“The Job” (season three, episode 23; originally aired 5/17/2007)
In which no one is never, ever going to leave…
There is no promotion for Michael Scott. He says as much as the end of “The Job”:
“I am going nowhere. This place is like the hospital where I was born, my house, my old-age home, and my graveyard—for my bones.”
It’s an important declaration for the character, a half-aware acknowledgment of a personal rut that makes comedic hay of a foregone conclusion. The Office could only send Jim to Stamford for seven episodes; to take Michael out of Scranton would be daring, but destabilizing. (And yet NBC went ahead and ordered seasons eight and nine anyway…)
“The Job” is a spectacular hour-long season finale hamstrung by the inevitable. There are certain rules, expectations, and conventions a great show like The Office can break—like temporarily exiling a primary character to another location—but giving the big corporate promotion to Michael Scott is not one of them. Working within these confines, the show must search for other sources of tension and surprise; fortunately, it has both in the romantic relationships between Michael and Jan and Jim and Karen.
Season three of The Office is the season of the bad fit: Couples that don’t truly work together; bats in the office and Michael on a college campus; the grossly unqualified sitting in positions of authority. Unfortunately for Jan Levinson, her guided mission of self-destruction puts her in the first and third of those categories, prompting the big surprise from David Wallace: The brass ring Michael, Jim, and Karen are reaching for belongs to Jan. They’re all interviewing for her job, and she’s going to be fired. With reconciliation in the air, Wallace’s disclosure gives “The Job” a booster shot of tension: Does Michael care more about work than “love”? Season three’s final trio of episodes does a good job exploring Michael’s limits and the bounds of his selfishness, but this is a serious test that puts the journey into expected along a razor’s edge. Michael’s not going to get the job—now let’s watch how aggressively he won’t get the job.
It’s less of a given that Jim interrupts the final talking head of the season. Part of that comes down to our expectations for the show’s interview segments. These are sacred spaces, opportunities for the characters to speak their mind without consequence or recourse from their co-workers. Another character intruding on that space should feel like a bolt from the blue, as it does when Jim enters the conference room. The end of Jim and Karen’s relationship isn’t played as a big breakup. Instead, it’s portrayed through subtle disconnects sprinkled throughout “The Job.” Karen is more worldly than Jim. Karen would leave Scranton if Jim got the job in New York—Jim isn’t sure what he’d do if the opposite happened. Karen takes off during Jim’s interview in order to grab lunch with friends—but then Jim just up and abandons Karen in Manhattan, so no one’s truly to blame but fizzling chemistry. (Though, it deserves to be said: Poor Karen. She’d get a little bit of revenge in season four’s “Branch Wars,” but the deck was stacked against her from the start.)
This is a gasp-worthy season-finale moment at the end of an episode where the most frequent involuntary response is laughter. Amid the serious business of job interviews and nasty firings, Dwight and his “subordinates” hold down the comedy fort in Scranton. Power transforms Rainn Wilson’s performance; check out the weird way we turns off Michael’s dictaphone (itself a suitably weird way of giving a Sarah McLachlan-aided farewell) by slamming the “Stop” button against a desk. As with “The Coup,” the tiny glimpses we get into a Dunder Mifflin under Dwight Schrute’s management are absurd and impractical, but in a way that suits the character. Dwight’s a salesman to his core, and his management style is all hard sell: Schrute Bucks, condescending lectures on soil, and an intimidating office that’s black “like outer space without the stars.” The power goes to his head so quickly, Jim has to point out that Dwight’s so-called “greatest dream come true” involves pulling down $80,000/year from a flaming hotel that he runs with Satan. The pacing of Dwight and Jim’s “Hotel Hell” exchange is a brilliant push-and-pull, sacrificing loses no energy to the editing, which makes space for the salary punchline to stick the landing.
Caught between these changing-but-not-changing world is Pam; her gleeful assistance to Dwight makes “The Job” one of the show’s all-time great Pam episodes, shoring up Jenna Fischer’s “glue of the show” bona fides. It’s rare to get this much material between the assistant regional manager and the secret assistant to the regional manager, and she plays along in a way that Jim simply wouldn’t. (The roar she summons to keep the conference room in check just isn’t Jim’s speed—he wouldn’t be able to do it convincingly.) Of the show’s core quartet, Fischer was the most versatile within different character pairings. They all worked well together, but any pairing with Pam worked the best because it was never a wholly antagonistic pairing. Pam’s clearly having fun at Dwight’s expense in “The Job,” but what he tells her at the end is the truth: She did serve the office of assistant to the regional manager honorably. For all the mismatches on display this year, here’s a match that truly works
But not as well as Michael Scott and Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s a function of a fictional character living in a fictional world, but he must return to his hometown humbled at the end of “The Job.” At least he has “romance” (or something close to it), if not professional satisfaction, to fall back on. And, most importantly, the hospital/house/old-age home/graveyard that is any good TV character’s lot—until the end of the show or the end of the actor’s contract, whichever comes first.
- And that, my friends, is the American Office. A great big thanks to everyone who’s read this and every other review of the show posted on The A.V. Club. I’ve now said farewell to this show twice; perhaps now it will refrain from haunting my sleep, allowing me to finally find satisfaction in bed. (That’s what she said—for the final time.) With no more Office reviews to write, please look for my words elsewhere on the Internet, at www.creedthoughts.gov.www\creedthoughts.
- Vital information: The cash value of a Schrute Buck is 1/100 of a cent. 10,000 Schrute Bucks equals $1. If 1,000 Schrute Bucks gets you five extra minutes at lunch, then $1 would practically buy you a full hour.
- Jim thinks he sees Lorne Michaels in New York, continue the Dunder Mifflin tradition of mistaking random New Yorkers for Saturday Night Live vets. (As Michael does when he thinks he sees Tina Fey, and misses Conan O’Brien in the process.)
- Pam talks herself in circles, winds up on a boat with a certain sailor man: “Maybe I’m being cliché, I don’t care, because I am what I am. That’s Popeye.”
- Good bye, Hunter. Good luck with your band.