On The Office, the ‘Filippelli factor’ is what matters

An infamous character on a beloved TV show, and what her arc suggests about relationships.

Kate McCarthy

What hybrid of characters from The Office are you? I’m a Creed-Michael with rising Kelly. You’ve got your Ryans, your Merediths, your Dwights — rarely though do you ever hear anyone talk about speed bump Karen Fillipelli. Her stint on the show was brief, but left me pondering bigger questions of relationships and how to be “eternally chill.”

Karen is a more complex character than she’s given credit for. When she’s introduced in season three, we’re predisposed to dislike her as she is a direct obstacle to Jim and Pam getting together. What’s interesting, though, is that if I were asked to point out Karen’s flaws, I would find it difficult to pinpoint any faults of character. The writing on the show is so skilled and subtle that Karen is never an out-and-out nuisance, or even any sort of classic villain. She’s a completely probable, pleasant woman.

Karen is a perfectly kind woman deserving of a lovely relationship, and yet it’s joyous to see her union with Jim implode and to watch her subsequent departure.

The end comes when it’s revealed that Jim has been up late several nights in a row, having long talks with Karen about their relationship. We see Pam offer her support to a beleaguered Jim, and we’re awash with just how understanding Pam is. She would never put him through that. This is when I started to get a little sweaty.

In that moment, it clicked: You never want too much agitation in a relationship. It’s best to be cool and go along with the flow. The moment you demand discussion, dissection and accountability of your relationship, you’ve become a big, old drag.

Whenever I’ve felt bubbling anxiety or dissatisfaction in my own relationships, I remember Karen. I remember watching that particular episode of The Office and realizing that being a bummer in a relationship can be as easy as wanting to talk things out. Karen represented every girl gone wrong, who couldn’t keep calm and serene without some extensive relationship-assessing and airing of feelings.

I recently ran my Karen theory by a friend of mine and expressed my own fears . She replied, “But the thing is, you’re not the Karen. You’re the Pam.”

I realized then that it wasn’t about the act of talking, but rather the person. If you’re with the right person, for however long that’s supposed to be, you’ll be able to have your needs met. Expecting just a basic level of open communication is not an outrage. The story arc will write itself. The writers have set it up that way, perhaps. But, then again, maybe I need to stop watching so much of The Office.