Tomorrow night is going to be difficult for me: it’s the series finale of The Office, a show I’ve been watching since its second season that has meant so much to me over the last seven years. I’ve been strongly attached to it ever since I started watching, and to be honest, I’m not sure what I’m going to do without my all-time favorite show every week. So in honor of the finale, I’ve decided to list my ten favorite Office episodes. This wasn’t an easy list to make – I’ve only really ever ranked my top two favorites, and after that, it’s sort of a big jumble. But after some thought, I came up with a list that I think is accurate to both my own feelings toward the show and what the show represents. I should warn you guys in advance: this list is 50% season two episodes, and pretty Jim/Pam-heavy.
10. Beach Games
Season 3, Episode 23
Confident that he’s going to be promoted to a job at corporate, Michael holds a competition between four people to determine who will take his job as regional manager. But Jim and Karen decide to throw in their names for the same position Michael wants, and after months of keeping quiet, Pam finally tells Jim how she feels.
A lot of really important things happen in Beach Games, and it marked the beginning of changes in Jim and Pam that completely changed their trajectories for the following six seasons. Of course, this episode isn’t just about Jim and Pam; it’s the first time we get a real sense of what Dunder Mifflin would be like without Michael Scott. But it has such a different tone from the other two arcs in the show that revolve around Michael leaving (when he quits to form his own company in season five and then, of course, when he actually leaves in season seven); it was much too early in the show for any real shake-ups, so we could all sit back and enjoy the image of Stanley trying to murder Jim on Beach Day while wearing a sumo suit. It was the mix of silliness and conflict that The Office does so well; everyone has probably had varying ideas through the show’s run about who they think would make the best manager, but this episode isn’t about that, not really. It’s about this group of people who we’ve come to love hanging out on Beach Day, and watching them interact in a new environment (something that was always so interesting in the first three seasons of the show, when the bulk of episodes were occurring within the office).
And of course, this is the episode that should have earned Jenna Fischer an Emmy. She was nominated this season, and this was the episode she submitted, but didn’t win for reasons I’ll never understand. We had watched Pam grow all season, inspired by but not dependent on what had happened with Jim. And that was what made the scene when she finally explodes and tells Jim she misses him so beautiful: she didn’t call off her wedding for him. She wasn’t jumping to him because she wasn’t strong enough on her own. Her friendship with him made her realize what she wanted, and she knew she would never get that in her relationship with Roy. But telling Jim all this wasn’t her way of declaring her love, and she made sure to mention that. She missed her friend. And for once, Pammy’s getting what she wants. And don’t call her Pammy.
9. Drug Testing
Season 2, Episode 20
Dwight finds a joint in the parking lot. The plot of this episode honestly just writes itself.
There’s going to be a lot of season two episodes on this list, partially because it was just such an exceptional season of television. But moreover, it’s The Office at its best; it absolutely defined the show and what it would come to represent. Its mix of awkward moments, character-based humor, and general silliness was never better, and Drug Testing exemplifies that perfectly. It’s a silly concept (Dwight using his volunteer position as a deputy sheriff as a way to find out who in the office smoked weed), but one that makes complete sense in this world. But it’s not just a goofy, sitcom-y situation; there are some pretty high stakes here, if the smoker is found, and there’s a real sense of panic as people (ahem, Michael) fear losing their jobs because of their exposure to marijuana.
But really, this episode is all about the character interactions. Creed’s knowledge of various kinds of marijuana, Jim turning the interrogation around on Dwight, Michael’s joy over establishing a rapport with Jim…Episodes like this just highlighted how great this cast is, and how strong each character was at such an early point in the show’s run. So much of season two was just putting these characters together and letting them interact, and it worked so brilliantly in this episode.
8. Diversity Day
Season 1, Episode 2
After Michael performs an offensive comedy routine, corporate makes Dunder Mifflin undergo a racial sensitivity seminar. Unsatisfied, Michael takes it upon himself to teach his employees about sensitivity.
