Monday, December 27, 2004

The Office: The Christmas Special

So, throughout the run of The Office, it's been a notably downbeat series. The characters have been forced to compromise their ideals, gone through lots of embaressment, rejection, and sadness. Calling the first two series comedy is really inaccurate, it's more of a tragedy, the rise and fall of David Brent, as well as the gradual destruction of Tim and Dawn. So, after these two seasons of awful tragedy, where's left to go, further down, or perhaps, life isn't that bad after all.

For most of the Christmas special, we see a David resigned to his fate. He's been fired, but he still clings to his friends in the office, and relies on them for his social interaction. He tries to make himself into a hero, and is constantly forcing Neil to be a heavy. However, despite his front, he is getting gradually destroyed inside. His public appearances are degrading, and leave him depressed. Things get worse when Neil bans him from the office, and he asks his co-workers to have a drink with him, but no one responds, prompting Alice to tell him that none of them really like him. In the series, it would probably end there, in an awful awkward moment, but here, Tim steps in and offers to have a drink with David. Tim has always been a good guy, and that gesture clearly means a lot to David. Rather than having his self confidence destroyed, Tim steps in, and is a friend for someone in need.

Most of the Christmas special is just build up, and catching you up on what's happened with the characters in the time since the series. It's not as tight as your average episode of the series, which isn't to say that it's bad, it's just not designed to be as funny.

In the Florida scenes, we see the effects of Dawn's choice in the second series. She chose Lee because he could provide for her, but here, they end up sitting around Lee's sister's house, caring for her baby. Dawn looks desperately unhappy, and Lee has become lazy and content to just sit there and mooch off his sister. Also, she has given up her dream of being an artist. This is crucial because the dream was what kept her going, and now she has no hope for the future, things will be the same as they are forever.

So, when she goes back to see Tim, she's reminded of what she's lost. He is sad that she's given up her dream of being an illustrator, a dream that he supported. This is emphasized the most during the party when Tim says it's a shame that Dawn gave up the illustrating, and Lee says she could only make money at it if she was good, thus destroying both her self confidence in her art, and her hope of being an artist.

Tim in the special seems to have found a kind of equilibrium, and despite still being annoyed by Gareth, he is almost content in his position at the office. He still is clearly in love with Dawn, but doesn't let the fact that he doesn't have her get to him.

So, the special, and the entire series build to the Christmas party sequence at the end of the special. This sequence is massively important for both Brent and Tim and Dawn. For Brent, it is a critical turning point. He's said that he was going to bring a woman to the party, and Neil reveled in questioning about this, pointing out the obvious fact that he has no one. So, as the party begins, we see Brent waiting for his blind date to arrive. His two previous dates had gone awfully, so he's not expecting much. However, when his date does arrive, she's nice, and we finally see Brent let down his guard. He walks by Finch and Neil, but rather than trying to impress them, he spends the entire party alone talking with her. Rather than trying to be the center of attention, he's content to just talk with her. He's no longer putting on a show, he's just being himself. Things go well for Brent, and we don't know if their relationship will go anywhere, but the thing is, he had a good night, and for the first time in the entire run of the series, he's really connected with someone.

This is followed up by a critical moment for Brent. He passes by Chris Finch, who makes a joke about David's date, and rather than laughing along with it, as he would have before, David tells Chris to "fuck off." Here, David is faced with a choice between his past and his future. Finch was his idol, and represents the old Brent, in that he is always concerned with having a laugh, and being the center of attention, rather than considering people's feelings. In rejecting Chris Finch, he rejects the old version of himself, and thus, we're left with the feeling that he has changed, and has gotten a new set of priorities.

While this is good, the real highlight of the party sequence is Tim and Dawn. At the beginning of the party, they're hanging out together, and having fun, but there is clearly a lot being left unsaid. One of the most notable scenes is when they are winding up Gareth, and Lee comes in and explains that they're making fun of him. Lee has come in and destroyed one of their favorite activities. Eventuallly, Lee and Dawn leave, and Tim is left at the party alone.

Probably the best scene in the entire series is when Dawn opens the secret santa gift and sees that it's a set of paints from Tim. In giving her the paints, Tim is giving Dawn back her dreams, and as his note says, telling her she should never give up, because just the act of having the dream will keep her going when things are bad. Seeing the paints overwhelms her because it makes the differences between Tim and Lee so clear. For Lee, the painting is a waste of time and impractical, but Tim recognizes that it makes her happy, and thus is important.

This leads to the brilliant payoff, where we see Dawn walk into the party and her and Tim finally kiss. This is such a perfect scene, the music, the way it's shot and the moment itself. The characters have been through so much bad stuff, it makes their embrace even more powerful. This is the feeling that practically every filmmaker who's ever made a romance film is going for, and I don't think it's ever been achieved as well as here. The fact that Dawn and Tim make it together gives hope to both characters, and changes the office from something of a prison to a place that might not be great, but it's not important, because they have each other now.

At its heart, the series is about coming to terms with your situation in life. Tim at first is almost angry about being in the office, and wants to get out, but by the end, he realizes that his job might not be great, but that doesn't mean his life isn't great either. Dawn may never make an artist, but the fact that she has someone who will support her through whatever she does makes the bad stuff she has to face insignificant. And Brent may not be an entertainer, but in the end, he has people who apperciate him, and he realizes that there's more to life than having a laugh.

When they take the picture at the end, I get the feeling that this is the last time Brent will be at the office. There's a sense of closure, like he doesn't need to impress them anymore, and when he's not trying as hard, he actually gets a laugh. Similarly, Tim no longer wants to leave so desperately. He's content where he is, and while there may not be great things in his future, there will be happiness. It's all about realizing that life may not always be great, but there's always some good to be had, some fun along the way, and by the end, each of the characters have found peace.

I'll just say that the first time I watched the special I liked it, but didn't really get it I guess. On the second viewing, I was really affected by everything that happened. The Tim/Dawn and the change of Brent at the end hit me on a more emotional level than they had on the first viewing. I loved the darkness of the show on the first go, and the second time through, it was more the light at the ending that really hit me.

There's so much depth and many layers in the series, all developed in such a short period of time. The series isn't exactly a comedy, or a drama, or a romance, it's all three, and none at all. It's just a story that's really well told.

Related Posts
The Office (12/26/2004)
Top 10 TV Moments (1/29/2005)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There must be a lot of Tims and Dawns out there. I know one of these Tims; see him in the mirror every day. And I know - and love - one of the Dawns. The Christmas party is reality beyond imagination. However, real life goes on where the series stops.
David, how would you be right now?