Hey Sam thanks for chatting with me today. Our topic is going to be Season 9 of The Office. I think we can cut directly to what we often discuss when the two of us discuss this season: should Jim and Pam have gotten a divorce? There’s certainly the groundwork for it, though the later seasons had such a throbbing heart mentality I don’t think it was actually likely. Want to elaborate on your stance?
Sammy Boy O’Russell
Yeah, I strongly believe that by the end of The Office Jim and Pam’s marriage should have completely collapsed, resulting in a devastating divorce. Whenever I rewatch The Office (which is frequently) I start in it’s prime- usually somewhere between season 2 and 5. Then I watch through to the end and inevitably end up looping back and watching Season 1 last. Season One Office is an incredibly dark show. Michael Scott is always offensive, but in Season 1 he is cruel (In the pilot he pretends to fire Pam as a joke. It’s very upsetting.)
Jim and Pam are both in their own romantic and career ruts. The show is set in a cold, depressed, middle-of-nowhere Scranton, PA. Basically the world of the show is grim, mundane, and grounded in a reality.
As the show developed it became more optimistic, less cruel, but it always held onto the idea that working at Dunder Mifflin forever was a boring, sad fate. Around season 7, when Michael Scott leaves, the show spirals into this strange utopia. The Office isn’t just a warm and loving family in Michael Scott’s sad and delusional mind, they are actually a warm and loving family. And I think it would have been cool if the show slammed the door on the audience’s face on the way out. They built from this sad world to this utopia, and then they remind us- love is dead. Everything ends. The world is cruel. Jim and Pam’s marriage is a sham.
It’d be pointless to argue that the show doesn’t get warm and fluffy as the seasons wear on. The Office does become a family. But I actually like where Season 9 goes with Jim and Pam (though I’ll concede it is resolved relatively easily near the end of the season). In order to really discuss it, I thought back to Dwight’s talking head right after they announce that they are dating. “I don’t see it. I think they both could do better” (Season 4, Episode 2: “Dunder Mifflin Infinity”). In a lot of ways, he’s right. If you look at Jim and Pam, they’re not perfect individuals. We see Pam give up on art school and then flounder through three separate jobs at the office, only the last of which she has any aptitude for. Jim, for all his adorable mugging at the camera, is unambitious for… what, eight years of his life at least? He’s openly contemptuous of his job without any aspiration of leaving. So Dwight’s right: they both could do better. And they don’t necessarily bring out the best traits in each other, though they both do have good traits, and their early courtship is sweet and authentic.
That’s what works about their fight in Season 9 in my opinion. For all that frontloaded authentic sweetness, realistically at this point they’re two kids deep and Jim is starting to notice he is stuck at this job he hates. With the fairy tale over they’re beginning to notice the ugly things in each other. I think that divorce could have been an answer, but another answer is that this is just what happens when marriages stop appearing glossy. Sometimes you’re going to fight. Sometimes you have to compromise, sometimes you have to settle. Divorce would have been a slamming door, and it is sometimes the end of these sorts of things, and sometimes it is the right choice, but fighting for a marriage can also be challenging, gritty, realistic, and satisfying. It particularly brings to mind Pam giving up on art school – she sacrificed something in her future for something else in her future. It’s realistic, but not dark. She made a choice to value one thing over the other, and Jim mimics this choice in the final season when he puts her before his career. That’s tough, but not dark either. Now, does it fade into the background a little near the end, and does Pam’s second sacrifice a few episodes later in the finale really kind of make it all too good? Possibly. But I don’t think we’re supposed to think they’re done fighting, I think we’re supposed to think that they’ve made the choice to weather some of the bad together even after that exciting spark of romance faded, which is actually a pretty realistic and mature message. Sam?
I agree that they both have a slew of bad character traits, which is good! The Office has always been great at giving its characters flaws. I just think it’s strange that in the later seasons their flaws don’t have consequences. When they hate their dead-end job they don’t leave to find something better. They stay stagnant, and the world gradually becomes lovely around them.
Wishing a divorce on this couple is certainly extreme, and fighting to fix a marriage is also a worthwhile direction for the characters…in theory. But in practice this storyline wraps up so quickly and so neatly, and literally everyone wins. Jim doesn’t actually sacrifice anything. Sure, he gives up working at Athlead (which the first time watching I was sure would be revealed as scam…Jim invested a lot of money into an incredibly vaguely defined startup) so that he can work on his marriage with Pam. And then in the finale Pam is just like, “Yeah let’s totally do your thing anyways.” He can’t sacrifice his career aspirations for his marriage, and then get both anyways. Just because this is Scranton, Pennsylvania: Heaven On Earth. They snapped out of a 4 year long Honeymoon phase to have a fight, and then immediately slip back into fairytale world.
Despite how lazy the end of this storyline is (and how bad a lot of the storytelling in these last few seasons are) I do think the beginning is very well done. The fight doesn’t come out of nowhere- it’s firmly based in 9 seasons of history. Those fights are also very well acted by John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer.
Yes, very much agreed actually. I think that the ending of the storyline is heavily diminished by that final episode – though “in universe” a year has passed, it’s only been a few episodes since Jim had to give up anything. I understand that the show would want to leave us with the idea that they will leave those jobs (Jim has held that job for ten plus years by the end of the series – 12 years, I think?) so it’s really not outlandish that they’d be ready to move on. But the pacing throws the whole thing off.
I think it’s also interesting that Season 9 is one of the first to return to the fact that this is a documentary (we’ve discussed before that this is too severe of a left turn for this point in the show, though I maintain if it had been sprung Season 4 or 5 even, it’d have been a good one), but I think that it calls into question the idea that the fairy tale isn’t quite as real as it was depicted both before and after the fight. As I said above, I don’t think the show leads us to believe that this is the last fight they’ll have. Watch the episodes after Pam decides that Jim should stay and fight on Valentine’s Day. They both seem nervous and on edge around each other, trying particularly hard to be friendly (like you said, Jenna and John had pretty much nailed the characters at the point and are still brilliant at subtle performance, even as the show’s comedy went broader). This takes a long time to abate. But I think the message is still one of “these people have committed to the idea that they will have to give up some things that seem perfect for their imperfect marriage, and they are both okay with this.” I think that’s what the story tried to deliver, and up until the very final episode, I think it did a good job.
Should we open this up a little more to how the season works as a finale for the show? Would Jim and Pam getting a divorce have put a good button on the show that went from realistic, dreary and exact to fluffy and broad? What other storylines did you think worked, and which ones didn’t? Obviously Dwight and Angela ending up together bordered on too much (though no reason they shouldn’t get a happy ending) but the reveal that Angela’s child was actually Dwight’s was a step too far for me, even for fan service. It sanded off any complications – that was a fairy tale ending, not just crafted by the doc crew, and sort of deus ex machina in comparison to the way the rest of that story played out. What about you, Sam? Any thoughts on other storylines?
I think in many ways this show wanted to have its cake and eat it too. Jim and Pam both get their own way and get their happy marriage. Jim and Pam also both learn to love their jobs, and they get to move on to a new and better thing. Same with the twist about Angela’s baby being Dwight’s after all.
I think the documentary crews sudden presence is a bit clunky within the show’s continuity.A lot of the logic falls apart with the slightest thought (Why are they suddenly upset about their privacy being violated?) I liked elements of bringing the documentary crew back into the fold, or maybe I like the idea of it. I agree it would have been interesting if somewhere in the middle of the show they introduced some crew members. It’d be interesting if doc crew members slowly became characters in this documentary they’re producing. Certainly they would have a very close relationship to their subjects. But that would be a very different show.
Thank you for your time.