The Office’s pilot was simply an adaptation of the British series’ pilot. So Diversity Day was the first original episode, and the first time we saw the characters as anything but David, Gareth, Tim, and Dawn with American accents. Within five minutes, we understand something crucial to Michael Scott’s character: he’s so desperate to be loved. He’s not trying to offend his employees by quoting Chris Rock’s routine, but he’s genuinely convinced that they’ll find it funny, and that’s all he wants. He craves a connection with them, and is blind to how he’s being perceived. That idea is integral to his character, and something that stays with him throughout all seven seasons he’s on the show.
Generally, everyone who works on The Office lists this as their favorite episode, because it’s the first time it really stood on its own. Most shows take a while to find their voice, but looking back on it now, The Office showed exactly what it would become in its second episode. That just doesn’t happen. Everything since then has been an evolution, but you can trace their growth back to who we see here in this episode.
7. The Dundies
Season 2, Episode 1
It’s time for the annual award ceremony Michael throws for the office. Naturally, his awards offend almost all of their recipients. After a fight with Roy, Pam gets so drunk that she kisses Jim and winds up being banned from Chili’s.
I would be lying if I said my favorite thing about this episode wasn’t the growth in the series’ greatest relationship. That’s right, people. This is the beginning of Michael’s crush on Ryan.
Okay, yeah, Jim and Pam, and we’ll get to them, but COME ON. Michael’s weird thing for Ryan is just so wonderful and uncomfortable and yet beautiful in so many ways. It’s the strongest representation of who Michael is: no one really appreciates his heart or correctly interprets his gestures, but that’s never more apparent than his relationship with Ryan. It probably comes out of a desire to be respected – Michael wants to be young and cool like Ryan, and therefore can’t help but admire everything the temp does. But Ryan doesn’t understand that, and is completely creeped out by his boss, even after Michael names him Hottest in the Office. And again, it’s what The Office does best: it expresses such a sad, revealing detail about a character in a funny way, and since such attention is paid to the humor of the situation, it’s possible to completely miss the emotion behind it. It’s something I most appreciate about the show, especially since the first couple seasons didn’t focus much on the characters’ personal lives: you have to dig to find information like this that reveal so much about a character, but those hints are definitely there.
And of course, Jim and Pam. This episode is notable for so many things in the growth of their relationship; obviously, it’s the first time they kiss (albeit it’s a peck that Pam initiates out of pure joy after winning her Dundie), but it’s also the first time the audience sees them interacting outside of the office. We saw some competition between Jim and Roy in the first season, but it’s really the first time Pam takes part in it. She and her fiancé get into a fight because he wants to leave the awards early, but Pam insists on staying. While she’s not exactly choosing Jim over Roy, she is certainly choosing the people she works with, and she refuses to stand down and let Roy dictate what she does. It’s such an important moment for Pam, and such a different side to the quiet receptionist we had come to know. But after all, God was in that Chili’s, so really, anything could happen.
Season 9, Episode 22-23
Now that he’s focusing completely on Dunder Mifflin, Jim decides to spend his day messing with Dwight: as the newly appointed number two, Jim tells his boss that he needs his own assistant, knowing that the day will end with Dwight naming himself Assistant to the Assistant to the Regional Manager. But Jim and Pam still haven’t totally recovered from the problems they’ve been facing the last few months, and as Dwight prepares to propose to his girlfriend Esther, he begins to worry that he’s making the wrong decision.
