In my younger and more vulnerable years I wanted for nothing but the romantic union of Jim Halpert and Pam Beesely, two fictional characters on the NBC sitcom The Office. The coalition between self-deprecating salesman and self-deprecating receptionist seemed, to me, at the time, the paragon of the modern relationship. Their courtship-its travails and triumphs-renewed my hopes in romantic love, that despite innumerable barriers, within and without, for each of us there exists a complement with whom we can become most wholly and happily ourselves, that for me out there was a girl of whimsical prettiness who resented everything as I resented everything, who memorized whistle solos from Andrew Bird songs and would not hesitate to whistle those Andrew Bird whistle solos around me knowing that she would not be judged, but loved. These were my hopes for myself, for Jim, for Pam. They were high hopes, hopes that were to be realized with Jim and Pam’s wedding in the show’s sixth season. The wedding went off without a hitch, and it was then that I saw all my hopes-my high, high hopes-as illusions.
This photo is the embodiment of that illusion, of hopes dashed and gutted.
Within “Niagara,” the two-part episode that chronicles The Halperts’s wedding in Niagara Falls, there exists a dance sequence. In what I believe to be a homage to a viral video, every character in the show “endearingly” dances down the aisle of the wedding chapel. The intended effect for the audience at home was meant to be recognition, followed by gratitude, followed by satisfaction. What I felt, watching in the savage incandescent light of my dorm room, was apathy, followed by anxiety, followed by horror. I recall my roommate, Taylor “T” Sardoni, standing awestruck beside the television, unable to sit, chicken marsala growing cold on the plate in his trembling hands, eyes growing fearful in their sockets in his wobbly head. “Make them stop,” he said. “Please, make them stop.” I could not; wish as I did.
This scene (and I mean scene in as litteral a sense as possible in regards to simulacrum, scene as in an artificial, constructed representation of “the real”) was the deconstruction, not the celebration, of what the preceding seasons of the shows had sought to build. Its conceit did not evolve organically from the show, nor the dynamics between the characters, but from an outside, shallowly recognizable third party. Our investment in the characters, in Michael, Jim, Pam, Dwight, all the way down the line, became in that instant not a product of empathy, love, that warm bond that forms between people and the receptors of their hours consciously “wasted.” It became something else, something worse, something set in an interminable scene of stupid, empty recognition, and nothing more. It is in this scene that the characters of The Office assumed their roles, their dances, their respective collections of inane gestures signifying nothing, and it was there that they remained, until six weeks ago.
What The Office devolved to in the wake of this display, in two years’ of gradual, conspicuous gradations, was a rehashing of this scene. The characters knew their roles, they acted accordingly, went through the motions, the audience at home recognized these tics and routines, felt content not with what the characters were doing, but what the characters had done in the past and what nice doings they were to reminisce upon, what nice doings they were. Every character assimilated to this system, and no assimilation was more tragic than that of Jim Halpert, husband.
From episode one, Jim Halpert was positioned as the audience’s conduit to the world of Dunder Mifflin. He alone was self-aware. He alone the transgressor who comprehended the madness that surrounded him, the dire and soul-crushing nature of his situation, how he would one day escape that world, if he could only convince the girl to escape with him. What happened was: when the chance to escape finally materialized, Jim Halpert convinced the girl, and himself, that it was best to stay. It was then that that Jim died, and why I believe that the only way to reclaim that Jim, the show’s former glory, my faith in romantic love, is for Jim Halpert to leave Pam.
A great thinker once said on the subject of romantic love, “For each of us there exists a complement with whom we can become most wholly and happily ourselves.” Pam Beesely does, beyond doubt, make Jim Halpert indelibly happy. Unfortunately, this happiness has blinded Jim Halpert to his own essence. One could counter that this is the ultimate effect of love, that the self known prior is changed and made new. This is a fine argument, but what is to be said of a love that redefines the self, and the self that results is an inferior one? What is to be said of Jim Halpert?
Six weeks ago, after two years of mediocrity and dramatic platitudes, The Office suddenly became great again, as great as it had ever been. This coincided with Jim going to Florida, and Pam remaining in Scranton. The characters, and this extends to the entire cast, stopped filling their roles and started being characters again, with hopes, foibles, with stories to take part in. For these six brief weeks, it was as if Jim Halpert wasn’t still sitting at the same desk he’s been sitting at for nine years, that he hadn’t shirked the management opportunity, that he would have something to strive for. There was even an intern who wanted to go twenty toes with him. What this situation offered was not the possibility of adultery-Jim endures as upright if he endures as anything-but the possibility of Jim Halpert wanting. It was all I wanted.
Those six weeks came and went, and they were beautiful. I was again my younger, more vulnerable self, that past me who, like the characters on the show, scraped meager hopes from limited options in a destabilizing world. I again believed those hopes were meaningful, and through that belief they were made so, so meaningful. Those six weeks came and went.
Jim Halpert shot down the intern’s advances. He returned to Scranton, to Pam. He kissed her long and adoringly, his eyes firmly closed. I understood then that Jim and Pam would never part, Jim would never escape that desk, the trap he had set for himself. This was his want now, however much I didn’t want him to want it. I watched resignedly, and promised myself that, when my time comes, I will, with eyes firmly open, convince the whimsically pretty Andrew Bird whistler to escape with me, to the better me.
I will choose my own Karen Filippelli.