Spoilers for last night’s episode of The Office coming up after the jump:
Having Pam and Jim get married in an hour-long episode of The Office set up two opposite expectations. The culmination of their five-season romance, it could be a beautiful high point for the series. Coming in a double-length episode, it could be, like many previous Office hourlongs, overstuffed and rambling. (“Stress Relief” being one exception.)
“Niagara” was both. Like a wedding itself, it was sometimes a long blur of one event after another; there were no subplots so much as a string of vignettes, some of them connected. And yet within that blur, there were a few moments that stood out and promised to stick with you: those moments that, as Pam said early on in the episode, you need to take a mental snapshot of.
First, there were the awkward-comedy moments, without which this would not be The Office, and Jim’s inadvertent spilling the beans about Pam’s pregnancy was a classic—particularly for how it leavened his rehearsal speech, which was sweet and moving but already played to death in NBC’s promos. (I was impressed, by the way, with how well John Krasinski delivered it like an actual wedding speech—well-delivered, at least until the end, but natural nonetheless.)
Surprisingly, it was actually Jim, not Michael, who first put his foot in it—I love his briefest reaction of horror as he realizes he’s in a corner—despite Michael’s pile-on with his blathering attempt to help. (“You can’t expect them to be careful every time,” he said, in front of Pam’s mortified grandma, “because frankly, it’s a different sensation.”)
Then there was the wedding itself, which managed to do something fresh with a million-times-told scenario: the bride/groom freaking out before the ceremony after one crisis too many. Jim’s spur-of-the-moment bit of gallantry, clipping his tie to even out Pam’s torn veil, was adorable, but the scene also owed a lot to the direction of Paul Feig, a vet behind the camera of The Office. The shot wasn’t framed to lead you to expect the move, so it came out of nowhere; it was a split second before I realized what Jim had done. And then felt exactly like Pam did: Click.
Feig’s hand was also evident in the beautifully intercut scenes of Pam and Jim’s mini-elopement on The Maid of the Mist. Feig directed the episode in which the two got engaged, in front of a rest stop convenience store, and he shot the scene from a distance, so that you saw all you need to, but didn’t hear a word. Likewise with the wedding at sea here (do the Great Lakes count legally as “at sea”?), which I will fully admit made me maid-of-the-mist up.
The Niagara scenes were cut, of course, with the re-creation of the famous YouTube “Forever” wedding procession video. I was skeptical about this scene at first; if you’ve seen the video, you knew the second Dwight turned the song on the iPod where it was going, and I was afraid it would fall short by trying to borrow the spontaneous romance of an amateur video we’d already seen.
But it turned out to be just right. Because this is exactly what these people would do. If we know nothing else about Michael Scott, we know that if there is a viral sensation online, he will get into it, probably very late. (Recall the first episode of the season, with him embracing parkour, the Internet sensation of 2004.) It wasn’t re-creating the video’s spirit so much as appropriating a pop-culture fad into the ceremony the way this dorky group of people would. Which Jim confirms for us by saying he’d bought the boat tickets the day he saw the video on YouTube.
As just as important—as funny as it was to see Dwight kick the bridesmaid or Andy, torn scrotum and all, hobble out in his walker—it brought the episode back from being just about Pam and Jim to celebrating all the people around them that we love. Weddings, after all, are public ceremonies, and they are as much about affirming the couple’s family and friendship bonds—even the jackass brothers and the judgy accountants—as their private love.
And it underscored what The Office has done so well with Pam and Jim’s relationship—keeping it special and affecting without letting it take over the show. Their romance isn’t the centerpiece, it’s a thing off to the side—like Pam and Jim, it’s on the sidelines, smirking, remembering their misty getaway—and everyone is happier that way.
(The wedding-dance video wasn’t the only Internet-sensation nod in the episode, by the way; in his hotel room, Dwight was wearing the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt that has elicited more than a thousand over-the-top reviews on Amazon.)
“Niagara” may not have been one of The Office’s best episodes, but as a celebration, it felt perfectly right. Mazeltov.
Now the hail of bullets rice:
* Of course, just in case things risked getting too sentimental, the episode opened with the entire office barfing into wastebaskets—the payoff being Creed blithely eating noodles as it all goes on.
* Do Andy and Erin have a future? Any relationship that begins with “She smells like my mom” has got to be a winner, right? (One of the great little grace notes of the episode was Erin continuing to yell, “What else you got?” after Andy injured himself.)
* Pam’s grandmother was gold from start to finish, especially her description of encountering Brüno on the hotel TV: “And I just had to sit there and let it happen to me.”
* As I said, the bride-freaking-out backstage is a scene we’ve seen many times before, but not accompanied by the line, “I know way too much about Andy’s scrotum!”
* Loved pretty much everything about Kevin in this episode, but the capper was his unexplained statement that leaving to go pee would require him to take his tie off.
* I could go on, but I’ll let you share your mental snapshots in the comments.