This is the most recent episode on my list. I mean, that’s kind of a given, since it’s the last episode that aired, but I mean it’s the only one from the last two seasons of the show. The cast has said that this episode was intended to serve as the first part of their finale, and that feeling is definitely palpable throughout. Jim messing with Dwight felt so much like a season two episode, in this really wonderful, nostalgic way. The path these characters have been on has never been more obvious: the references to and feelings of older episodes highlighted how everyone has changed, but like I said earlier, you can trace them back to their beginnings. Maybe it’s because the heart of the episode was so light-hearted. Ultimately, this episode was about having fun and falling in love. There’s Jim, the guy so many viewers fell in love with in season two as he pined after Pam, tasking the camera crew with making a montage of moments from his relationship with his wife, in an attempt to show her that their life together is truly enough for him. Their storyline this season has been painful to watch at times because of how real and unwinnable it is; neither of them were wrong for wanting different things, which made it seemingly impossible to resolve. I was so worried that it would conclude with Pam deciding to move to Philadelphia to make Jim happy, but they did the exact opposite. At least for now, they’re staying in Scranton, and Jim’s giving up his job at the company he helped build. I think this storyline could have been beautiful if they did it last season, since the series finale sort of necessitated that it wrap up quickly. They’d never break up Jim and Pam, especially not a few episodes before the show ended. Because of that obvious fact, the tension in this storyline came not from the uncertainty about what the writers were going to do, but whether or not they were going to do it well.
But I’m a sucker for romance, and more importantly, I’m a sucker for Jim and Pam, so I totally bought this resolution. When his video ended with footage of him taking back the note he wrote her in Christmas Party, I knew what was coming. After seven years, he FINALLY gave her the note he wrote, back when she was engaged to someone else and he was just her friend who so desperately wanted to be more than that. And it was wonderful, and I cried. A lot.
And then there’s Dwight and Angela. Now, I was a diehard shipper back in the day. But by the time this season started, I had completely given up on them ever getting back together. For one thing, they were trying to give Dwight a spinoff. But since their breakup in season four, Angela’s been engaged twice, married once, and had a son. It felt like their lives had grown much too far apart to ever put them back together in a way that made sense. But in the last few episodes (basically since NBC announced it wouldn’t be going forward with Dwight’s spinoff), the writers managed to make us root for them again, and see just how much the two wanted to be with the other. I totally sobbed like a baby during the proposal scene, and Angela’s admission that Phillip was, in fact, Dwight’s son. Out of everything the show’s been doing as it winds down, this felt the most like a finale move, something they do just to tie down certain characters and wrap up storylines. But I don’t mind at all.
Having the other employees become angry at Darryl for leaving without saying goodbye out of a sense of nostalgia that the documentary was about to premiere was an ingenious way to address the fact that the show’s ending. Obviously, these characters’ lives aren’t ending; some of these people have worked at Dunder Mifflin for over ten years, and will continue to work there long after the cameras stop rolling. So it would make sense for the end of the show to be completely absent of the feeling that it’s actually coming to an end. But they managed to make it work, in a way that lets the audience say goodbye to the characters, and feel like the characters are aware that they’re saying goodbye to something themselves. Their decision to dance with Darryl as their one goodbye act felt like classic Office; everyone dancing together and having fun was such an upbeat way for the episode to draw to a close, and yet – like most of the episode – it totally made me cry.
5. Booze Cruise
Season 2, Episode 11
For the year’s corporate retreat, Michael books the office on a booze cruise. Jim brings along his girlfriend Katy, but when Pam and Roy finally set a wedding date, he breaks up with Katy and almost tells Pam how he feels.
Yeah, okay, a lot of things happen in this episode, it’s really funny, blah blah blah. We’re going to talk about Jim and Pam. His feelings for her were obvious in the first season, but season two ramped up everything. This isn’t the first time they’ve hung out outside of the office, but there’s no way to escape each other: they’re literally on a boat, with their significant others, and yet they keep wanting to hang out with each other. John Krasinski’s performance in this episode is so beautiful and subtle; you can tell the exact moment he knows he wishes he wasn’t with Katy, and know exactly why that pushes him toward Pam. You can feel him making the decision that this is finally the time to tell Pam and potentially risk everything, and when they’re standing on the deck of the boat, you just want to scream at him to tell her. But you can’t – you’re just as paralyzed as Jim, because you can feel exactly what they’re both feeling in that moment. Jim wants to tell her, he’s going to tell her, and Pam can feel it. What’s more, she wants him to. John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer have talked so much about that scene, and they’ve both said exactly this: John has said that his mentality at that moment was that he is going to tell Pam that he loves her, and Jenna has stated that hers was, “If you kiss me right now, I won’t stop you.”
