Well, that was a close call. I almost had to go on a murderous rampage because of how irrationally angry I was that Leslie lost. But unlike a certain real-life election, a recount changed the course of history.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this show is supremely talented at capturing the immense scope of what makes life lovely, laughable, difficult and dreamlike. While there was no shortage of burst-at-the-seams lines from the eccentric cast, I found myself rewinding my DVR furiously to relive the overwhelmingly affectionate exchanges. I’d imagine an election night must be similar to any milestone or “Kodak” moment. On par with prom, graduation, your wedding, your first child’s birth, or any achievement of a lifelong dream, Leslie’s win was an occasion that went by too fast to witness, but not quick enough that it couldn’t be lived to the fullest. But life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and decisions made during the ecstasy, anxiety and heart thumping could have major repercussions. While I was wrong that Leslie would lose (thankfully), I was guessed correctly that the results would drastically change everything that involved this parks department family.
All the laboring is out the way, now it’s just the waiting game. Our intro to the episode showcases Jennifer Barkley’s desperate attempts to give Bobby an edge with Sweetums-sponsored voting machines that pop out a candy bar when you vote Newport and play the sound of a baby crying when you vote Knope—even asking “Are you sure?” And while these are all absurd tack-ons (including that under Pawnee election law, in the event of a tie the man wins and the woman goes to jail), it was the jaunty beginning we needed with so much tension surrounding the results. We get some delightful side plots to ease our minds as well.
Tom is sure he had a premonition the night before about Ann asking him to get back together at the post-election celebration. The details surrounding his dream (more on those later) don’t suggest that as a remote possibility, but it motivates him to throw a dope-as-hell gala. Although it can’t be a pimps and hoes pajama party because Ben’s an uptight nerd—his words not mine. April calls Andy in a panic because in trying to transfer department files to a thumbdrive she accidentally deleted them all. Andy’s solution is to use the XBox method: blow on it and slap it. For fixing game systems, that’s shockingly accurate. For a computer, it simply knocks it to the ground. For Chris, there’s the matter of his one-night stand with Jenn Barkley. He shares all the details of his sensational experience with Ann Perkins, but since he’s vulnerable and prone to attachment he tries to talk with her, but instead is sucked into her web of sloppy supply closet sex.
At the voting booths, Leslie assures Bobby that voting for yourself is not illegal while Ben gets a job offer from Jenn. Admiring his campaign managing acumen, she extends him the opportunity to assist her in a Congressional campaign. The position would require him to be in Washington D.C for six months, however. You can tell he’s elated. Not only is he avenging his disastrous turn as an 18 year-old mayor, but he’s moving up in the world like his love, Leslie. But when Leslie extracts the information from him she says they’ll talk it over, but you can tell she doesn’t want him to go. Her reasoning is sound: they haven’t had a sense of normalcy in months and she just wants to enjoy him and their time together. She puts those worries on the back burner though as she soaks up her fantasy turned reality as she punches the hole next to her name, and it’s too darn cute. After being Leslie the campaigning robot, she has a private release of pure humanity where her determination and drive has culminated in a scene she’s likely played in her head multiple times, but now it’s happening. Obviously. Bobby ruins it, needing assistance in the booth—he has ink all over his hands, the pen broke off the chain, he doesn’t get it!
After the polls have closed the gang, minus preoccupied April and Andy, heads to the Jermaine Jackson Ballroom (so named because he visited Pawnee, once.) After one percent of precincts reporting, Brandi Maxxxx had a commanding lead. I’d like to think that moment was a shoutout to the wonderful work actress Mara Marini did for that role in “The Debate,” but it coud be that those precincts really enjoy their porn. Ann calms a frantic Leslie who’s immediately worried her dreams would be crushed by an adult film star. Ann planned an outing for them if such an occasion were to arise where Leslie lost her head: kickboxing.
Back at the office, Andy suggests that if April gets fired for losing the files they’ll just move to a new city, burn their fingertips with acid, swap faces if necessary and go from there. He starts brainstorming places where they can live and new jobs they’ll acquire. As always, “Parks” includes jokes in any written or visual material and this time there were many fictional places on the list including Winterfell (where my GoT fans at?!). April, as the more practical of the two, calls Donna who fixes their issue with a couple clicks. Jerry deletes files accidentally all the time so she had her own secret backup installed. Oh, Donna. How underappreciated you are.
Separated at that time, Leslie consults Ann while punching with her fists of fury, and Ben asks Ron, about how they should approach his job offer. Both, if given the chance, would clearly do what the other wanted. That’s why they get along so well. They’re selfless and sacrificing and downright kind folks. Leslie confesses it would kill her if he left, and Ann rightly advises her she has to tell him that. Ron after divulging more of his odd habits and examples of his resistance to change, convinces Ben that because Leslie and he would be willing to jump off a cliff into the great unknown together, they’ll be okay apart. That’s what a good relationship is. Ben swallows that sound advice, but he can’t hold his dark liquor and his horrifying face was our slapstick reward for the day. With 75% reporting, Leslie’s up by 182 votes and Jerry praying hard since he didn’t get to the polls in time to vote. And the self-loathing man he is (and because he’s tormented by misfortune) he’s certain he’ll be the difference if it comes down to the wire.
