Spoilers for last night’s The Office coming up after the jump:
Like last week, another very good episode of The Office whose final minutes vaulted it to excellence. It is entirely characteristic of Michael Scott that he would get himself ejected from the office before his two-week notice is up, and that he would expect a Dead Poets’ Society* sendoff and get The Graduate instead. (Pam’s “My God, what have I done” look on the sunny sidewalk at the last moment was a great callback to that movie.)
But this week I’m more interested in what it says about Pam. First, simply that she’s a decent person. Pam has taken a lot of crap from Michael over the years, beginning in the pilot episode (“You should have seen her a few years ago!” he introduced her to the cameras). But she has also gotten to know him more closely—if not always willingly—than the other staffers have. God help her, she knows him as a person. So it made perfect sense that Michael’s physical humiliation by Charles would be the last straw that drove her to become Sancho Panza in Michael’s quixotic gesture.
Of course, there was more than sympathy at work. Pam has always been defined by wanting more than she has at Dunder Mifflin, even if she’s been indecisive about what that is and how to get it (e.g., art school). Her walking off the job to follow Michael Freaking Scott into a lousy economy would indeed be a terrible idea for most people. (I’m glad they had Jim acknowledge that, although given his foreshadowing with Charles, is his staying any safer a bet?)
But then again, what is she leaving? She’s years into a receptionist job where even she knows that her role has been, if anything, diminished over time. She’s capable of being threatened by a new voicemail system, and this week her big goal is to learn how to use the new copier, with the Old High German assistance of Dwight. She’s not exactly giving up the dream here. (Speaking of which, the “wear and tear” montage with Bandit chewing the power cord and Kevin spilling a full mug of coffee on the glass is still making me laugh as I type.)
What I loved about her final gesture was that it was at least as much about her as about Michael. She must know Michael is likely to fail; she probably has fewer illusions about him than anyone at Dunder Mifflin. But what the hell? It’s a change; the change is the point. And she probably also knows that there is the tiniest chance that it could somehow change things for the better for her, as opposed to sticking with the secure position of Chick Who Knows How To Replace the Toner Cartridge.
By the way, I mentioned this week that I enjoyed how How I Met Your Mother worked the recession into its storyline, and sure enough, it was staring us in the face in this week’s Office. It’s going to be interesting to see how that theme plays out on The Office, a much more “serious” comedy—which has the potential to handle the real-world parallels much more better, but where it could be more of a plausible downer, though.
I’m excited, though. But then I’m not the one who just quit my job.
By the way: receptionist Kevin? Productivity czar Stanley? Can we assume the seeds of Charles downfall have already been planted?
*[Update: Mrs. Tuned In notes that the better parallel, in Michael Scott’s mind, is Jerry Maguire. Making Jenna Fischer, I suppose, Renee Zellweger, which I do not want to think about on so many levels.]