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I’ve been saying for weeks that Andy’s gone too far down the road to Hell, and that there’s no way for the writers to redeem him now. Apparently the writers agree with me, because Andy is ending up the way we always thought he would – pursuing a cockamamie plan with little chance of success, away from the confines of Dunder Mifflin. And really – was there ever any other ending for Andy? The writers have spent this season making Andy so loathsome, so thoroughly unlikeable, that shoving him out the office doors and into some harebrained scheme was the only option. But we’ll talk about this more in a bit. Andy’s last hurrah ended on a sweet, somewhat melancholy note, and parts of this arc were quite moving.
This episode, despite being an entire hour long, doesn’t feel jam-packed and overstuffed. Rather, it’s a somewhat leisurely stroll through the trials and tribulations of the Dunder Mifflin office mates, highlighting both their personal problems and the unshakeable bond that has developed between them over the years. We begin with poor Angela, who for once isn’t looking like her usual sleek, put-together self. In a rather unusual show of camaraderie, Angela tells Kevin and Oscar that the county has come to take away some of her cats. Apparently 16 was too many for a studio. Wow, who’d have thought, huh? Angela complains that she’s utterly alone, and when Oscar reminds her that she still has her son, she groans, “I guess.”
Which brings me to another question. Angela’s baby has always felt like a convenient plot device. He was an obvious way to keep her away from Dwight, and then we had to deal with the whole “Who’s the father?” storyline. The baby’s name was an amusing gag, seeing as how both Angela and Pam both gave their baby’s the same name. But have we ever seen her showing the baby genuine affection or love? Have we ever heard her sharing his latest milestones with her office friends? One could argue that Jim and Pam’s kids also function as plot devices, but the Halperts have always felt like a real, loving family. We’ve seen shots of Cece’s recital and discussions about babysitting arrangements. Pam and Jim’s kids don’t exist only when necessary. I think the writers erred when they gave Angela a baby. She’s not remotely nurturing, and she obviously prefers the company of her cats. I’ve been tempted to feel sorry for Angela as of late, but it’s hard to maintain sympathy when she’s so dismissive of her own flesh and blood.
Angela does get one great line this episode, one moment in which she’s so stunningly self-absorbed and lacking in self-understanding that I was left gob-smacked. Angela is whining about her downstairs neighbors, who she suspects tattled about her cat hoarding. She tells Oscar and Kevin that her neighbor is an uptight, judgmental shrew. “You know the type,” she snarks. And when Kevin deadpans that he’s never known anyone like that, pathetic Angela doesn’t recognize herself, circa seasons 1-6. Of course the alcohol that Angela is sipping out of a plastic cup all day probably doesn’t help with self-actualization. Angela is, predictably, evicted from her apartment and ends up living with Oscar. It’s awfully nice to see these two getting along, even though Angela has always been cold and dismissive to Oscar, and Oscar…well, slept with her husband. But deep down they’re both fastidious and rather judgmental, so they’ll probably make great roommates. And eventually, we know she’ll end up living on Dwight’s farm. More on that later.
Jim is back! Let’s face it – the office isn’t the same without him. From an unselfish standpoint, I want to see Jim in Philly, living his dream. But from an entertainment standpoint, Dunder Mifflin just isn’t the same without his dry wit. Apparently Jim and Pam have moved beyond the self-help stage, and are actually working on getting close again. They’re doing some absolutely adorable flirting. For a few minutes, I’m actually reminded of the early seasons of their burgeoning relationship. One of the aspects that made young Jim and Pam so appealing was how uncomplicated their relationship was, and how comfortable they were with one another. It’s been strange lately, seeing how uncomfortable they’ve become with one another, even as they’ve gotten and married and started a family. Yet something about seeing the two of them back in the office, joking and smiling at each other, feels warm and comfortable. Jim is taking some sort of leave of absence from Athlead. At least I think so. At first it seems like he’s done with his business completely, but the coworkers from Philly keep calling, so I’m assuming leave of absence. Anyway, he’s back to spend time with Pam, and their marriage is stronger for it.
But there’s one problem with this plot twist. Yes, we all want to see Jim and Pam happy again, but do we really need to see Jim back in the job he loathes? Even from season 1, The Office has made it perfectly clear that Jim is a salesperson at Dunder Mifflin because he isn’t sure what else he should be doing, and he’s obviously a man of routine. Now we have Jim stuck back in the office, looking perfectly fine with it? Really? I’m not buying it, and apparently the writers aren’t buying it, either, because we finally see some conflict at the end of the episode when Darryl excitedly tells Jim that they need to head out west to secure an Athlead buyout. But Jim can’t fathom leaving Pam for three months, and he seems ready to give up on the idea. Thankfully, Pam has overheard the whole conversation and looks terribly sad. I think we can all see where this is going. Jim is ready to give up his dream for Pam, and this is nothing new. Jim has spent nine seasons willing to give up anything (girlfriends, job opportunities) for Pam, but part of marriage is compromise, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s now Pam’s turn to compromise. I predict she’ll sacrifice her mundane sense of comfort at Dunder Mifflin for the greater wellbeing of Jim and their family. You heard it here: Jim will not be working at Dunder Mifflin at the end of the series, as it should be.
