During Thursday’s installment of “The Office,” bumbling paper company manager Michael Scott picks up the “World’s Best Boss” coffee mug that he bought for himself – the coffee mug that’s seen him and his creator, Steve Carell, through 148 episodes of the best workplace sitcom of its time – and tosses the cup in the trash.
Scott no longer needs the self-proclamation of self-affirmation: His employees, after all, just gave him a “World’s Best Boss” trophy as a going-away present.
“I still need something to drink out of, though,” he notes.
The scene marked a telling and memorable moment that punctuated Carell’s final show playing the alternately annoying and endearing man-child of Dunder Mifflin Sabre. After seven seasons, we finally got to see Michael Scott start to grow up.
The plot proved effective as it did counter-intuitive: Scott, forever obsessed with being the center of attention, left the office a day early without telling his colleagues, skipping his farewell party and avoiding the kind of mawkish scene he ordinarily would revel in.
The scenario mirrored, in a sense, Carell’s own relatively low-key departure from the show, which comes before the end of the season. Avoiding Scott’s usual out-sized bluster and inappropriate displays of emotion in the finale also served to show us some welcome growth in a sometimes-grating character who, thanks to Carell’s brilliant portrayal, ultimately engendered a sense of affection from his underlings as well as his TV audience.
Michael Scott’s subdued last hurrah offered vignettes of the sweet and the silly: His bestowing of goofy, pseudo-symbolic gifts to his workers as if he were some kind of Scranton version of the Wizard of Oz. His parking lot paintball battle/make-up with Dwight. His silent last-minute good-bye at the airport with Pam, which ends with him toddling off Chaplin style, lugging his suitcase on wheels as he heads off to Colorado to marry his soulmate in silliness, Holly.
“Holly’s my family now and the babies I make with her will be my children,” Scott says in his last voice-over. “The people you work with are just, when you get down to it, your very best friends.
“They say on your deathbed you wish you never spent more time at the office. But I will. It’s gotta be a lot better than a deathbed.”
That’s a funny line – and it borders on profound from character steeped in self-delusion who saw himself as the benevolent father figure to his workplace "family.”
Where “The Office” goes from here is unclear. Will Ferrell will stick around for one more episode as D’Angelo Vickers, the replacement office manager whose behavior has turned from affably eccentric to bizarre (his attack on Michael’s going-away cake provided an jolting coda that nearly overshadowed Carell’s poignant last scene moments before). The May 19th season finale is slated to include marquee names like Ray Romano, Jim Carrey and Ricky Gervais, the creator of the original UK version of “The Office.” Their presence will serve as a tribute to Carell as well as sign that he’s not easily replaced.
Michael Scott, no matter what his cup and trophy say, is certainly not the world's best boss. But, as we were reminded Thursday night, he’s the best boss "The Office" will ever have.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.