Here’s Michael Scott describing his year, as viewed through footage taken on his new video camera: “There are only like 12 minutes that I felt was worth taping. And most of that was just birds in my condo complex. And I miss Holly.” This was an interesting way for The Office to end its sixth, and least cohesive, season: an admission that not a whole lot happened, followed by a callback to a plotline from last season. Still, there was some real heft to this closing episode – enough to give me some hope.
The opening scene of “Whistleblower” saw Michael beaming with pride. He gave a statement to the press denying the existence of exploding printers. It was on TV, then the newspaper, then the internet, then the radio. It was number two video on the local news site. Who was number one? “That teacher who was wrongfully accused of being a pedophile. We cannot led the pedophile win!” Michael insisted that his employees watch his video 11 times to drum up his numbers. (You laugh, but every Friday morning, I bribe a horde of train-hobos to visit my Office recap from hundreds of different computers in public libraries all across the tri-city area. Gotta get those page views up!)
Kathy Bates was back as CEO Jo, and she was angry. She strolled into the office and took control instantly. “Turns out our printers are famous,” she proclaimed, and you had to love the relish Bates took in slowly cutting out the Sabre story from the newspaper and taping it to Pam’s picture. (How’s that for some freakin’ continuity!) Jo wanted to know who the whistleblower was. Michael said there was no whistleblower. “I know these people. I know when their birthdays are. I know what their favorite kind of cake is. I know what color balloons they like.” Jo: “All that’s just birthday information, Michael.”
I get that, in her earlier appearances, Kathy Bates was purposefully hiding her considerable personal magnetism underneath a blanket of southern gentility. But it was a thrill to see her cut loose on our gang. Bringing in everyone for an individual interrogation, she verbally tortured them from left field: by asking them what they thought should happen to the guilty party. If they advised capital punishment, she knew they didn’t do it; if they advised leniency, she grew suspicious.
Now, this was a funny setup. And what made it funnier was that pretty much everyone in the office knew that Andy was the likeliest suspect. Phyllis to Andy: “Put your hand up, Norma Rae.” But twist! Darryl admitted to Michael that he was the whistleblower: he talked to a girl at the bar, who turned out to be a copy editor. But double twist! Pam admitted to Jim that she was behind the leak: she was talking to a reporter wife at Day Care. But triple twist! Kelly tweeted it!
I kind of liked the idea that everyone in the office might be the whistleblower, and I’m tempted to say that the episode would have probably been better if it had kept more closely to the Whistleblower plotline. Certainly, when Jo saw that Michael clearly knew more than he was telling, it felt like we were being primed for some sort of epic showdown.
But that’s when things wandered a little bit, and I’m still not sure if that wandering was good or bad. Jo drove Michael to her private jet. Michael was anxious: “I have an early dinner. With the chief of police.” But Jo just kind of wanted to talk. They had some drinks. She admitted that her lifelong dream was to become so successful at business that someone would make a Barbie out of her. Michael engaged in his “this has been a crappy year” heart-to-heart. It was cute, but it felt a bit… off. Especially considering that Jo comes off like such a rags-to-riches hardass (in case you didn’t notice, she’s played by KATHY FREAKING BATES).
Like, let’s consider. Michael has screwed up many things in his professional career at Dundler Mifflin, and usually, The Powers That Be have reprimanded him for this. But Jo, for all her bluster, has essentially rubber stamped Michael’s managerial style. By the end of the episode, he was making Sabre’s exploding-printer mea culpa. This is no tiny thing. Maybe Sabre just sells cheap printers, but his willingness to be the public face of his company during a crisis clearly indicates that his star is rising.
What I’m saying is: Michael appears to be on the road to becoming Jo’s heir apparent. The Iger to her Eisner. The Langston to her Grissom. Compare this to the old regime, when Michael was purposefully kept away from Corporate in Scranton HQ. It’s an interesting shift, for sure. But it also gives Michael’s doofery a slightly weightless quality. In the old days, Jan or David Wallace or somebody would have gotten angry at him. Who is around to get angry at him now? (The utter lack of concrete circumstances in the Officeverse seemed all the more glaring and bizarro-world if you watched the preceding episode of Parks and Recreation, in which Amy Poehler nearly lost her job as the whole town of Pawnee went bankrupt.)
By comparison, let’s notice that back at the office, the few minutes devoted to Gabe’s continued search for the culprit were hilarious. (Gabe: “Stanley, it’s your turn.” Stanley: “I didn’t do it.” Gabe: “What a rich timber your voice has.”) Gabe decided that Andy must have done it. Andy asked what made him think he was the whistleblower. Gabe; “Just the evidence.” Very quietly, Gabe has become a hilarious presence on the show, and I think it’s because he’s pretty much the only remaining sense of authority left. Without him, the Scranton branch is basically benevolent anarchy, where everyone just does their jobs out of boredom.
Michael Scott summed up season six pretty well: “It has not been a blockbuster year for me, financially. My Blockbuster stock is down.” Still, who didn’t get a tingle from the end of the episode, with the promise of the return of Michael’s lady love?
In conclusion, the greatest scene of the episode, and perhaps the season, was Ryan demonstrating “Woof,” his new start-up which ties together all of your communication portals. “I just sent myself a woof,” he said. Behind him, his computer’s email buzzed, and his fax machine printed, and Erin called him: “Ryan, you have a Woof on Line 1.” Hilarious.
What did you think of the finale, viewers? Were you surprised to find out that David Wallace revenge-whistled the secret of the exploding printers? Should we start discussing whether Gabe should become the boss if/when Michael moves up to Sabre Corporate/Steve Carell leaves to pursue a movie career? And after this admirable but uneven season, should we start asking ourselves just how much longer The Office has in it?