lingers too long on a tender moment, and never plays the audience. We don’t hear Green Day or Peter Gabriel cover Magnetic Fields once. Not even a 30-second iTunes clip of James Blunt.

What is most surprising is how the episode is treated like any other weekly offering. With something of this magnitude, it could be tempting, even a foregone conclusion, that we would only have an A-story that has everything to do with Michael’s hastened departure. That would’ve been perfectly acceptable. But we also get B- and C-stories, too, with the Gabe/Erin/Andy triangle (possibly just set-up for the Michael’s sage advice) and Andy’s sales call with Deangelo. The mental stability of the new Scranton branch manager is certainly important for the immediate post-Carell future and it fits that his part in the episode is set-up for the punchline after Michael Scott is officially out of the picture. The fact that this replacement plan can’t work out gives us some life after Michael and sets us up for some potentially good things.

Besides, I think we can all agree that we can’t wait for Will Ferrell to get out of the picture. Did anyone like this character, even before we knew he was bonkers? Anyone? No? Okay, good.

It is important, though, that the show is focused the way it is. Through all the callbacks (and I’m sure there’s a list somewhere that’s more comprehensive than I could be) and the sentimental moments, it’s still a basic-structured episode that’s not even a finale. It’s a very clear message that, despite the top-billed actor leaving the program, the show will march on. Even if we don’t care that it does.

Do you think the show should wrap up? When I first heard about Carell leaving, that was my gut reaction: that’s it for The Office, let’s call it a day. Good run, everyone. Then news of BJ Novak the Producer getting a two-year extension to make more made me consider where the heck they could go from one of the emotional cores of the show exiting the program. It was the same talk bandied about when people discussed the “spin-off” a few years back. But now it’s real. How long can the show run with a new boss? Can the new boss be the core of the show that Michael Scott was or will that person just be on borrowed time? I tend to think the latter but what do I know? I also thought The Daily Show was over when Craig Kilborn left. “Who’s this Jon Stewart guy? From MTV? This show will be done in a week.”

It was a fitting end for Michael Scott’s run with enough drama to satisfy the sentimental still watching the series but understated enough to make us understand the show is not in a stalemate (debatable) without Steve Carell. Surely, he’ll show up again for guest appearances but I’m surprised it wasn’t a bigger deal. My hanky came through unsodden.

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