According to Reddit user u/JesusHMontgomery, who appropriately shared their theory to the “FanTheories” subreddit, a Season 5 episode of “The Office” titled “Stress Relief” might be the most important one in the show’s run. In the episode’s cold open, Dwight purposefully lights a fire in a trash can in order to set off the office’s smoke alarms and test his co-workers’ fire preparedness. In the ensuing chaos, Stanley suffers a heart attack, among other, less severe blunders. He ultimately appears to survive without issue and is back at work after a short break, none the worse off.
The Redditor, however, theorizes that Stanley’s heart attack was fatal. Everything in “The Office” from the moments following the opening credits of “Stress Relief” to its series finale, then, represent Stanley in hell, and his supposed co-workers are now demons imitating his onetime officemates. This theory hinges on two assumptions: that the mishaps in Dunder Mifflin are particularly torturous for Stanley, and that characters’ behaviors shift significantly in and after “Stress Relief.”
The former point is believable given that Stanley appears perpetually grumpy. Of course, it begins to collapse under scrutiny due to the fact that plenty of moments that ensue, both good and bad, don’t concern him whatsoever. The latter point, u/JesusHMontgomery argues, is based purely on their own observations of a shift in writing quality beginning specifically with “Stress Relief” and continuing into subsequent seasons.
As it is with many fan theories, the series’ creators almost certainly did not plan most of “The Office’s” run to make it look like it was Stanley’s personal hell. Nonetheless, a watch-through of episodes after Stanley’s heart attack with this theory in mind can shed entirely new light onto what is, for many, an old favorite.