The Office: “Last Day In Florida”
B+

The Office: “Last Day In Florida”

B+

The Office

“Last Day In Florida”

Season 8, Episode 18

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“Last Day In Florida” is far from the funniest episode in The Office’s Florida arc. While I’ve had my issues with the arc as a whole, and feel that its potential was never quite realized, there were many successful comic moments that had energy the scenes in Scranton lacked (and which the show as a whole has lacked all season).

However, “Last Day In Florida” was far and away the most satisfying episode in the Florida arc, delivering a meaningful moment for Dwight and Jim as characters and finally returning some business logic to Sabre as a company. I didn’t find the storyline wildly funny, and the B-story was a complete and total bust, but the core of the episode did a lot to suggest that the time spent in Florida meant something to these people, which is a big step forward for the show’s eighth season.

The one non-Florida Stanley-related thing that has been solid throughout the Florida arc has been Jim and Dwight’s relationship, and I’m almost wondering if the writers aren’t suggesting here that it’s the new emotional core of the series. I realize this sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. Michael Scott’s absence took away his relationship with Dwight, his relationship with Jim, and his relationship with Pam, all of which landed on decidedly emotional moments in “Goodbye, Michael.” The show was left with what were either romantic relationships (Jim and Pam, Erin and Andy) or antagonistic relationships (Jim and Dwight), without anything that really tapped into emotions that went beyond romance. Jim and Dwight’s feud has always been a comic core for the series, but pathos has never exactly been their strong suit, which is perhaps why “Last Day In Florida” really went out of its way to bring the two characters together.

Of course, this isn’t to say that they suddenly stopped being funny. I enjoyed seeing Dwight’s success inflating his ego even further, and I liked that Jim just sort of let himself be annoyed given that it was the last time he and Dwight would interact in this capacity. Jim may have felt that this was “sweet” as opposed to “bittersweet,” but you could also sense that he would miss it. The show never went so far as to make a Batman/Joker argument (insofar as they need one another as mortal enemies to function), but when Jim is faced with the idea of Dwight being fired, it’s logical for him to realize that he cares about Dwight enough to try a second time to convince him not to go into that meeting.

That sequence is as broadly comic as it gets, just John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson roughhousing in a hallway, but it works because we’ve been given a sense of their motivations. We know why Jim is trying to block Dwight from going into the room, and we also know why Dwight is doing some absolutely ridiculous things to try to get past him. The physicality of it is funny, but the underlying tension in the sequence is something with more depth and nuance, and I thought Wilson nailed Dwight’s response to discovering that Jim was right all along. As Dwight stands in the back of the room while Robert fires Todd Packer instead (more on that in a second), there’s a real human person and not a broad caricature reacting to that news, a mode that Dwight didn’t really get a chance to play last season and which I’m very glad to see emerge here. As much as Dwight’s broader comedy in Florida has bugged me at times, I actually thought this conclusion did a lot to retroactively place that behavior into a different context, creating a narrative in which Dwight’s ambition led him down a path that could have threatened his entire career. It’s a path that could adjust the character’s purpose going forward, and I’m hopeful that he’ll continue on at least a connected path as the season heads towards its conclusion.

Speaking of retroactively evaluating previous episodes, I’m willing to give credit where credit is due. It was very satisfying to hear Robert California pointing out that even a well-designed Sabre store isn’t enough to sell the quality of electronics that the company sells (and that the store was only commissioned because Jo Bennett had approved it before his arrival). I’m still not totally buying that these products would exist, but I like the idea of only selling them online and fleecing the customer as a business strategy. It doesn’t entirely make the Pyramid or the Arrowhead “logical” in the sense of our own world, but it at least introduces business logic within the show’s world, which is all I think we could really expect.

Equally, while I admonished the show for forcing me to endure another dose of Todd Packer, it was deeply satisfying to see him taking the fall intended for Dwight. I hold no ill will toward David Koechner, but I truly believe that Todd Packer is a worthless character whose only real value was in his relationship with Michael, and so to see him tossed aside like this was a true gift that I will cherish for at least the next 12 hours. And even for those who liked the useless cad, I thought Nellie’s argument for why he should be fired (thus saving her own job) was enjoyable enough that even the more Packer-tolerant among us could get some value out of the sequence.

