Last night was Steve Carrell’s final episode of The Office and with it ushered Michael Scott out of the Dunder Mifflin world, presumably, for good. It was a touching goodbye, bringing back a number of little moments from previous seasons and wrapping up Michael’s story in more fairy tale fashion than really anyone would have predicted at the start of the series. Hell, Jim cried telling Michael how good a boss he’d been. If you’d told me that in Season One, I would have thought the show had gone completely off the rails. But it didn’t, and while this wasn’t the series, or even season finale, I think last night’s episode was as close to culminating as any show can be.
The place of Michael Scott in the television lexicon sits right next to the other biggies, the folks whose characters almost transcended the greatness of their already transcendent shows. The Sam Malones, Jerry Seinfelds, and Homer Simpsons of the world who occupy a place in our hearts beyond just the world within their respective half hours. Much of it is a testament to Carrell’s adeptness at playing a character so incredibly and naively flawed, that even in Michael’s worst moments, we could still believe his sincerity.
Last night’s episode, replete with individual (or group) goodbyes acted more as a character summation than it did walk off into the sunset (or airplane terminal). It reminded us of the guy Michael had been and what he’d become. Effectively apologizing to Phyllis for spurning her oven mitt Christmas gift, finally impressing Ryan with something (even if it needed to light up), grinning and bearing the thought of having to hang out with Toby’s brother in Boulder, understanding that Jim needed no goodbye, making one last petition to use the bailer, finding humor in how little Oscar thought of him (maybe the funniest moment in The Office’s history), making good on the paintball session with Dwight and recognizing the greatness Dwight embodies in his job as a salesman, and finally just watching as he hugged Pam leaving their conversation something just between friends. It was a fantastic way to encompass a rather layered character.
Michael Scott wasn’t always the best guy and the show made its early bones on his almost irredeemable obtuseness.(Here was a guy who fake fired his secretary because he thought it’d get a laugh out of the new intern.) But The Office really hit its stride in the subsequent seasons when Michael effectively played a character analogous to Dorothy’s three friends on the Yellow Brick Road. Sometimes he lacked a brain, sometimes he needed a little more courage and many times he just had to find a heart, but like the Tinman, Scarecrow, and Lion, we always rooted for him in spite of the flaws.
There was always a sense that Michael cared deeply for those around him, he just never understood how to effectively bring that out in his everyday interactions The transformation of his character over the last half of this season (and really culminating in his final episode) into a real life working human being was entirely believable because A) we knew enough about his history to know he always had it in him and B) it is easy to believe that when someone is happy, he makes others happy. Meeting and finding love was the cure for all the ailed Michael.
Michael’s world WAS work, and I think he always struggled with those who didn’t see it the same way. (Even mentioning as much in the last episode in his quote about work and funerals). But that overly optimistic view culminated when he found everything he was looking for in a mate, right there in the same office. That she happened to be the one living being who not only enjoyed Michael’s unique brand of humor, but also replicated it, is besides the point. Meeting Holly validated everything Michael thought work to be (a place of true family and best friends) and in doing so allowed him to ultimately leave the very place he’d tied his life to (even once promising to be buried in the office). He could leave, there was nothing left for him to accomplish.
I think that last idea is what made Michael’s secret goodbye so sincere and true and really so Michael Scott-ish. He did the very last thing anyone would have expected.