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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Raise an "A.A.R.M." for The Office

Article first published as Raise an "A.A.R.M." for The Office on TheTVKing.

Things have mostly gotten back to normal for The Office in "A.A.R.M.," a fine example of a classic episode, while still allowing those emotional, end-of-the-series plot developments to creep in. Jim (John Krasinski) plays a huge practical joke on Dwight (Rainn Wilson), Pam (Jenna Fischer) questions whether she's going to make Jim resent her, Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) gets jealous when baby Phillip is in the office, Andy (Ed Helms) tries out for a singing competition, and Darryl (Craig Robinson) tries, and fails, to leave without saying goodbye.

I love "A.A.R.M." because it has something for each member of the cast. While the main story sticks with the characters who have been front and center this season, the rest of the supporting players get focus and moments, too, both in the normal plot, and in their interview cut scenes. Yes, they are all sort of lumped together with saying goodbye to Darryl, but doesn't that just feel right, that they don't want to lose one of their own? Watching the culmination of the plot, where Stanley (Leslie David Baker), Phyllis (Phyllis Smith), Creed (Creed Bratton), Meredith (Kate Flannery), Erin (Ellie Kemper), Toby (Paul Lieberstein), Nellie (Catherine Tate), and the others dance with Darryl feels special.

Then, they all go to a bar together to watch the premiere of their documentary. What this episode reveals is that these people are a family. We've known it all along, of course, but the point is driven home now. They could be by themselves, watching the show on their own television sets. Instead, they choose to be together, off the clock, to face this new adventure among people that are their family. And hearing Michael Scott's voice in those final moments brings back the one person missing, making the clan complete. It's a perfect episode ending.

Even Andy attends the viewing party, as no matter what he does, he is one of them. Sure, he's gone all day, trying to be famous (which is a funny little side story with wonderful guest stars), but when all is said and done, he returns to the group.

Jim feels that his family in The Office is enough. Pam questions that she is holding him back, and she should feel bad, but he tells her this is his decision and he won't regret it. In fact, Jim does everything he can in "A.A.R.M." to prove that this is where he wants to be, with Pam, even getting the documentary crew to make a video tribute of the two of them over the years, and giving her a long-held-back card. It's hard to understand how Jim could give up his dreams and be happy, but seeing him with Pam, and with the others at the end of this week's installment, Pam, and I, finally believe it's true.

We don't need to know what's in the note. As not much has been in these people's lives, it's private.

It helps that Jim has his "brother," Dwight, around. Jim teases him mercilessly, tricking Dwight into being the assistant to his own assistant, and mimicking many of the things Dwight did when he was assistant to the regional manager. But there's no cruelty in it, the two seeing each other as comrades. Dwight seems to be in on the game, as, when Dwight really needs Jim, he tells him so, dropping the charade they have been perpetrating the entire hour.

Jim is there for Dwight when Dwight needs him. Dwight isn't sure if he should marry Esther (Nora Kirkpatrick), the woman who is perfect on paper, or Angela (Angela Kinsey), whom he has always carried a torch for. Jim helps Dwight figure out his feelings, and gives him sound advice, which Dwight acts on. To me, this is the culmination of everything there is between them, and it's a very satisfying story.

Angela doesn't make it easy for Dwight, refusing to acknowledge that Phillip is Dwight's son until Dwight proposes. This makes sense, as she doesn't want him with her out of obligation, but instead, out of love. Yes, this plot develops a little quickly, but at the same time, it's been years in the making. And seeing Dwight, Angela, and Phillip end things as a family is almost as satisfying as the final Jim / Dwight story. So thank goodness Dwight's spin-off did not get picked up, or this may not have been possible.

I also really enjoy the dynamic in Accounting when Angela brings in Phillip, with Kevin acting as the insecure big brother, growing jealous of the attention Angela and Oscar (Oscar Nunez) give the baby. For anyone else, this story could come across as dumb, but the three actors involved sell it so well, and the resolution is so perfect, that it is enjoyable, rather than annoying.

That's long been a theme of The Office, taking tales that, in lesser hands, wouldn't be funny, and creating characters that, without such brilliant performances, wouldn't be sympathetic, and making them both. It isn't just a realistic look at life in an office environment, but also a celebration of people that make things work, even when they shouldn't. Despite a recent rocky path, The Office is doing the finale right, and "A.A.R.M." is the perfect penultimate episode to set that up.

The Office concludes next Thursday, with a retrospective at 8 p.m. ET, followed by a one-hour-and-fifteen-minute episode, set six months after this one, at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

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