Now, when we get into the rest of the episode, things get a lot more uneven. While I found Erin and Andy’s laptop-flipping video chat a charming reminder of when I cared about their relationship, I disliked Erin’s fundamental incompetence at taking care of Georgia Engel’s savvy senior. Particularly, the idea that she is incapable of sorting pills into a pill container is one of those details that takes Erin from idiot savant — like boiling Gatorade, which is silly but not entirely illogical — to actively endangering someone’s life. Surely no one is shocked that Andy is going to Florida to get Erin back, and I’m glad that the writers are giving Andy a storyline and a goal to work toward, but without any investment in Jessica this still feels like a weak attempt at returning to a storyline that the show has already played out once before.

As for the other storyline back in Scranton, it’s a good thing that Jim, Dwight, and Stanley returned at the end of “Last Day In Florida.” There were fine moments as Darryl and Toby battled for the rights to sell cookies to Kevin, but all of the Scranton storylines during this arc have felt very hackneyed, as though they were rejected storylines from an old sitcom that the writers found in an old filing cabinet. I actually think the show could make that kind of nostalgic storyline work, but there’s just no energy here—a few one-liners isn’t enough to sell a story like this one, and Darryl is a far more interesting character to me when he’s given something more…well, not to be a broken record, meaningful. “Lotto” and the Val arc both identified Darryl as a character whose dry comic touch is best served with some sense of identify attached to him, and outside of a few clever bits this was just that: a string of inconsistently funny jokes.

However, I would have said the same thing about the season as a whole before this arc began, and I do think that the trip to Tallahassee changed this. No, I don’t think that the individual episodes themselves were a dramatic improvement over what we had seen to this point (or as good as they could have been with a bit more focus), but the end result resonated with me. I care more about Dwight and Jim’s relationship than I did before they made the trip south, and even if I’m not entirely on board there is more momentum for Erin and Andy when the former has some sense of agency (even if she’s apparently growing dumber the more tanned she becomes). While we can judge it on humor, I personally feel the Florida arc should be judged based on how successfully the show made a case for why building a new set, introducing new characters, and splitting the show’s narrative was worth the time and money.

Although the jury is still out on Nellie given that the character will be sticking around, and the Jim and Cathy storyline was never the big moment the show seemed to think it would be when the arc began, I like what a little bit of sun has done to the show. “Last Day In Florida” did not have me laughing hysterically by any stretch of the imagination, but I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoyed the episode that started the arc rolling, “Special Project.” The hope now is that the meaning created by this arc can be properly channeled, and that the show will at some point this season reach the point where meaningful storytelling and well-developed comedy will converge, something that I really hope didn’t die with Michael Scott.

Stray observations:

  • I enjoyed many of the small details in the cold open (like everyone looking to Creed when it was suggested that only a crazy person would open Dwight’s treasure), but Dwight actively trying to poison one of his coworkers referred to a version of the character that I was glad to see wiped away (even if briefly) at episode’s end.
  • I’ve decided I like Nellie well enough. Her fake British cultural references were quite clever (“Goat of Dover!”), and her wackiness always seems to have a goal or a purpose. I’m not sure how I’m going to enjoy her continued stay on the show, but I’m not averse to her continuing provided she meshes well with the rest of the group.
  • Toby as a character has been floating since Michael’s exit, but he got back-to-back showcases with the self-defense last week and the cookie storyline here. As noted above, I thought this was pretty useless, but his “Your church or barbershop” moment and subsequent awkwardness was a great gag.
  • Given that Kevin was willing to buy 100 boxes of cookies, why not split it 50/50? I would have accepted the storyline much better if it hadn’t ended with the role reversal in which Kevin started begging them to let him buy, mainly because I am a strong believer that a storyline about buying cookies in which no one buys cookies is just plain mean.
  • Even if the Florida storyline hadn’t found some resonance here, I think we can all agree that the life and death of Florida Stanley was worth the price of admission. His sadsackery in the back of that airport shuttle and once back in Scranton was delightful, and yet also tragic.
  • Lots of direct address to the cameras this week, with suggestions both that people were operating the cameras (Jim using them as evidence he tried to tell Dwight) and that someone might see the footage (with Darryl assuring his daughter she is not chubby, but that they are going to start exercising more).
  • I was typing on a laptop with a nonfunctioning monitor when I was taking notes, so quotes are a bit harder to come by this week — feel free to list your favorites.

Filed Under: TV, The Office

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