1. “Dinner Party”
The Office airs its last episode tonight. While the show has undoubtedly suffered since Steve Carrell’s exit, the first seven seasons have established a sincere emotional attachment to the characters we have left, especially for those of us clinging on from the beginning. At it’s best, The Office and its cast demand authenticity so much it did cringe-inducing awkwardness better than any other show, and no artifact proves this more than Season 4’s “Dinner Party”. After inviting Jim, Pam, Andy, and Angela to a small soiree, Michael and Jan have massive spat at the cost of their guest.
2. “Take Your Daughter To Work Day”
At his best, Steve Carell took insensitive goofball Michael Scott and made us love him despite his many, many shortcomings. In this Season 2 episode, Michael goes into overdrive to impress his employee’s kids. As Dwight attempts to one-up him, we see how Michael’s obnoxious nature alienates him from people who might otherwise see the good heart underneath the greasy hair.
3. “Casino Night”
In the finale to Season 2, we see the season-long Jim and Pam flirting reach a head as the office throws a Casino Night benefit. This episode more than any other displays The Office as an ensemble show and adds ammunition to showrunner Greg Daniels’ claim the spirit of the show does not leave when Michael takes a back seat. The ending is tear-jerking for faithful viewers and newcomers alike, as well as a massive step forward for the legend that is Pam Beasley.
4. “Beach Games”
Next to Peggy Olsen of Mad Men, Pam is one of the most dynamic female characters on television. Although later seasons have seen her pushed to the sideline position of loving wife and mother, Pam had a spirit specific to her and her alone. Jenna Fischer plays her with heartbreaking subtlety in this episode in which Michael leads the staff on a beach party, complete with arcane team-building exercises. Pam’s final step to grabbing what is hers is not only endearing but empowering as she demands a stake in her own future.
5. “Special Project”
This Season 8 gem came amid a long string of mediocre storylines and rushed plot fillers, perhaps the most notorious being the acquisition of Dundler-Mifflin by corporate printer-giant Sabre. As Dwight and newly-named Regional Manager Andy pick teams to follow them to Florida, the writer’s room shoves their way to the front of the plot by showing the extreme tenacity of the cast and this show’s specifically odd brand of humor.
Dwight Schrute is often cast as the Kramer of the show, always ready with a ridiculous plot or even a mere physical gag (which Rainn Wilson never fails to pull off). However, as Jim and Pam visit Dwight’s beet farm (refitted as a B&B), we see him mourning the end of his not-so-secret relationship with Angela and, much like Michael, realize his ridiculousness hides an actual person, one resistantly capable of emotional pain and the unforgivable nature of solitude. Plus, we also see Michael take on a second job to balance Jan’s risky financial life and his own personal debt. In many ways, Michael and Dwight mirror each other throughout the series, all too concerned with being impressive in all the wrong ways.
7. “Employee Transfer”
Michael Scott crying never fails to strike this viewer as a stark image of a man too confused with the realities of people to actually cope. When he meets the equally dorky HR rep Holly Flax, one is simply happy to see Michael delighted that someone is even just attempting to understand and value him. In this episode, however, we see Holly transfer back to her old branch and subsequently end her relationship with Michael. Although Holly becomes the bellwether for Michael’s exit from the show, the end of this period with Holly is not only nightmarish to watch but precedes a long rebellion by Michael against the corporate overlords who whisked her away.
8. “Dream Team”
Widely considered the last positive story arc The Office pulled off, Michael attempts to form his own paper company out of his condo. Pam, looking to shake up her own life, follows Michael as he builds a sales team. It’s a simple enough premise with loads of emotional torrent for the show’s two strongest characters. Although they seem as far removed as any other character pairing the show has done, Michael and Pam’s desperate need to find something, anything other than what their lives are now is inspired and inspiring.
9. “Scott’s Tots”
One of the biggest pitfalls of the show’s twilight seasons has been the believability of the characters’ actions–Michael driving into a lake because a GPS told him so, for instance. ‘Scott’s Tots” confronts this issue head-on as Michael realizes he, 10 years ago, believed so strongly he’d be a millionaire by this point that he promised a group of third-graders he would pay their college tuition. Now, faced with confronting the now-graduating class with little more than laptop batteries, he is forced along a combination of admitting to his failures and realizing how far he has come in his own maturity.
The first season’s short order of six episodes allowed little room for deep emotional development, much less any reason to care about these characters. A far more slicked-back Michael Scott challenges the warehouse staff to a basketball game which becomes a heated confrontation between Jim and Roy, Pam’s then-fiancee. This episode was the first to sharpen the cast’s enhanced ability to make even the most deathly awkward moments hilarious and is saved by the talents of Kevin, Darryl, and Phyllis.
11. “Dwight’s Speech”
Dwight, as Salesman of the Year, is offered to give a speech at a regional convention. While many of Jim’s pranks against Dwight have spotlighted the writer’s creativity with these two characters, all shall fall beneath the shadow of Dwight’s eventual speech which Jim used to offer Dwight his shining moment. By writing Dwight’s speech for him (and borrowing heavily from the fascistic ramblings of Benito Mussolini), Jim shows his own artifice by committing to a job he never wished to live in as well as honoring what showrunner Greg Daniels once called Dwight’s “adolescent love of hierarchies.” The speech itself is The Office in its most epic tone.
While we grow our own emotional wealth confronting the harsh realities of relationships with Girls and Mad Men, Jim and Pam’s courtship and subsequent marriage has at times seem forced. They started as the Millenial wunderkind of the romantic world, finding each other through little more than jokes, touches to the arm, and a shared ennui. Now, however, with two children under their belt, the show has offered very little space for their relationship to grow. Enter Athlead–Jim’s attempt at a sports marketing company based in Philadelphia–and we see Pam struggle to balance her own personal needs with Jim’s professional ambition. Last week’s episode was among the most tear-worthy as Jim valiantly describes love to a torn Dwight, who wants to propose to Angela. “You’ve got to forget about logic,” Jim waxes. “And fear. And doubt. You’ve just got to do everything you can to get to the one woman who’s going to make all this worth it.” While it may seem like cliche’d rom-com fare, the very length of the lives (however fictional) we’ve seen grow for 9 years makes these simple words as best a thesis for The Office as any other.