The Office vs. The Favourite: What is Love?
Written by Samantha Wolfe
The Office and The Favourite are obviously very different works of fiction. The Office was a mockumentary sitcom that ran for 9 seasons concerning the lives of the small paper company Dunder Mifflin, and The Favourite is an Academy Award winning period piece about cousins Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone) as they compete for the love and attention of Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman). The themes of The Favourite have been thoroughly dissected (The Take did an excellent video on it), but mostly come down to the idea of what love really is: is it reality and brutal honesty even when it hurts as Sarah provides, or is it mindless affection and babying even when it’s a lie, as Abigail provides?
The Office explores many themes throughout the nine seasons it was on air, but what I want to explore here is an episode is a pair of episodes in the third season, “Traveling Salesman” and “The Return”, specifically a plot between Michael (Steve Carell), Dwight (Rainn Wilson), and Andy (Ed Helms). Dwight has served as Michael’s right-hand man for as long as they’ve worked together. He genuinely laughs at Michael’s jokes and does the work Michael won’t, but above all, respects his power (that power being the manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin.) On the surface, Michael doesn’t really appear to enjoy being around Dwight, but since he’s the only employee who pays positive attention to him, opts to keeping him around. Their relationship is threatened when Andy transfers from another branch and attempts to steal Dwight’s position—both as assistant (to the) regional manager and as Michael’s best friend.
While Dwight begins in the first season as someone who is possibly more incompetent than Michael, there are signs of a shifting ideas within Dwight as the series progresses. By season 3, due to a complicated series of events Dwight briefly leaves the company to work at Staples, and during this time Andy assumes his role. Except not really.
Andy’s methods of obtaining Michael’s respect are suffocating; he follows Michael around like a puppy, hangs out in his office, lies about his interests to please Michael. At first, Michael is not aware of anything strange, until lamenting to Jim,
On paper, we should be best buds. I mean, we even have the same top ten favorite movies. Down to the number.
When Michael is made aware of Andy’s tricks, he realizes how much he needs Dwight and rehires him. From here on their relationship is shifted majorly; Dwight is still loyal, but not as mindlessly. He makes it clear he’s loyal to his position, not Michael himself, though their friendship remains.
The biggest difference between Dwight and Andy is that Dwight does genuinely care for Michael, even if he is as power-hungry as Andy. As the show’s quality starts to decline, many characters on the show becomes extremely one-dimensional and extremely mean, but Dwight’s is the only that makes sense. He started out as socially-inept, and ends the show that way (if slightly less so). He becomes more and more honest with Michael and calls him out when he’s being ridiculous or not serving the company properly, but remains his best friend, up until the famous moment in the series finale when Michael returns to be the best man at his wedding.
Comparing The Favourite and The Office, I feel Dwight plays the same role as Sarah and Andy plays the same role as Abigail. Both Sarah and Dwight exist as longtime trusted allies of their superiors, only to have that relationship challenged when a new, extremely charming if not conniving newcomer joins the party. Both Anne and Michael are thought to be at least slightly incapable of doing their jobs properly (and both prove that they are not as incompetent as they appear as Anne shows at least a small understanding of what is happening around her and Michael proves his sales skills and managerial skills when absolutely necessary), and both Sarah and Dwight often take the place of the leader and run things the way they feel serves the majority, even at risk of personal sacrifice. Neither Abigail nor Andy show a huge interest in the actual position of power, but rather the idea of it, the title and the respect that comes from power and are willing to play dirty to reach that point.
In the end, Anne chooses Abigail and Michael chooses Dwight. Sarah is exiled from Britian, and Andy stays present but mostly stagnant (that is, before experiencing complete and utter character assassination in the final season— but we’ll reserve that for another time). Andy doesn’t appear to desire the power as much when he realizes he won’t receive it and seems to be content being a regular staff salesman.
The Office is confident in their decision to make Dwight the final winner; Andy was never meant to be a serious contender or threat to Dwight (at least, in this situation) beyond this single episode. If anything, this plot was likely meant to highlight what exactly Michael and Dwight’s relationship is, one that goes much deeper than Dwight’s desire for Michael’s position. The writers are displaying that love is not mindless devotion, but genuine companionship. Dwight may appear to only surround Michael for the power, but it shown time and time again to have a real love and respect for Michael, which Michael really does reciprocate somewhere deep down. While Michael recognizes Dwight’s awkwardness and calls him out and jokes about him to anyone who will listen, it’s clear that Michael only does that to make those around him like him more, and needs Dwight as much as Dwight needs him. He accidentally reveals as such on several occasions, starting as early as here in season 2:
Michael: Look, Dwight here is a wuss. When we rented "Armageddon", he cried at the end of it.
Dwight: Michael, I told you! It was because it was New Year's Eve and it started to snow at exactly midnight!
Michael: [As Dwight] "Oh, are they really gonna leave Bruce Willis on the asteroid? Boo-hoo!"
Spending New Year’s Eve together isn’t something vague work friends do. Michael spends time with Dwight because he needs and likely enjoys it as much as Dwight does.
The Favourite is different because in addition to the power, there is a romantic element involved. Anne and Sarah are secretly dating, and when Abigail finds out, begins to woo Anne as well, eventually becoming the favo(u)rite as Sarah is eventually exiled from Britain. Abigail lies to Queen Anne about how envious everyone is of The Queen’s hair, tells her how pretty she is, tells her what she wants to hear. The opposite of Sarah’s method, but it’s not real love as Sarah later points out,
Queen Anne: I wish you could love me as she does!
Lady Sarah: You wish me to lie to you? "Oh you look like an angel fallen from heaven, your majesty." No. Sometimes, you look like a badger. And you can rely on me to tell you.
Queen Anne: Why?
Lady Sarah: Because I will not lie! That is love!
The Favourite takes the same stance as The Office: love is reality and honesty. It’s not lying to make things easier, it’s openness. It’s the tender moments as well as the hard ones. It also adds another lesson; honesty has a limit. At times Sarah really is too harsh at moments when the always unstable Anne cannot handle the truth, thus why Sarah isn’t a perfect candidate for Anne’s affection either.
Anne is so emotionally unstable in part due to the loss of her 17 children, each represented by a rabbit she keeps in her room. Sarah is openly disgusted by them, Abigail seems to love them, until the closing shot of the film where she traps one under her foot for the fun of it. Though it’s the closing shot, this is to Anne what Andy’s fake favorite movies list is to Michael: a symbol of the parasitic relationship built on lies. Though Anne is trapped in the decision she made, Michael is able to reverse it.
What I find interesting about this is that though they are completely different, they share strikingly similar themes and ideas. Love is not easy. Though Michael and Dwight were not in a romantic relationship, they reflect many of the same ideas as Anne and Sarah. The Office seems set in its idea that love is friendship above all, but The Favourite is a bit more complicated. Though Anne ends up choosing Abigail, the film does not necessarily treat this as a good thing. Love is complex and multifaceted, and too much of either type is no good.