Our obligatory Andy subplot this week actually had its workable, moving moments, which is more than we can say about Andy for the past two years. But before we can get to the (slight) redemption of Andy, we have to put up with more of his insufferable obsession with fame. Unsurprisingly, he’s no longer satisfied with half-assing his managerial job at Dunder Mifflin, and wants to leave in order to pursue his poorly defined goal of becoming famous. David Wallace shows up to fire him, but Andy quits instead. Then, pretty much everyone else in the office tells Andy he’s an untalented hack with no chance of success, and he re-thinks his plan. But by that point David has already appointed a new manager and tells Andy he can return to sales. This demotion lasts about two minutes until Andy decides he needs to get fired and (gulp) tells Toby to write in his file that he was fired for “theft and/or groping wieners.” Then, just when we think the whole thing couldn’t get any more awkward, Andy reaches for Toby’s pants. Oh, ew ew ew. But never fear. Andy has another plan. He goads David Wallace into firing him and then defecates on the boss’s car. So…yeah. No more Andy. But on the way out, he gets one last, small triumph. Andy brings in his guitar to sing his good-bye song, a heartfelt rendition of “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan. And it’s…good. No, really. Ed Helms has a nice voice, and as he sings, the office mates look at each other rather fondly. And then it hits me: these people have been working together for years. They’re not all friends with one another, but they really care. The Office has always been about awkward, cringe-worthy comedy, but it’s always had a sentimental heart. Thanks for that moment, writers. Even if we had to ruin Andy to get it.
With Andy gone, someone’s got to fill the role of World’s Best Boss. We get a fake out, thinking it might be Jim, but in the end, the job goes to the only person worthy of it. Welcome Manger Dwight K. Schrute. In years past, this promotion would’ve worried me. Dwight is hilarious and entertaining, but he’s also prone to profound weirdness and power trips, and the thought of him in Michael’s chair was both amusing and terrifying. But I realized something during this episode. Almost everybody we’ve ever seen walk through the doors of Dunder Mifflin was there because they had to be. Maybe they were hoping to use the job as a springboard to something better, maybe they were stuck there because they were too scared to move on, or maybe they were working there because the job was easy. But none of our Dunder Mifflin pals has never loved the office, and loved paper, the way Dwight does. Even Michael loved the office as a platform for his dubious entertainment more than as a workplace. But as Jim points out, in a rare moment of genuine fondness for Dwight, that Dwight truly loves Dunder Mifflin, and he loves paper. That makes him the perfect manager, doesn’t it? That bobble head is going to look great on the manager’s desk. Okay, okay – I remember Dwight’s tastes of power in past seasons. I remember the health care debacle and Dwight’s constant attempts to get people fired. This promotion could be disastrous for his coworkers. But I’m going to go ahead and enjoy it, all right?
“Livin’ the Dream” provided much-needed character development and an worthy ending for Andy, who desperately needed one. As the third from the last episode, I’m not surprised it felt bittersweet and a bit worn at the edges, as long-term shows often do towards the end. We saw our old favorites up to their old tricks (Jim) and striking out in new directions (Andy). And as Andy sang his swan song, eyes closed, we see some actual tears on the faces of the coworkers who both loved and loathed him, just as they love both each other and the office that provides the setting for this beloved show.
Notes & Quotes
-- Andy asks Jim, “Which tie makes me look like a guy that likes sofas?” Yeah, that’s an important question. Sigh.
-- We’re treated to an amusing montage of Dwight doing (bad) karate in preparation for his black belt. His sensei (named Billy) thinks he’s ready to move up, but we can see he’s not. This plot feels tacked out, but at least it’s funny.
-- When David Wallace arrives to fire Andy, Andy calls him David Walrus. Note to the writers: if a joke was intended for Michael, don’t repurpose it. We can tell.
-- Do we ever see Creed talking to the cameras? Not often, but this episode provides a hilarious Creed line, about Andy, no less. “I think just about anybody can be a star. My postman, the night janitor here. But Andy? No. Definitely not. Charisma black hole.”
-- Phyllis about Andy’s “talent”: Acknowledges that Andy can sing and dance, but “there’s just something there you don’t wanna look at.” Phyllis Smith does sweet, biting humor so well.
-- When Jim temporarily moves to the annex, he looks out of place, and I finally know why. Jim is used to being the center of the office, and now, with him in Philly most of the time, that balance has shifted. Jim knows it, and we know it.
-- Dwight has an awful double entendre about submitting himself. During Dwight’s black belt ceremony, his sensei gets one of the best lines of the episode. Dwight wants the sensei to remove his brown belt, and the sensei says, “I can’t do this if you’re gonna be thrusting like that.” Ha!
-- Jim about Dwight: “If there’s somebody that loves paper more than Dwight, I definitely don’t want to meet that person.” Aw! We’ve seen in recent seasons that Jim and Dwight really do care about each other. Sort of like siblings.
-- The look on Dwight’s face when he’s named manager is…beyond words. He looks like he’s won a Nobel Prize. Aw, it’s good to have dreams.
-- Why did we have to watch a useless scene about Pete teaching Erin a new stapling technique?! I do not care about these two.
-- Dwight wants Jim for the Assistant Regional Manger position, but Jim corrects him: Assistant to the Regional Manger. Hee! Season 1 shout out!
-- I counted one, two lines max for Meredith. Why are the writers refusing to use her more?