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‘The Office’ Review: “Paper Airplanes”

The Office "Paper Airplane"
Chris Haston/NBC

With only a handful of episodes left (and many of the finale’s secrets out of the bag), it’s almost time to start feeling sad that ‘The Office‘ is closing up shop. Granted, it’d be easier to feel melancholy about the goodbye if the show hadn’t floundered for much of the last couple seasons, but perhaps a couple of strong episodes will make us remember the glory days.

Tonight’s episode “Paper Airplanes” opens with Erin folding a paper plane, only for Clark to taunt her. It’s revealed by Dwight that there’s an ongoing paper airplane contest sponsored by one of the paper manufactures. It’s also revealed that Pam threw a plane into Toby’s eye.

Andy rehearses a scene with Darryl, and reveals that he got a job acting in an industrial video, which he thinks might be his big break. Jim talks to Pam in the break room, and their conversation is obviously informed by their time in couple’s therapy. They reveal that instead of saying there’s something they don’t like, it’s replaced with the word “opportunity.” Andy tells everyone about his gig when Nellie brings in a rep from the new paper company, and he reveals that the winner gets a check for two thousand dollars. Nellie didn’t announce the cash prize the day before, which pisses off Angela, who reveals that she’s separated from the senator and that times are leaner. She also says that she’d be willing to get with Dwight again. Dwight tells the camera crew that it’s on Angela to make the next move, but that also he’s got his new girlfriend who’s way more comfortable with farm life.

Erin reveals that growing up an orphan gave her a nasty competitive streak, and worries it might be off putting to Pete. Rosanne Barr’s talent agent Carla returns to take Andy to his first acting gig, where he’s obviously a bozo. At first he smiles reading his lines, then he does a bad Tom Brokaw impression. In the paper plane contest, first up is Kevin versus Angela. Kevin got his plane off of Craigslist, and has to refold, but he’s got no skills.

Clark competes against Erin, but Erin smokes him and then trash talks Clark until Pete tells her to stop. Phyllis loses to Dwight, and then Dwight’s girlfriend Esther shows up and the two kiss. The final four are Erin, Angela, Dwight and Toby. Andy continues his acting assignment, but he’s reticent to get his eye washed in the eye wash scene because he’s very sensitive about eyes and eye damage. Carla threatens Andy’s career if he doesn’t do it, but Darryl gives him the pep talk he needs. Back at the contest, Toby goes up again Angela, but Toby quits dramatically, and Dwight applauds, which leads Esther to question why Dwight would be happy for her. He explains it’s because Angela’s lost it all.  Dwight goes up against Erin, and Erin loses, which leads her to a swearing jag, and small acts of violence. Jim and Pam keep talking in therapy speak until Jim takes a phone call that sets Pam off. She tells the camera crew that her heart feels blocked up.

Kevin is still trying to make paper airplanes, while Andy faces his fears and washes his eyes. Dwight and Angela are the final contestants, and Angela blows her first shot, so Dwight throws his first shot as well, and Esther tells Angela that Dwight wants her to win. But Angela tells Dwight to play fair, and so on their last toss, Angela loses fair and square. Angela says she doesn’t want pity or charity (even as she steals toilet paper from the office). As Jim gets ready to leave the office, he tells Pam that he thinks they’re making progress, and that they should keep at it. Pam stews and sees that Jim left his umbrella. She goes out to give it to him. Neither can say anything, so Jim hugs her, and it’s awkward for both until Pam gives in and they both kiss and cry as the documentary flashes back to their wedding. It ends with both saying “I love you” to each other.

Does this mean we’re starting to get to the light at the end of the tunnel? Because that would be great. ‘The Office’ was made (initially) by Jim and Pam’s relationship, and it’s unfortunate that this last season has pulled the cheapest dramatic device possible by threatening that relationship. The kiss should be a powerful moment, but it’s also likely not the end of this narrative thread. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t have minded if they showed their relationship collapse, because there are moments here that feel real. But who wants a depressing conclusion? As lame as the threat of divorce may have been, there’s still a lot to do to make things right between them again, and not a lot of time to do it. Right now, every second Jim and Pam are on screen it feels like a drag. And that’s no fun.

Otherwise, it seems that the finale is also going to be about Dwight and Angela, which is fun. Those two deserve each other, and though there’s no denying that Nora Kirkpatrick’s  Esther is an attractive lady, it seems unlikely that she will be able to replace Angela in Dwight’s heart.

The paper airplane contest was a good way to give most everyone something to do (though the Pete and Erin dating thing is about as empty as Troy and Britta’s relationship on ‘Community‘), and Craig Robinson is still one of the show’s MVPs, but at this point the show is gearing up for landing, so these last couple episodes are all about setting up the final curtain. If Jim and Pam’s relationship is now back on Terra firma, it would be great if they could just have fun for the next couple episodes, and remind us why we wanted them to get together in the first place.

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