Jim himself stands on the bronze platform, and the national anthem starts to play. All put hands on hearts, including Stanley and other stiffs. "Why are you playing the national anthem?" Michael whispers. "Because your condo's in America," Jim tells him. And then Pam pulls on a pulley wire stretched beyond where Michael and the others are standing, and a strand of origami birds stretches across the space. "What the hell is that?" asks a baffled Michael. "Those are the doves," Jim says. And then, we look into the beaming faces of these often unhappy people -- Creed is smiling, Ryan is smiling in spite of himself, Phyllis is smiling with open sympathy for Michael, and Kevin is just happy to be happy. And then the camera pans up from the feet of these three men -- Dwight, stoic and determined; Michael, slightly confused and thrilled; and Jim, perfectly happy for exactly one moment. Pam looks up at Jim. Jim looks over at her, and then he grins straight ahead, holding his hand over his heart. Jim looks over at the camera, barely able to hold it all in. Michael's medal. Michael, tearing up and maybe entirely happy. It's strange; this is a genuine outpouring of affection from these people, and you realize when he tears up that one thing that makes Michael tragic is that deep down, he does know the difference between the phony approval he usually goes for and what it feels like when people actually care for you. It's not comforting, entirely, to realize that he does sense the difference, meaning he probably senses how rarely he truly connects with them.
I think this might be my favorite episode, for the simple reason that this is a much better image of a great day than most shows would be able to envision. This is what regular people experience as a day they will remember forever: somebody you love, a good time, and giving someone something meaningful. They're all so good to Michael at the end, and I think it's because happiness makes people generous. This episode -- the part in the office -- always feels to me like a succession of little miracles: the props that materialize like the medals and the doves; the fact that Angela participates in closing ceremonies; the spontaneous invention and naming of a series of silly games that take on the floaty vibe of summer camp. And, of course, a bone-deep friendship and partnership that makes Jim and Pam a little braver and more creative and more proactive than they ever are when acting alone. It's nice work.