Quick raise of the hands—who remembers what you were doing the night of May 11, 2006?
If you’re anything like me, that date has been forever stamped into your brain as the original airing of Casino Night, the Season Two Office Finale. Also known as The Most Singularly Great Work of Television Ever Produced. As a stand-alone episode, it’s fabulous in many regards. But as the capstone to the best season of tv ever, it is monumental. (I’m completely serious here. I’ve watched a lot of shows and nothing, I repeat, nothing can hold up to the begin-to-finish of Season Two. You can disagree, but you’d also be wrong.)
I should point out that this post obviously spoils everything about the episode, but this isn’t a post about how wonderful Casino Night is as a whole. I’d have plenty of material—there is nary a weak joke to be seen. The show needs to utilize Steve Carell’s writing more often, but that’s challenging when your main star is also one of Hollywood’s current comedy darlings. If you want to read a really comprehensive and well-written recap of the show, James (the creator of Northern Attack) wrote one here.
Instead, this is a post about Jim, Pam, and how the journey of two fictional characters completely altered the course of my life. Dramatic, much? Yeah, but it’s also true. I watched a few episodes of The Office back in the first season and loved it immediately. Unfortunately, I was also wrapped up in AP tests, boys, and getting ready to leave for my first semester of college only a few weeks after graduation. The show didn’t enter my radar that fall, because our lousy tv only got fuzzy, tin-foiled reception of ABC and PBS. (This lead to a short-termed McLoveAffair with Grey’s Anatomy.) I caught The Injury a couple months into my winter semester at home and that was that. I trolled the internet for spoilers and read the scripts of the episodes I’d missed. I was in love. Like any good story, a large part of my love was built into the romance of one Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly. Also like any good story, the romance didn’t come easy. This is namely because of one tiny, dull, $80 diamond on Pam’s left ring finger. (Stupid [swear word] Roy! Sorry, I just have to get that out of my system once in a while.)
And you know why nothing happened between Jim and Pam in the five-plus years they worked together? All in all, they’re average people just like you and I who are terrified of pushing boundaries and really exposing who they are. There are exceptions to this rule, but if there’s anything I’ve learned as a psych major, it’s that people don’t like change. Jim and Pam could stay within their carefully constructed borders of flirting and pranking without much modification of their outside lives. Both wanted something different outside of Dunder Mifflin, but it was comfortable. The comfort level was more so to Pam, because she had her engagement to fall back on, but even Jim tried dating to no avail. And heck, who isn’t scared stiff by the mere thought of telling your best friend that you truly, madly, deeply love them? (I kind of hate myself for quoting Savage Garden just then.)
Despite the fact that Jim and Pam were both too chicken to own up to their feelings for so long, it being television, you knew something was going to happen in the season finale. I mean, how nice would it be if real life worked this way? “Oh, it’s mid-May. I guess he’ll be kissing me in the next couple days.” But I digress. In the episodes leading up to CN, progress was made fairly rapidly. Jim was planning on being in Australia for the wedding, they practically acted like a couple during Michael’s Birthday, and Pam eventually realized that Jim wasn’t thrilled with hearing wedding talk all the time. Even the progression of CN seems to echo the intensity of their S1&2 interactions, as seen in the following scenes.
1. The opening prank with Dwight and the coat rack. These two kids work seamlessly together. Good fun and it illustrates just how close they are as friends.
2. ‘Til Death Do Us Rock! Banter and note how Pam grabs Jim’s hand. Physical contact is rare, but when it happens, it’s chaste and Jim still gets worked up by it.
3. The poker scene—they’re both taken in by the glory of the warehouse-turned-gambling parlor and let their guard down a little. Here the flirting is public. The co-workers would have to be blind or Creed not to pick up on the cues that get sent out every once in a while.
Finally, FINALLY, in The Parking Lot of Doom, the dynamic is instantly transformed. My hats off to Jenna and John for some of the best acting they have ever done. I watched this in slack-jawed, stunned silence. That raw honesty that Jim exudes is enough to make millions of girls go weak in the knees. (There’s a brief interlude in which Michael unknowingly sums up the show in a few words. “Love triangle drama. All worked out in the end, though. The hero got the girl. Who saw that coming? I did!”)
Cut to the dimly lit and abandoned office. Pam does what any sensible girl would do and calls her mom (from Jim’s desk, of all places). The “Yeah, I think I am” line is merely another log on the fire of heated speculation that filled out that summer. What follows is the clincher for my already-obsessed mind—Jim strides into the office and wraps up Pam in his arms and kisses her so passionately and tenderly that even Wesley and Buttercup couldn’t compete. Ladies, am I right in saying that all we really want is to be kissed like that? Guys, it wouldn’t hurt to take notes of Jim’s technique. Fade to black and fin.
The beauty of these scenes lies in the fact that I can watch them over and over and still get as emotionally involved as the time before. The kiss encapsulates everything that I think love should be— straightforward, sincere, ardent, and reciprocated. I don’t know everything about love, but I do know that I want someone who loves me as fervently as Jim loves Pam. It’s like what Mac said in Juno, “In my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person will still think the sun shines out your ass. That's the kind of person that's worth sticking with.” Holla, J. Jonah Jameson! To my hopelessly romantic heart, the Jim and Pam narrative is a romance that will go down in history with the likes of Elizabeth and Darcy. I don’t know how their tale will end, but I know it will be epic.
(Okay, I’m going to try my hardest not to go into S3, because the JAM story line was so disastrously screwed up from the beginning right up to the penultimate episode. Beach Games was good and The Job was great, but neither can make up for the [swear word] that was the Jim and Karen catastrophe.)
Tomorrow night is the Season Four finale, a season that has been far too short, thanks to the [swear words] over the AMPTP. I’m not sure what to anticipate, but I have very high expectations. I do not think it will match the majesty of Casino Night, but I’m still going to wear my Dunder Mifflin shirt, eat grilled cheese, and (fingers crossed) maybe slightly relive how I felt two years ago.