Jobs, Schrute Bucks, and Confessions on the Season Finale of The Office

Was that not the best ending ever? I predicted last week that Jim and Pam would get together and it feels good to know that I'm still in tune with what The Office's writers are thinking. What a satisfying and creatively fulfilling way to end the season, not with the grand gesture of a stolen kiss (like in last year's finale) but with a seemingly simplistic request for a date. Ah, young love.

Last night's one-hour season finale of The Office ("The Job") proved that the show can work as a one-hour, a VERY good thing considering that earlier this week NBC ordered 30 episodes of the series for next season, including five one-hour installments. If they're as well coordinated and executed as "The Job," Season Four just might be a treasure rather than a botched experiment waiting to happen. Fingers crossed it's the former.

In any event, last night's installment crystallized exactly what makes us love The Office: those completely real, awkward, embarrassing moments we all feel. This week was no exception with one scene that perfectly captured the discomfort of modern office life: Jan being escorted from the building. Before getting into that, I just want to say what a remarkable job Melora Hardin did last night; her performance was riveting and she managed to showcase several different sides of Jan in a single episode: at times confident, vulnerable, dangerously aggressive, and delusional. And she clearly felt savvy enough to pull off the episode's , er, biggest sight gag: her boob job ("sorry, boob enhancement").

It's that scene, in full view of Jim and Karen, though, that took the cake as Jan is escorted into reception by two security guards as her stuff begins to fall out of her cardboard box; as she and Michael attempt to pick up items, more things crash to the floor and soon ex-assistant Hunter ("good luck with your band") is forced into helping... and then Jan walks out with a bleeped epithet for David Wallace. It's a particularly painful scene to watch as Jan loses all sense of dignity in leaving Dunder-Mifflin and, just when you think the gag has ended, it keeps going, a sort of live-action Simpsons joke that reminds us that Greg Daniels used to be a writer on The Simpsons.

Will Jan move in with Michael? It certainly seems that way, especially after her emotional breakdown in the car (thanks to her prescription painkillers), though I can't imagine Jan working full-time as Michael's stay-at-home, er, girlfriend. The scenario certainly yields a huge amount of comedic potential next season, however, and I can't wait to see where this storyline is going. (It's also clear now why they needed to break these two up so quickly a few episodes back.)

I think it's an interesting twist that the job interviews have been an effort to replace Jan at the corporate office (though I can't believe that Michael was the one to tell her that she's been axed) and that Jan will now have to adjust to life outside Dunder-Mifflin. I'm not quite sure I buy all the reasons for Jan's dismissal; sure, it's clear that the visiting her sister in Scottsdale line is code for her surgical enhancement and I loved that David Wallace called her out for constantly driving out to Scranton (a nice wink and nudge at the audience), but online shopping? I think that's stretching it a little bit and it doesn't really jive with the rest of Jan's character; she's always proven that she's an exceptional executive (even if a little out there since her divorce) and this diminishes her a little too much, in my opinion. But still, a minor gripe in an otherwise stellar episode.

I loved the tag with the reveal that David has actually hired Ryan to take over Jan's position (and that he spat out a "we're done" to Kelly before slyly grinning at the camera). It's a fantastic twist that no one saw coming; the easy answer would have been to have Karen land the job. But with Rashida Jones' pilot The Rules for Starting Over getting ordered to series for midseason on FOX, I have a feeling that we won't be seeing Karen around much next season (though hopefully a little bit). So did Jim just leave Karen in New York City having lunch with her friends downtown? I hope that our guy at least called her to say that he was driving back to Scranton and it was over between them rather than, you know, just leaving her stranded in Manhattan. Still, it was clear that Karen was much more at home in NYC than in Scranton, what with her knowledge of The Spotted Pig and "second-acting" Broadway plays, etc. She is a slick, corporate type who's too big for small town Scranton. I'm just hoping that we haven't seen the last of her.

I loved the New York scenes and I am so glad that the production decided to travel to Manhattan to shoot them on the city's streets (was that a shout-out to Sex and the City with a Carrie Bradshaw type hailing a cab?) rather than shoot them on a backlot. They gave the entire episode an urgency and reality that was completely visceral and made what happened next all the more powerful as Jim chooses Scranton (and Pam) over the overwhelming largeness of Manhattan (and Karen).

What else did I love? Dwight's fantasy about co-running a B&B with Satan in hell for a whopping 80 grand a year; Kelly calling Pam's speech "pathetic"; everyone's reactions to Jim's new haircut which made him look less "homeless"; Karen saying that Pam was kind of a bitch; Andy's surreal job interview with Dwight; Andy and Dwight painting Michael's office black; the wink Dwight gave his Secret Assistant to the Regional Manager; Creed's blog (www.creedthoughts.gov/www.creedthoughts); the debate about Schrute Bucks vs. Stanley Nickels; Pam slipping one of the Office Olympic gold medals into Jim's folder... and the list goes on and on for an episode as multi-layered and lovingly constructed as this one. (But I can't forget to mention Dwight's desire to hire Jack Bauer as his Number Two; it's probably the most interesting thing about 24 this year.)

Finally, there's Jim and Pam. I didn't think you needed that scene on the beach between the two of them (it both interrupted the flow of the episode and broke the series' narrative device--the documentary--even if it bookended the season with another, misused flashback) but that final scene between them summed up everything that's been unspoken this season.

I knew that by the season finale these two star-crossed lovers would find a way to be together and I'm glad that writers Paul Lieberstein and Michael Schur brought them together not with another kiss but with something different, something adult and mature that belies their newfound places in the world: a date. I loved how conflicted Pam was regarding the job situation in New York City; she believes in Jim but doesn't want to lose him and so puts her well-wishing behind eliminating her competition for his affections.

Jenna Fischer's expression during Pam's interrupted talking head (when Jim bursts in to ask her out) was priceless, a mix of awe, surprise, happiness, and relief. (Speaking of which, get well soon, Jenna! We're thinking of you!) In the last two weeks, both Jim and Pam have shown tremendous acts of bravery and it's been so emotionally rewarding to see them both stand up for what they believe in and be HONEST with one another for a change.

Will these two actually work out as a couple? Who can say? We'll find out for certain next season, but no matter what happens, I just know it will be as hilarious as it will be painful to watch. In a good way. But, in the end, isn't that what The Office does best?

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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.