This scene, so beautiful and quiet and painful, is the core of Jim and Pam’s relationship in season two. There’s so much they both need to say, that they want to say, but know that actually saying it would change everything. But this moment between them, and her willingness to hear what Jim’s dying to tell her, is fleeting; for the first time, Jim has his moment, and he can’t do it. And it hurts. But the build-up here to the events of Casino Night is beautiful – as is that segue into the next episode on my list.
4. Casino Night
Season 2, Episode 22
Michael holds a casino night in the warehouse, and – okay, no one really cares about the rest of this episode. Come on. We all know what happens here.
I’m going to talk a bit more about this episode in my post tomorrow, specifically about what it means to me and how it led to my deep love of the show and television in general. But today, we’re gonna talk about Jim and Pam.
That moment in Booze Cruise is so essential to this episode, when Jim finally has enough and has to tell Pam how he feels. But unlike Booze Cruise, where all the stars finally aligned (Jim wanted to tell her at a moment when Pam wanted to hear it, when they were both feeling distant from their significant others), there are potentially huge ramifications here – just not the usual kind. Jim’s decided to transfer to Stamford, so there’s nothing stopping him from telling Pam how he feels. The tension in the scene is just so wonderful – you think he’s about to tell Pam that he’s transferring, and it seems like Jim himself might be expecting to tell her that. But his decision to finally tell her how he feels is surprising to both of them – but what’s so interesting about Jim and Pam, and this scene, is that Pam isn’t necessarily too surprised to hear that Jim’s in love with her. At least, I don’t think so. After The Secret and Drug Testing, it’s pretty heavily implied that Pam knows Jim has feelings for her – or at least that she knows it’s a possibility, and maybe that she wants him to. But he finally breaks the unspoken rule they have to ignore what’s between them, making her question, “What are you doing?” so much more painful.
AND THE TEAR. THE SINGLE TEAR. Seriously, how John Krasinski didn’t receive buckets of awards for his performance, I will never know. You can just see the hope being sucked out of him, not that it was all that abundant in the first place. And the quiet acceptance is so painful, because he knows just as much as the audience does that he didn’t misinterpret a thing – and he knows that Pam knows it. But he doesn’t push her. Even at the end, when he goes back and kisses her, it’s not really pushing – he mostly likely heard the end of her conversation with her mother in which Pam said, “Yeah, I think I am,” and, come on. There’s only one question she could have been answering. He had every reason to believe she had feelings for him, and was taking one last chance. If Jim telling Pam he loved her was unexpected, the kiss was a complete shock. Shows don’t give you two scenes like that in one episode; any other show would have ended with Pam rejecting Jim, but the realism in Jim going back one last time was so wonderful and in a way, so respectful to the show’s fans. It gave us what we wanted, in a sad, painful way that is still so true to the characters. Because of course Jim’s never going to give up on her – that’s something the audience never questions.
3. Goodbye, Michael
Season 7, Episode 22
This is Steve Carell’s last episode, and it’s the only episode on this list that I’ve only seen once. The four or five episodes leading up to this ended with me sobbing hysterically, every single week. This episode in particular was so painful, and I haven’t been able to watch it since it aired. I probably can’t even think about it for too long without crying, but it was the perfect way for Michael to leave. Letting him leave on such a high note, engaged with Holly and going to start a life with her, was such a beautiful way to honor the character, and if Steve Carell had to leave, this really was the perfect point for him to go. The reason he left paid such high respect to the character, and I don’t think that would have happened in the first five or so seasons of the show. It couldn’t have. And yeah, there were beautiful moments when Michael said goodbye to Jim and Pam that I could talk about, but I can’t think about them without crying, so. Just know that it’s a great episode.
