The American version of The Office is remembered today for many things, most notably the antics of Dunder Mifflin boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell), and the budding romance between paper salesman Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and receptionist Pam Beasley (Jenna Fischer). While we still swoon over watching the two lovebirds fall for each other, it may not be the show’s best relationship. That honor goes to the friendship between Michael and Pam. On paper (pun intended) Michael and Pam seem like complete opposites, but they are actually very similar. Both are riddled with insecurities.
Michael is a lonely man who has never had many friends. He overcompensates in an extremely external way by trying way too hard with everyone, getting in their face, cracking constant bad jokes, and making everything about his need to be liked rather than the needs of the other person. Pam is plagued by self-doubt, especially in the early seasons of the series. She is engaged to a Dunder Mifflin warehouse worker named Roy (David Denman), not because she’s in love with him, but because he’s the safest route. She longs to be an artist, but she is so scared of failure that she settles for a job beneath her talent. Pam internalizes her insecurities, making her a mostly timid and quiet person. Together, however, Michael and Pam become unlikely friends by challenging and bringing out the best in each other. What is one’s weakness is the other’s strength. Pam knows how to calm Michael’s chaotic mind and get him to focus on what he wants, rather than his need to be liked. Likewise, Michael’s gregarious nature challenges Pam to come out of her shell and take risks in a way that even Jim can not get her to do.
The best example of this connection occurs during the Season 3 episode, “Business School.” Season 3 Pam is Pam at her most vulnerable. Jim has told her that he’s in love with her, but she turns him down, afraid to leave the comfortable predictability of Roy. Jim attempts to move on and starts dating another Dunder Mifflin employee, Karen (Rashida Jones). It leads to him spending less time with Pam, and now she’s at her lowest point, feeling completely lost and alone. It even leads to her taking Roy back, even though she has broken off their engagement. Pam tries her hardest to keep moving and decides to display some of her artwork at a local art show. It’s a heartbreaking scene when none of her co-workers show up to support her… until Michael appears. For a few minutes, there are no cringe-worthy Michael moments. He is in awe of Pam’s art, especially her painting of the Dunder Mifflin office. Michael tells her how proud he is and says he must buy the painting to display at work. Pam wells up, and we can see some tension break apart inside her. Someone believes in her. Michael believes in her. It may be the sweetest scene in the entire nine-year span of the show.
Michael is also the biggest supporter of Jim and Pam getting together. While others may tease them, Michael pushes Jim to not give up on Pam. When Jim and Pam finally do become a couple, Michael is ecstatic and so proud that his office could bring them together. He sees Jim and Pam as his family. Pam is there for Michael too, though when it comes to relationships, it’s not always in a supportive role. Michael’s relationship with Dunder Mifflin boss Jan (Melora Hardin) is the most toxic and destructive relationship of the entire series (and that’s including the on-again, off-again Kelly and Ryan madness). Jan is bad for Michael. She treats him horribly, but like Pam with Roy, Michael takes it because he does not want to be alone.
When it gets to be too much, however, he confides in Pam over anyone else and tells her how bad things are. Pam gives Michael the honesty he needs to hear, telling him that he needs to break up with Jan, and encouraging him to make a pros and cons list about the relationship. Michael listens to Pam. Yeah, the follow-up scene is classic Michael cringe as he has Pam sit on his phone call breakup with Jan, but the takeaway is how much Michael values what Pam thinks when he so seldom takes anyone’s advice about anything.
Pam can also be Michael’s biggest cheerleader. She does not insist that Michael move on from Holly (Amy Ryan), the Dunder Mifflin HR rep that Michael briefly dated and fell madly in love with. Pam knows all too well what it was like to love someone you can not have. When Michael finds an unsent email from Holly to him, Pam reads it. She won’t tell Michael the details but lets him know that things aren’t over between Holly and him. The relief and hopeful joy on his face are palpable, and Pam becomes Michael’s confidant, a therapist almost, whenever he needs to talk to someone about his hurt.
The biggest risk Pam ever takes, maybe even bigger than letting herself love Jim back, is in Season 5 when Michael also takes his biggest risk by leaving Dunder Mifflin to start his own paper company. On his way out he tries to recruit his co-workers to join him, but wisely, everyone turns him down. Except for Pam. As Michael leaves, Pam rushes out the door after him. Seeing Michael make such a bold move makes it easier for her to break out of her shell and try something scary and new too. When Michael’s success with his new business leads to Dunder Mifflin bringing them back, he insists that Pam be brought back not as a receptionist, but as a saleswoman. As always, Pam believes in Michael, and he believes in her.
All of it leads to the touching scene toward the end of Season 7 when Michael leaves Dunder Mifflin to join Holly in Colorado. Pam is out of the office and as Michael says his goodbyes to everyone, he keeps looking for Pam, asking when she’ll be back. She is the one he wants to say goodbye to the most and his anxiety over missing out on telling her how he feels shows. When Michael can not wait any longer, he leaves for the airport, only to have Pam running after him, shoes in hand, to catch him before he gets on the plane. The two embrace and speak, but we can not hear what’s being said. It works perfectly. It’s their moment, not ours. Choosing Pam to be Michael’s final goodbye over someone like Jim or Dwight, shows just how close they are. When they met, they were two lost souls. Now Pam is married to the man of her dreams and is the mom of two kids, while Michael is off to spend the rest of his life with his own soulmate.
They were sad together. They grew together. They took risks together. They became happy together. And they’ll be happy and keep growing apart. None of it, though, would have happened without them seeing each other’s amazing potential.