I’ve said it once (well, probably closer to twenty), and I’ll say it again: season eight of The Office has been a major let-down. With Steve Carell in the lead role, The Office produced seven or so truly wonderful seasons (with two, three, four, and five being close to perfect), so there was no way his departure would have any kind of positive influence on the program. This brings me to the finale, “Free Family Portrait Studio”: despite being painfully predictable, was still funny. This is at the heart of The Office‘s future; should it continue purely based on its ability to provide a few laughs, despite not having the emotional resonance it once did? That’s not to say “Free Family Portrait Studio” didn’t have some touching moments, but rather that the show has been on the air for so long and has rehashed so many plot points, that maybe I–and I’m sure many others–don’t particularly care anymore.
Andy has convinced David Wallace to buy Dunder Mifflin from Sabre, and is in the process, managed to win back his position as regional manager of the Scranton branch. For some reason (that isn’t properly explained), he decides that posing as a drunken mess willing to do the branch’s janitorial work, his triumphant return will be made all the more sweet. This aspect of the plot didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but Erin’s misguided attempts to make his story believable to the rest of the office are fantastic. As with many other episodes this season, Ellie Kemper’s Erin saves whole storylines. There was little if any emotional payoff for Andy winning his job back, but frankly, while the question of his employment was key to the episode, Dwight and Angela’s ‘relationship’ was far more interesting.
Dwight organises a free family photos for his employees; they can bring in their kids for a free session with one of those annoying photographers. While most of the employees seem to take full advantage of Dwight’s ‘generous’ offer, Angela is sceptical. She doesn’t want her son Phillip around Dwight, as she knows he’ll try to use the situation to prove the child is in fact his son, not the Senator’s. To me, Dwight and Angela always made more sense as a couple than Jim and Pam. (Not that Jim and Pam aren’t right for each other.)
Dwight goes to extraordinary—and pretty gross—lengths to obtain evidence of his paternity. The whole thing gets out of hand when his cousin Mose becomes involved, and it ends with Angela more or less conceding defeat. The last shot of her and Dwight waiting for lab results was lovely, but is made even better by the fact that Oscar’s suspicions about the Senator are confirmed. For all of their dysfunction, Dwight and Angela are made for each other.
The former warehouse workers come crawling back to Darryl after losing their lottery winnings, which leads him to try and win over Val. Throughout the entire season I’ve felt indifference to these two, are we supposed to believe their connection is the same as Dwight and Angela’s, Jim and Pam’s, or Andy and Erin’s? I will say; however, that their last scene was rather touching, if a little confusing.
All in all, “Free Family Portrait Studio” was a middling episode, but in a season full of mediocre to bad episodes, it was fine. I’m giving it a B, but quite honestly, I was hoping this show would pull out all the stops for the season finale. The Office used to consistently produce brilliant episodes, but I’m almost convinced it will never reach those heights again. With Mindy Kaling leaving the show, it has lost one of its funniest characters (Kelly) and strongest writers. Not only am I certain that next season will be even worse than this one, it will probably also be its last. It’s a shame that what was once such a truly original, hilarious program won’t be able to go out on top.