Season 6, Episode 4-5
Jim and Pam get married in Niagara Falls, but the pressure of the wedding leads to them running away and having a private ceremony before their public one.
If this list was making you think I love Jim and Pam, you would be right. I often go back and forth between this and the episode I chose as number one, because they both represent the show in such comprehensive, but different, ways. This episode represents the heart of the show. Jim and Pam’s relationship has always grounded the show; for as goofy and over-the-top as it can be, watching this real relationship grow has given the show an emotional core, something that the audience can hold onto even as the show itself fluctuates in believability (a common problem in its latter years, especially seasons six and seven). This episode was the culmination of that, and the ultimate representation of Jim and Pam’s relationship. It was funny, it was romantic (come on. Jim CUTS HIS TIE FOR HER), and it showed just how much their coworkers care (I still can’t get through the actual wedding scenes without crying. “Forever” is the one and only Chris Brown song I will voluntarily listen to. And then I cry), which just adds to this emotional episode. Jim and Pam don’t get their perfect wedding, but it’s not done like a typical sitcom, where everything goes wrong on the wedding day. It’s a small thing that sets off Pam: she tears her veil, which adds to her stress and finally makes her explode. And at the wedding, when she realizes everyone has planned a dance, she’s clearly not happy at first; though she and Jim are clearly touched by what their friends do, it’s not exactly the ceremony of their dreams. And that’s fine, because they got the ceremony of their dreams. They had their small, private wedding, and no one but them knew about it. It’s so representative of how Jim and Pam’s relationship has been depicted on the show: they kept it a secret from the cameras and their coworkers for as long as they could, and until we find out that Jim’s planning to propose, we don’t really see a lot of their growth. They’ve always preferred to do things on their own, and their wedding is no exception. They get their perfect ceremony that’s true to who they are and what they want…and then they get the ceremony they planned, that doesn’t wind up being as terrible as they expected. And in related news, I basically cry my way through this entire episode.
1. The Injury
Season 2, Episode 12
Michael burns his foot on his George Foreman grill. In his fervor to save his injured boss, Dwight crashes his car and winds up with a concussion that alters his personality, resulting in a friendship with Pam.
I feel like I’m wasting my own time by writing about this episode, because I think this is just about every Office fan’s favorite episode. It comes just after the tension post-Booze Cruise, when the office finds out about Jim’s crush on Pam, and right before that storyline starts up again leading to the finale. It’s a really nice break from all that. It also happens to be the funniest episode this show – possibly any show – has ever produced. Like Drug Testing, it shows what happens when you let these characters interact with each other; there are high stakes in this episode, provided by Dwight’s injury, but it doesn’t feel quite as pressing given Michael’s insistence on babying himself over his burned foot that pales in comparison with Dwight’s concussion. The best episodes of this show are the ones when it feels like the characters are having fun, and that’s never been more apparent than in this episode. Now, I’ve seen season two more times than I can count, and while I still appreciate the humor of every episode, The Injury is still just as funny to me as it was the first time I watched it. I will never get tired of Michael shouting at Pam that he has Country Crock butter for her to rub on his foot, or Jim popping the bubbles on Michael’s makeshift cast, or Dwight making Vietnam noises as Jim and Pam help him out of the office. This is pure Office, the best representation of the show’s spirit and humor. It’s my all-time favorite episode of my all-time favorite show, one that I will never tire of watching.
Honorable Mentions: The Secret, Dinner Party, Money, Broke, The Delivery
What are your favorite episodes of The Office? Let me know in the comments what you think! I’ll be back tomorrow with a goodbye letter to the show, and if you follow me on Twitter, be prepared for me to talk a lot about how much I’m crying.