I had a number of problems with Steve Carell’s final episode on The Office, “Goodbye, Michael”. There was the comedy void that is Will Ferrell’s guest starring role and everything revolving around that character. There’s also the lesser problem of the logistics behind Pam getting through security to say goodbye to Michael in the airport. That was a bit too much artistic license for me to embrace in 2011, but that’s minor. Still, I found myself more deeply troubled by that scene and I believe I’ve pinned it down to the characterization of Pam over the last couple seasons.
There was a time on The Office when Pam had some ambition. Initially this was in the form of her artistic pursuits, and Michael Scott was one of her big supporters here. When Pam had her first art show, Michael was the one to genuinely praise her work and give her a boost. Jim would of course also support her dreams, but Michael’s was more pure without the romantic angle coming into play. Pam’s artistic talents would pop up here and there, and overall she seemed to actually want to better herself. Eventually she would give art school a valiant shot only to come up short. No matter, she’ll soon be given the opportunity to try new things as a founding member of the Michael Scott Paper Company, where she found some small success in sales. After that short-lived side adventure, Michael would go to bat in order to bring Pam back to Dunder Mifflin as a full-fledged salesperson. This lasted for about a season until the writers figured out that having so many main characters have the same job didn’t lend itself to much story variety, so Pam determines that she’s largely failed at sales. She had apparently been making minimal commissions during this time and wanted more money. Side question: are we to assume she was a worse salesperson than Andy, who is consistently written as the most incompetent of the bunch?
Anyway, Pam needed a new job that keeps her in the office but she was all out of genuine ambition. She fabricated a bullshit job as the office administrator, which the office had gotten by without for years, and conned Gabe and other department heads into signing off on it, even to the point of giving her unearned wages. With that, she effectively returned to doing what she did as a secretary, minus answering the phone. She plans office games, procures odd pieces of equipment for the office, and negotiates new lease terms with the office park. But mostly, she finagled herself a job that the office never required before, all during a financial crisis to boot. Somehow she maintains a job that pays more and contributes less to the company. “Goodbye, Michael” features Pam supposedly going on a run to price out paper shredders, and perhaps she did indeed do that although I’m not sure why anyone has to leave their computer and phone to do that in this day and age. But the only thing the audience sees her do is skip work and go see The King’s Speech. Side note: at least she turns her phone off while in a movie theater. Seriously however, this might just be the last straw I have with her character. She’s not only settled into a farce of a job and zero interest in bettering her life in any way, but she’s also actively not contributing to her company. Granted, the employees of Dunder Mifflin waste a lot of time while on the clock, but it’s usually standard office environment distractions or under Michael’s misguided direction. Pam checking out and seeing a movie while claiming to be working is way too egregious for me. This is far, far from the Pam we fell in love with during the early seasons.
All this brings me back to the end of Steve Carell’s exit from the show. I wish Pam didn’t get to say goodbye to Michael. I don’t think she deserved it. Her con over her colleagues would finally not work out for her. She wouldn’t get to express her gratitude for a boss who gave her so many breaks and so much support that she ultimately squandered. What if she had missed this opportunity to say goodbye? It could serve as a wakeup call for how she’s wasting her life, wallowing in a meaningless and entirely expendable job without dreams of any kind. It might even motivate an actual story arc for the character. It can’t be worse than having her do the next-to-nothing that has occupied her time for the last year or so. Not having that goodbye would be sad from Michael’s perspective, and perhaps that’s not at all what this show – now or even in its early years – would do, but I think it would have been significantly more interesting. I just think the Pam and Michael relationship has lost its meaning in recent seasons and that wasn’t reflected here. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I buy that the current version of Pam truly appreciates who Michael Scott was to her. She’s affectionately supported him in his troubles with Holly, but I’m not sure that’s enough. I think Pam deserved to miss out on that sweet goodbye. She was asking for it with her downward spiral of indifference and apathy. Maybe that’s what she needed in order to remember his unconditional belief in her talent and potential. Maybe that would have lit something within herself, because the desires she once had have long since burned out.