The Gospel of Dunder Mifflin

The Gospel of Dunder Mifflin May 17, 2013

Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam.”

I once heard a television critic on NPR discuss the best series finales of all time. He named the top three as St. Elsewhere; Newhart; and Six Feet Under.

Today, I hereby proclaim that The Office joins those ranks of shows that ended well. Really, really well.

While those others may have ended with epic plot twists that blew viewers’ minds (the snow globe; the dream; the series of epitaphs spanning nearly 100 years of Fisher-dom) the Scranton crew went out with a less dramatic bang. And yet, the sense of narrative completion was no less satisfying. After all–the best endings contain some beginnings.  And the best characters exit the stage utterly transformed since our first encounters with them. On both counts, our favorite paper-selling team brought home big wins last night.

It’s hard to pull off a true sense of personal journey in a sit-com. A few have succeeded, and many didn’t even try.  But for nearly every character on this show, the end story showed true evolution. Well, ok, except for Ryan and Kelly… But really, their astounding selfishness, immaturity, and inability to grow up just served to highlight, even more, how much the other characters stepped into a fullness of life that we seldom see in primetime.

Stanley, Daryll, Michael, Erin, Andy, Dwight… Dwight, even. They all somehow manage to stop being charicatures of themselves and become the people that, early on, we somehow glimpsed they could become. In each of their stories, there is salvation; there is joy; there is the fulfillment of a long-held desire. Even if, (as in Andy’s case) it was not exactly the dream with which they started.

And speaking of Angela (yes, we were…) One of the most powerful character/relationship developments of the season was not covered in the pre-finale retrospective, but still deserves a moment of reflection. Angela and Oscar. Just…wow. Uptight, conservative, judgmental Angela; and Mexican, gay, super-lefty Oscar. They could easily dwell upon the many ways that they have hurt each other. Instead, they focus on the fact that they bear a wound in common. And Oscar, in a moment of spectacular humanity, invites the broken wreck of Angela to move, with her baby, into his house. Or at least, into his huge walk-in closet. (“I find it ironic that Angela’s now the one living in the closet. Hay-o…”) 

Also, their joint phone call to the Senator? Possibly one of the best scenes in the history of everything, ever.

Oscar and Angela, though not romantically connected at all, embody the transforming power of human relationship as well as any of the happily paired-off couples manage to do. By the grace of each other’s forgiveness, they both find the strength and the courage to move on…Angela into her own marriage, and Oscar into–wait for it–political leadership. I was so proud of both of them.

Actually, I was proud of all of them. (Yes, I’m talking about them like they’re real people. Just admit that you do the same thing, and read on). Even Jim and Pam–those crazy kids finally got it together. In what could have been a typical Ross and Rachel/ Niles and Daphne/ JD and Elliott ride into the sunset, the writers went a little bit deeper and told us a story of sacrificial love, that must first learn to love itself.

And here’s where The Office especially transcends other shows of its genre. Since the whole series is framed as documentary-in-progress, the cast of characters has the rare privilege of seeing their own lives from the perspective of a television audience. They get to watch their stories unfold–just as we’ve witnessed in our own living room these past 9 (?!) years–and look back, and see how far they’ve come. They have to endure the pain of watching their mistakes again, certainly. But they also get a rare glimpse into the many ways that they have been changed and shaped by the people around them, by the choices they’ve made, and even by the opportunities they’ve let pass them by. In Pam’s closing monologue, she shares how she hopes other young girls might watch her mistakes. She wants them to witness how she almost let her fears and insecurities rob her of true love and personal growth–and learn to trust themselves, empower themselves, and live into the women they can be. That right there will preach.

What if we could all watch the last decade of our lives on camera? We’d have to live through a few cringe-worthy moments, certainly. Even endure the sound of our own recorded voices. (ick). We might ache at the missed moments, the fumbled passes, and the simple loss of that which was.

And yet…I think we might also find the same truth revealed in The Office, and in so many ‘offices’ that we all know so well: the simple truth of ordinary, imperfect, broken, and yes, hilarious people, learning to exist in the same space, day after day after day…and somehow, by the sheer power of presence, changing each other for the better. So often, we think nothing of the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share them. But when you come right down to it, “there’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Yes, Pam. That, I think, puts the whole thing in a nutshell.

That’s what she said.



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