Review: ‘The Office’ – ‘A.A.R.M.’

A review of tonight’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as I throw the summoning bag at you…

Though it’s an hour long (like last week’s episode, it feels like a regular show that got padded out due to both storytelling and scheduling needs), “A.A.R.M.” is the last regular episode of “The Office” as we know it. The finale will take place after the documentary has aired, and as Oscar notes in this episode’s final scene, “Nothing will ever be the same” after everyone’s seen it. There are still some storytelling bows to be tied off – particularly whether Jim stays in Scranton or Pam convinces him to go back to Athlead – but for the most part it feels like the narrative of the series we’ve been watching ended tonight, and next week will be the characters reacting to what we’ve already seen.

And as a quasi-finale, “A.A.R.M.” was surprisingly (given the quality of much of this season) terrific in most areas. We still had to suffer through some Andy godawfulness, and had to watch Kevin continue to regress mentally as he threw a tantrum over the attention being given to baby Phillip, but the scenes involving Jim and Dwight, Jim and Pam, and Dwight and Angela were among the best featuring those pairings in a very long time.

In particular, Jim enthusiastically throwing himself into the role of Assistant (to the) Regional Manager was so much fun – and such a natural extension of how Jim and Dwight’s relationship has evolved over the years – that it made me sad they didn’t think to try this much sooner. My belief in the past was that Dwight as branch manager couldn’t possibly work as an ongoing thing; this suggested a fashion in which it could, with Jim amusing himself to no end while also shielding the staff from Dwight’s more psychotic tendencies. There have been times in the show’s later years where Jim pranking Dwight has felt like bullying, but here the power balance – and the increased level of trust between the two men (who have made their peace with each other) – was just about perfect. I don’t know how long the show could have sustained this exact dynamic, but I wish we’d gotten a chance to find out, because this show was a much more amusing, satisfying one than most of what we’ve gotten since Michael left.

And the episode did a good job of weaving the comedy of Jim manipulating Dwight in with the bigger story of Jim and Pam’s marriage and Jim giving up his interest in Athlead. Given that the comments here each week eventually turn into one long Pam-bashing thread, the writers have perhaps not done the best job of articulating her reasons for not wanting Jim to take the job, and of balancing the two sides in this argument. But I thought their stuff tonight was great, as Pam realizes the kind of life she’s sentenced Jim to, and then as Jim in turn provides video evidence as to why he’d be just fine with this exact life.

That the production team was able to present Jim with a perfectly-edited PB&J’s Greatest Hits montage in the space of an afternoon stretches both credibility and their previously-established attitude about non-interference. (Remember: this is a filmmaker who fired Brian for saving Pam from a savage beating.) But I ultimately let that go because the sequence was so good – not so much Pam watching these old moments, but the way it was all setting up Jim producing the note he was afraid to give her back in  season 2’s “Christmas Party.” That’s not only a fabulous payoff for longtime fans, but a combination of pictures and words(*) that drove home Jim’s message. I’ll be disappointed if the series ends with them staying in Scranton, simply because the barriers to him taking the Athlead job don’t seem strong or convincing enough, but I liked the conclusion to the marital troubles they’ve been having. And since the crew told them at the start of the season that they were mainly sticking around to follow Jim and Pam’s story, it felt right that the two of them got the first extended look at the documentary footage, before the rest of the gang at Poor Richard’s. 

(*) Which we never get to read, because anything the writers came up with at this point would likely pale in comparison to how people imagined it back in the day.

Even the Dwight/Angela reconciliation worked, despite that being a terribly uneven part of the show for so long, and Angela being written so unsympathetically so much of the time. Jim’s pep talk to Dwight cemented his feelings and the new, genuine friendship between the former enemies, and Dwight proposing through a megaphone – “This expresses how loudly I love you!” – was the right blend of romantic and ridiculous that any Dwight K. Schrute love moment would require. This was more a case of a few great scenes salvaging what had been a problematic story arc for a while, but those scenes were just that good.

The less said about Andy auditioning for an a cappella singing show – and somehow forgetting everything he’s ever demonstrated previously about his musical tastes – the better. Blech. I’d like to think that if NBC had insisted on this being a 30-minute episode, every single second of that would’ve been cut in favor of more no-nonsense with Jim and Dwight.

These have been a rocky few years for “The Office.” Every now and then, though, the show provides an episode that makes me feel like I’m sticking it out til the end out of more than just nostalgia. The best parts of “A.A.R.M.” felt like a fitting close to the non-documentary-viewing portion of the series. Whatever comes next week, we’ll always have Jim and Dwight checking the hierarchy mobile, right?

Some other thoughts:

* Also excellent: Daryl’s dance-out with the entire office staff. Some of the build-up to it felt like a meta discussion of the best way to end a series: do you go big, or do you just do what you always do until you’re just not there anymore? But Craig Robinson and the cast threw themselves into that sequence (Kevin and Oscar vogueing was a particular highlight) in a way that – like much of “Cafe Disco” – straddled the line between watching talented performers (in real life, Phyllis Smith was a dancer) and watching goofy white collar workers try to shake their groove thing.

* Meredith has been on her “best behavior” for the last nine years? Yikes.

* TV Guide’s Mike Schneider talked to Greg Daniels and Ben Silverman about the show’s origins, and about paths not taken (Jim and Pam as an interracial couple, with Craig Robinson as Roy), and Daniels tells the story about how Oscar became gay only after the wardrobe people put Oscar Nunez in a pink shirt. I thought about that with Oscar’s comment about how, “When this thing started, I was still having sex with women – as was Kevin, I believe.”

What did everybody else think?