Steve Carell‘s final episode of “The Office” had a big load to carry: It had to usher Michael Scott off in a way that felt true to the character and gave the show’s fans their own chance to say goodbye, while at the same time reminding people that, in fact, the show will go on after Michael’s gone.
“Goodbye Michael” may not have nailed every facet of that task, but it got a lot of them right. Michael’s goodbye struck just the right note of sadness — he is, after all, leaving the people he’s considered his family for many, many years — while also being warmly funny and at least giving a hint of what the remaining Dunder Mifflin employees are up against.
Michael has done a lot of growing up since we first met him in the spring of 2005, but even so, to see him be so hands-off about his sendoff felt way out of character. This is, after all, a guy who as recently as last Christmas could still be a pouty, petulant child when he wasn’t the center of attention.
When the episode clued us in as to why Michael was acting that way, though, it made perfect sense: He told everyone that he was leaving the next day, but in fact he was headed to the airport and to Colorado to be with Holly that very day. For all his numerous faults, Michael is also a great big softie, and he just couldn’t take a protracted goodbye. As it was, he could barely stand the thought of learning a new cable lineup and figuring out where to vote; only a call to Holly, who calms his nerves with one of her many goofy voices, gets him back on track.
His various individual goodbyes — bequeathing the St. Pauli Girl sign to Ryan, the very sweet father-daughter talk with Erin — played quite well. We especially liked his half-cocked gift to Oscar (mostly for the talking head afterward in which Michael cracks up over the way Oscar sees him) and the letter of recommendation/paintball combo with Dwight, which also provided a rare moment for Rainn Wilson to play an emotion that’s not disdain or aggression.
“Goodbye Michael” hit its strongest notes, in fact, in the interactions between the people who have been front and center on the show for the longest. After the Dwight moment, Jim sniffs out that Michael is really leaving today. But rather than tell everyone else, he takes a private moment to thank Michael for being such a good boss — and in a way that keeps up the facade that it’s not really Michael’s last day so that neither one of them will break down. It’s a lovely moment that shows how fond Jim has grown of Michael over the years.
The final goodbye falls to Pam, who just misses him leaving the office but catches up with him at the airport — apparently buying a ticket so she can get through security and wish him farewell. She gets the last word on Michael’s departure, telling the camera that he seemed excited to be headed to his new home. It’s hard to explain why, but it feels appropriate that Pam is the last person from Dunder Mifflin that Michael sees, and Jenna Fischer gets the happy for him/sad for herself tone just right.
The episode was also really, really funny at times. The aforementioned scene with Oscar, the entire sequence where Michael says his goodbyes to Angela, Michael’s repeated failures to sink a final over-the-shoulder shot in the warehouse and a couple of spit-take-worthy lines from Phyllis kept the proceedings from getting too melancholy.
There were also a few things that didn’t work. I wouldn’t have turned down Will Ferrell as a guest star either, but it doesn’t quite seem like the show has figured out what to do with Deangelo, aside from pairing him up with Carell or Ed Helms and letting them go. He’s new in Scranton, so he’s not going to have any real kind of investment in sending Michael off. And while it was smart not to try to insert him into that part of the story, the B-plot with Deangelo and Andy trying to save some of the branch’s biggest clients mostly fell flat. So far all we’ve seen of Deangelo makes it seem as though he has a bunch of Michael’s bad qualities but not as many of the redeeming ones. Not for nothing did Jim and Dwight exchange knowing, worried looks in the tag at the end of the episode.
Still, writer Greg Daniels, who developed the show for NBC and wrote the series’ very first episode, and director Paul Feig (who’s helmed as many episodes as any director the show has had) managed to pull off “Goodbye Michael’s” dual mission with aplomb, and some of the subtler bits they included worked terrifically well. The shot of Michael adjusting the Dundie award on his desk — mimicking a portion of the show’s opening credits — was brilliant. We also loved Creed saluting Michael with the “World’s Best Boss” mug Michael had earlier thrown out, the acknowledgment of the documentary crew (“Could you guys tell me if this ever airs?”) and, especially, the final, inaudible “That’s what she said” after Michael removes his microphone and hands it back to the camera operator.
We’ll save the thoughts about the show’s future for, well, the future. For tonight, we’ll just say that we’re sorry to see Michael go, but the show came up with a lovely, bittersweet way to send him into his new life. Well done.
Angela Kinsey interviewed Carell about his departure in his last week on set. Like his last episode, it’s pretty sweet and heartfelt. Take a look: