There’s something to be said about just how well The Office blended an episodic structure with season-long arcs in an era where sitcoms weren’t particularly focused on continuity. From as early as its first episode, the series was building up the relationship between Jim and Pam while the prospect of downsizing loomed in the background.
Both arcs lasted the show up until its third season, but The Office powered through with more arcs, often using its season finales to flip the script, laying a new foundation for the next season to build itself on. Unfortunately, not all finales are created equal and The Office often found itself struggling in its later years.
10 Season 6: Whistleblower
A good Office finale does three things: it reflects on how far the characters have come since the start of the season, it hints at what’s to come next, and it changes the status quo considerably. While “Whistleblower” technically pulls off the first two feats, it seems to go out of its way to ensure the status quo isn’t changed.
The only meaningful thing in this episode comes from Michael reflecting on the bad year he’s had, setting up Holly’s return in season seven. Unfortunately, the episode is bogged down by an Andy B-plot that should have major consequences but is quickly forgotten come the next episode.
9 Season 8: Free Family Portrait Studio
Structured very much like “Whistleblower,” season eight's finale is an uneven conclusion to an already uneven season. To its credit, season eight did try to spice its plot up by having Nellie steal Andy’s job, but the fact that the writers chose to put Andy in his own Michael Scott Paper Company scenario seriously undermines his arc.
“Free Family Portrait Studio” is proof that The Office never managed to leave Michael’s shadow, going so far as to give Andy plots Michael had. It’s a disappointing finale that doesn’t leave much in the way of hope for season nine. At least Dwight gets some nice, if unearned, last-minute development.
8 Season 7: Search Committee
Despite how good of an episode “Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager” is, it’s quite clear that season seven should have just ended with “Goodbye, Michael.” Not only was the season’s core storyline concluded with Michael leaving, “Goodbye, Michael” put every one of Michael’s key relationships on display.
The episode could have ever served as a series finale with some retooling. Which just makes “Search Committee” all the more jarring. Not only does the episode fail to appoint the new manager, it basically serves as a cameo bunker for prospective managers, failing to present most as actual characters. If nothing else, the episode does do a great job at breaking down who Dwight is as a character.
7 Webisodes: The Girl Next Door
While the webisodes were always a core part of The Office’s identity, they were one obscured in the background. Despite how many NBC commissioned, they never got the same amount of focus as the main series, a pity considering how well these webisodes used the supporting cast.
The very last webisode, “The Girl Next Door,” offers very little in the way of plot of character development, but its parody of sappy music videos through the lens of Kelly is an inspired character beat on par with the writing in “Dinner Party.” “The Girl Next Door” may not change up the status quo, but it’s a fun reminder that the webisodes are definitely worth watching.
6 Season 1: Hot Girl
Season one gets a bad rap for its pilot, but the rest of the season is genuinely one of The Office’s strongest. With a heavy focus on adhering to the nuances of real life, season one is uncomfortable in a way later seasons aren’t. "Hot Girl," especially, cranks up the cringe comedy to create one of the needlessly tensest half hours in a comedy.
Not only does the episode break down Michael as a character, it moves Jim away from Pam, suggesting the idea that he doesn’t just plan on waiting around for her to leave Roy. It plays out like just another episode, but that in itself is just part of season one’s charm.
5 Season 9: Finale
Season nine is a very tricky season to analyze. At its core, it’s a season of television that desperately wants to revisit what made The Office such a hit in its first three seasons. It’s darker, it’s more real, and the dynamic between Jim and Pam is genuinely well written. At the same time, it never lets go of the wackier aesthetic the series adopted in later seasons.
As a result, “Finale” is very much torn in two directions, trying to close out each character’s respective arc while also playing up a degree of friendship the office as a setting never truly had. That said, it’s clear that “Finale” is meant more to act as an emotional victory lap for the franchise, at which it excels at.
4 Season 5: Company Picnic
Much like “Search Committee,” “Company Picnic” struggles with being a finale to a season that had already reached its logical conclusion. Unlike “Search Committee,” however, “Company Picnic” uses its awkward placement as a means of pushing Jim and Pam forward as a couple, allowing Michael to grow as a man, and foreshadowing Dunder Mifflin’s buyout.
The only thing that sours “Company Picnic” is how poorly season six picks up its main plots. That said, this isn’t a problem of the episode. As is, “Company Picnic” closes out season five on an emotional high, a genuine surprise considering how well the season could have ended with “Broke.”
3 Season 3: The Job
A goliath of an episode, “The Job” covers more ground than just about any other episode on this list. Season three’s finale is the episode that completely redefines The Office as a show. The new tone finally sets in, characters reposition themselves here for the rest of the series, and the show’s biggest storyline reaches a logical resolution.
The Office could have very well ended with “The Job,” and the series would still be remembered fondly. Few moments in the series are as surprising as Jim finally asking Pam out for dinner or Ryan being promoted over the other candidates. It’s an exciting episode from start to finish.
2 Season 4: Goodbye, Toby
Very much like “The Job” in spirit and in structure, “Goodbye, Toby” is a game-changer for The Office. Michael finally meets Holly, Andy proposes to Angela, Toby leaves, Ryan goes to jail, and Jim decides it’s time to take his relationship with Pam to the next level after a season of meaningful character development.
While only two of these storylines really pan out into anything meaningful, “Goodbye, Toby” still manages to shake up The Office so hard that the series is never able to go back to the way things once were. It certainly helps that it’s just genuinely a hilarious episode from top to bottom.
1 Season 2: Casino Night
Easily the best of the finales and arguably the best episode in the series, “Casino Night” is the moment Jim and Pam kiss for the first time, kicking off the chain reaction that ultimately leads to season three. While other finales have multiple big moments, “Casino Night” only needs the one, reminding audiences that even just one singular event can make a massive difference.
Helping matters is the unique casino aesthetic and Michael’s love triangle between him, Carol, and Jan, an inspired take on the classic sitcom cliche. Few episodes in the show’s later run comes close to understanding what made “Casino Night” just a memorable episode of television.