My Favorite Episode of “The Office”: “Business School”

Over the weekend I watched the finale of “The Office,” the US remake/update of the beloved UK series of the same name. While on the surface the US version was a comedy, the show had a remarkable capability for bringing out heartfelt emotion both in its characters and in the audience. For years I have considered “Business School,” directed by none other than Joss Whedon (of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and The Avengers fame), my favorite episode of the show. Now that the show has run its course, I watched “Business School” again today and I still feel that the same way. There are so many moments in the episode that are wonderfully endearing as only the US “Office” could be in its Michael Scott seasons.

The first strand of the plot revolves around Michael being asked by the office temp, Ryan, to speak at Ryan’s business school. Ryan tells the camera that his grade will be raised a whole letter if his boss speaks at the presentation, so he figures, why not? Naturally, Michael thinks of the event like a graduation where hats get thrown into the air, hence the line he wishes he could tell the class: “May your hats fly as high as your dreams.”

The second strand of the plot revolves around a bat trapped in the office.

Angela is suitably frightened.

Jim easily tricks Dwight into thinking that he (Jim) is turning into a vampire.

Back in the business school setting, Michael talks about how the students can’t learn from textbooks, proceeding to rip one up for emphasis. When one of the students says that Ryan told them Dunder Mifflin would be obsolete in a few years, Michael angrily lashes out. He tells the class that Ryan doesn’t know anything; he’s just a temp whose greatest claim to fame is setting the office on fire by trying to make a “cheesy pita.” Ryan and his classmates think they know everything, but they don’t. They don’t have the experience that Michael has.

The third strand of the plot involves Pam’s art show at a local venue. (Not too many people are stopping by.) Take note of the picture of Dunder Mifflin in the center of the top row.

During the awkward car ride back to the office, in which Ryan tries to explain that his ideas weren’t “personal,” Michael says something which crystallizes how he feels about managing Dunder Mifflin:

This quote defines the essence of Michael’s personality. Interaction with people means everything to him, more than sales or profits ever could. To paraphrase what he tells Ryan in the show’s pilot, Michael has cultivated an atmosphere where he considers himself a friend first and a boss second (and an entertainer third). People matter more than numbers or technology.

For years I have thought of this line as one of the best bits of dialogue in the entire series. It is both extremely funny and extremely sad, capturing just how ill-suited Roy is for Pam. Roy’s attempt at being caring doesn’t soften Pam’s disappointment.

When Michael and Ryan get back to the office, Michael decides to punish Ryan by moving him out of his usual workspace into the annex. Ryan is surprised that Michael isn’t actually firing him, but as Michael points out, “A good manager doesn’t fire people. He hires people and inspires people … People, Ryan. And people will never go out of business.”

The only member of the office to turn up at Pam’s art show is co-worker Oscar, who arrives with his boyfriend; the two of them cattily comment on Pam’s work being mediocre and uninspired/uninspiring. They don’t realize that Pam is standing right behind them. After the show is over, just as Pam is getting ready to leave, Michael shows up. He says “Wow!” a few times, complimenting Pam – who is on the verge of tears – for being a great artist. Most heartening of all, tells her he is really proud of her.

Pam’s hard work has finally been validated. It’s a beautiful moment, even though Michael is a little nonplussed by the hug.

As the episode ends Michael describes Pam’s picture, which he has bought from her, as “a message,” “an inspiration” and “a source of beauty.” I have always thought of this scene as a real highlight of the series. It is only fitting that Pam’s artwork, which hangs on the wall for six years, plays a prominent role in the last shots of the finale.

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