Dunder Mifflin won't officially close its doors until May, but the beginning of the end of The Office is already ramping up.
"I don't think we're planning on packing everything into the last episode. I would encourage people, if you are waiting for the end of The Office to re-tune in, I would start doing it right away," series showrunner Greg Daniels told reporters during a set visit Wednesday. "[The Jan. 24 episode] is really what I would say is the beginning of the end where we really start to break down what's going on with this documentary and see behind the scenes, who's involved and we're going to play that more."
Daniels says there have been ideas to involve the elusive documentary crew more in the show since the show's early years, and he pointed specifically to an alternate ending that was shot for the Season 2 finale, "Casino Night," when Jim and Pam kissed for the first time. "There was this huge divide among the writing staff and the director and the cast," Daniels said. "[Steve Carell, who wrote the episode, and director Ken Kwapis] really wanted to follow the characters and the emotion of the moment, and the writing staff was itching to do something kind of weird and have it be a private moment that the doc crew didn't know was going to happen and so only heard on their mics and came running around the corner to film."
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It's many un-used ideas like this, Daniels said, that the writers are hoping to recycle in the lead-up to the end. "All the really cool ideas that would break the show that we had over the years," he said, "we've saved all those up and we're going to start building them out in a couple episodes."
When discussing the last episode, which will be directed by Kwapis, who also helmed the pilot, Daniels said there is a "goal" for the finale that has been many years in the making. "In the early days we didn't have any expectation of going nine years, so it was all about pleasing ourselves and coming up with some weird stuff. So the basic idea for the last episode has been floating around since way back then, but the specifics of how we're getting there are changing," he said.
Much to fans' dismay, one character that won't be a part of that last episode is former branch manager Michael Scott (Carell). Daniels confirmed comments made by NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt last week that Carell was unlikely to return. "Steve is very much of the opinion that the 'Goodbye Michael' episode and the story arc that we did leading up to it was his goodbye to the fans and the show, and the stuff we're doing this season is the goodbye that the rest of the show gets to have," Daniels said. "So at the moment we don't have any plans for him to come back."
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The goodbye to the rest of the show's 16-person ensemble will instead be split up into individual episodes and moments. "One of the ideas for the season was there would be a "Goodbye Meredith" episode, a "Goodbye Stanley" episode," he said. "We're trying to give each character a really good interesting moment or send-off."
Along the way to the one-hour series finale, Daniels said fans can also expect a firing that happens in Episode 15, and a story line centered on the notorious Scranton Strangler. "Toby is going to go visit him in prison soon, so we will learn a little bit more about whether he was wrongly imprisoned or rightfully imprisoned, and it still remains to be seen whether there is a big reveal or not," Daniels said. "Creed's been pushing for some weird connection to this guy."
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It's unclear exactly how many references to earlier episodes will be included in show's final hours, but Daniels' hope is to reward those fans that have been watching since the beginning. "We're trying to get more of a feel of the earlier episodes in what we're doing," Daniels said. "One of the things I think we are really excited about for this year is the chance for the fans who have been following the show religiously for years to really get off on all the connections and the wrap-ups and the artistry we're trying to bring."
Above all, Daniels said, his focus is on writing a quality send-off rather than a nostalgic one. "Obviously we do want to say thank you to the fans, but I also kind of it want to be a great episode in its own right and not everybody just standing there," Daniels said. "I would hope that that last episode is good and has surprises and drama to it."
The Office airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC. Are you ready for The Office to end?