Chris Haston/NBC

After months of buildup, Michael Scott — and Steve Carell — finally left Dunder Mifflin Scranton for good.

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April 29, 2011 at 04:53 AM EDT

What a difference seven seasons make. In 2005, Michael Scott was an overbearing, insensitive jerk whose antics earned nothing but scorn and disrespect from his employees. Gradually, though, that version of Michael Scott was replaced by the Michael Scott we know now: an immature but goodhearted buffoon whose greatest fault is his all-consuming need to be liked.

If 2005 Michael had suddenly announced that he was moving to Colorado, his subordinates would have only felt relieved. (And they certainly wouldn’t have paid tribute to him with a touching song before he went.) But 2011 Michael’s departure from Scranton was a momentous event. Despite everything he’s done and said to them over the years, the denizens of Dunder Mifflin feel true affection for their dopey boss. And Michael, of course, considers them to be his surrogate family. So there was a lot of pressure on The Office to give the World’s Best Boss a proper sendoff — one that managed to find the sweet spot between sentimentality and flippancy. Happily, on that count, the show succeeded with flying colors.

Let’s get one thing out of the way now: If Steve Carell doesn’t win an Emmy for “Goodbye, Michael,” I have a feeling a lot of disgruntled Office fans are going to shoot their TVs full of holes. Though it’s insane enough that he’s gone unrewarded this long, Carell’s performance in his last-ever installment of The Office was nothing short of perfect. I was especially impressed by the scene in which Michael sat in the break room, trying valiantly to hold back tears as his employees ate lunch at the next table — in that moment, Carell spoke volumes without saying a word. His post-lunch breakdown was also hilarious (“And I am not going to start improv at level 1. I don’t think my credits are going to transfer.”), heartbreaking, and surprisingly uplifting. When Michael spoke to Holly on the phone and immediately calmed down, realizing everything he’s gaining by going to be with her, I think the show deftly proved why he has to move on.

Michael’s choice to tell everyone he’d be leaving a day later than he actually planned to go could be interpreted as a sign of maturity — he’s grown up enough not to want them to make a big fuss — or an indication that he’s still pretty childish at heart. Either way, it added an extra layer of poignancy to the proceedings — and it was completely appropriate and believable that only Jim noticed something was awry. His last conversation with Michael might have been the most moving part of the entire episode, not least because of how hard Jim was trying to sound casual. (Dwight reading Michael’s letter of recommendation was a close second.) The look they exchanged before Michael got on the elevator one last time was yet another fantastic, wordless moment; I’m glad the documentary crew caught it.

NEXT: Oh, about that documentary crew…

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Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight and the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin employees hold down the Scranton branch
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Steve Carell,
John Krasinski,
Jenna Fischer,
Rainn Wilson
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