By Corey Levitan
Special to MSN TV
From the identity of the Scranton Strangler to why Dunder Mifflin is being filmed, "The Office" has some 'splaining to do, and only a dozen or so more episodes in which to do it. What follows are the burning questions we hope will be answered before the clock strikes 5 p.m. for the last time.
1) Who is the Scranton Strangler?
The Scranton Strangler will be unmasked, promises series executive producer Greg Daniels. This serial killer has been mentioned in no less than seven episodes since Season 6, and unmaskings only matter in fiction when they reveal someone we already know. Creed Bratton (Creed Bratton) is the Dunder Mifflin employee with the sketchiest past. (Plus, in Season 6's "Murder," he arrived late to work to be told he was a suspect in a murder investigation. Not realizing it was a murder mystery game, he fled the scene.) However, Creed may be too obvious a choice. Remember Michael's (Steve Carell) inexplicable disdain for gentle and affable Toby (Paul Lieberstein), whom he accused of being a "big weirdo" and a "wanted animal rapist"? What if Michael turns out to be a savant for detecting sociopathy? If the killer were Toby, it would explain not only his enthusiasm for being on the jury that convicted the police's prime suspect, but also his guilt about that suspect's death sentence -- and his suspicion, voiced in Season 7's "Michael's Last Dundies" and in Season 9's "The Boat," that the real killer is still at large.
2) What's up with the film crew?
Who has been documenting the inner workings of this particular office and why? Is it a film or a reality show? And hasn't it occurred to any of the characters that nine years is one hell of a long time to film a documentary, or a reality show, without it ever premiering anywhere? Again, Daniels promises an answer, and we can't wait. We also hope to finally see some of the footage. (In the British version of the series, scenes of its documentary were included in a Christmas Special.)
3) Will Michael Scott return?
Michael Scott left on such a perfectly high note, it would be a shame to risk ruining it -- but not as big of a shame as it would be to not hear "That's what she said" one last time. "The Office" began as the story of a middle manager with no people skills and humorous delusions of grandeur, competence and likeability. His supporting characters have since evolved sufficiently to carry the U.S. franchise, but not to send it off entirely on their own.
4) Will Ricky Gervais be cast as the final branch manager?
Once Andy (Ed Helms) returns from his boat trip, we know he'll have David Wallace (Andy Buckley) sack Nellie (Catherine Tate) so he can resume command. But is Wallace really renowned for holding things together on a sustained basis? In Season 6, Gervais, creator of the entire "Office" franchise, did a cameo in which his character bonded with Michael Scott over their mutual lack of appropriateness. During their elevator encounter, Gervais introduced himself as David Brent (his character's name on the series' U.K. version). When Michael said he worked at Dunder Mifflin, Brent asked if there were any jobs available. "No, not right now," Michael said, to which Gervais replied: "Just let me know." Here's why this would make perfect sense: 1) If Andy exits, a job will become available, one for which Brent would be eminently qualified; 2) a completely new character could be introduced without having to spend time developing him (time that the series no longer has); 3) While Gervais didn't want the job of replacing Carell after Season 7, doing it now would require him to appear only in a single episode; and 4) We're all expecting to be surprised by the Scranton Strangler's identity, so how can any answer to that question truly be a surprise? In contrast, this surprise would bring the series so full-circle, it could disappear up its own rear end.
5) Are Jim and Pam headed for a divorce?
They began as the modern-day Sam and Diane. (Kids: That's a reference to "Cheers," a show your parents laughed at while wearing leg warmers and skinny ties.) But the two most likeable Dunder Mifflin employees prematurely evacuated that role when their will-they/won't-they ended along with Season 3. Is happily-ever-afterville really the most interesting place to leave Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) as the series ends? The perfect couple hit a rough patch in the first half of Season 9, when Jim decided not to immediately tell his better half that he changed his mind and decided to accept a new job in Philadelphia. And Daniels did promise "more drama" in the Halpert camp. Will they survive it?
6) Will Ryan and Kelly marry?
If Jim and Pam are the fluttering heart of "The Office," this couple is its flatulating rear end. Kelly (Mindy Kaling) is repulsively needy, Ryan (B.J. Novak) spectacularly indifferent. But what these mismatched characters have in common is undeniable: They haven't appeared in Season 9 since the premiere, when Kelly got engaged to a stranger, quit Dunder Mifflin and moved to Miami, Ohio (without realizing the "Ohio" part), and Ryan quit to follow her to the same small town (claiming that Kelly had nothing to do with it). When they finally do reappear, a knot seems the most logical way to tie up their romantic loose ends in a funny way.
7) Is Erin the daughter of Phyllis?
In Season 7's "Goodbye, Michael," we learned that Erin (Ellie Kemper) doesn't know the identity of her biological mom and that Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) gave a baby up in high school. Why in the world should we simultaneously discover these deeply personal things unless they were to pay off in some way? (Not only do the ages match up, but, in the scene immediately following Erin's admission, the camera starts on Erin, then zooms out to Phyllis.)
8) What will become of Kevin, Darryl and Andy's band?
Just because a television series ends doesn't mean it must take a musical legacy with it. Long after Brian Baumgartner wins his first Oscar, Craig Robinson becomes a congressman and Ed Helms does his first porno, people will remember the contributions to popular music made by Kevin and the Zits, the blues jam band their characters started in the Dunder Mifflin warehouse. Or not.
"The Office" airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.