Ben expectedly agrees without hesitation to stay when Leslie expresses her insecurities over him leaving. He claims he was on the fence anyway, but he’s such a gentleman and cares so deeply, it’s no question that’s lip service. In a karmic twist, just as Leslie strips her support from Ben, the election is called by Perd Hapley and Bobby has won by 21 votes. Ben rushes to Leslie’s defense and as master of election law he demands a recount since 21 votes is well within the 1% necessary to justify it. Worried the results will change, Jenn offers the conciliation prize of Joe Biden’s home phone number, and Leslie almost takes it. It’s such a subtle callback to her unorthodox crush, and props to the writers for knowing that was the precise time to use it. The balance between crisis and hilarious distraction has always been striking on this show, but they flexed their muscles in a finale that called for extreme peaks and valleys.
When Leslie goes missing as the votes are tallied, Ron knows where to find her. The council chambers. She sits in the chair that would be hers and laments all the people she’ll disappoint if she loses. Always the giver, she’s sick over all the spare minutes her friends have spent on her that might go to waste. And Ron nails the mentality of not only why he and the department love her, but why we love her. “We didn’t volunteer because we wanted to wrap ourselves in personal glory. We did it because we care, about you…That’s what you do when you care about someone. You support them, win, lose, or draw.” I got all misty-eyed, I couldn’t help it. I adore their unlikely mentor/mentee relationship. Their aren’t many public figures who hold opposing political beliefs that would respect each other on such an intrinsic level. It’s rare in television too, to see a relationship amongst opposite sexes that is purely platonic with so much heart. Bravo.
Ron’s speech inspires Leslie to change her mind about Ben leaving for D.C. She takes one of her fifty Washington Monument figurines (always the patriot) and surprises him. That tiny replica is not only a testament to the rock solid foundation of their relationship, but it represents his dreams that she’ll support, like how he presented her with the “Knope 2012” button (I’m told she used the same box Ben did). He put her ambitions before “them,” now she’ll return the favor. They kid around saying they’ll “do it” all over Washington if that’s how they’ll be together when Ann interrupts. In a somber tone she reveals that the margin is still 21 votes…but in her favor. Leslie tears up, and even I want to bawl like a baby for her as relief washes over the scene. The right person won. How often does that happen? I was wrong in assuming her loss would be the biggest surprise. Her win, although a happy ending, is still improbable. As “Catch Your Dream” blares in the background, Jenn runs off without giving Chris a proper goodbye (she doesn’t deserve him), Ron declines the assistant city manager position, staying true to who he is—a man who likes things just the way they are—and the fan favorite Jean Ralphio butts in to take the job, but Chris rejects him immediately. He takes it well though, “Smart move, go with your gut.”
As Leslie prepares to give her victory speech she requests that some day she read the concession speech Ben wrote for her. But he never wrote one. That’s belief. That’s love. And that was the third time I got super puddly. Leslie’s speech even tops the one in “The Debate,” when she wraps up Ben’s fine portion and goes rogue with a touching sentiment—”Let’s break out a map. Not the old one that shows where we’ve been, but a crisp, new one that shows where we might go. Let’s embark on a new journey together and see where it takes us.” Unfortunately, this feeling is reflective of the script’s writer, creator Michael Schur. As I’m writing this, “Parks and Recreation” has not yet been renewed, it’s status in series limbo. The episode was written as a potential series finale. It’s open ended, sure. Nostra-Tomus’ premonition comes true and a drunken Ann agrees they should move in together—promising no takebacks when she sobers up—and April encourages Andy to become a police officer since he had that as a dream job on his board when he thought they’d need to go on the lamb. Still, it does have an air of finality. Leslie is living a dream, Ben is off to D.C, Ron is happy where he is, and the others reach for the stars.
It’s absurd that a show with such heart, hysterical wit and iconic characters could cease to exist, but in reality what this finale proved was that whether another episode airs or not, “Parks and Recreation” is not any singular episode, scene, or gut-busting line. It’s the soul. It’s what these people mean to us, how a group of people who never existed in reality feels like family that we might lose forever. I won’t shed a tear though if “Parks” is cancelled. I did enough of that watching “Win, Lose, or Draw.” I’ll smile because the memories will live on on Netflix and elsewhere and in our collective consciousness as a triumph of spirit—proof that people with different viewpoints, personalities and predispositions can band together to make true change happen. And there’s a last bit of humor there. I’m not sure whether I’m talking about the incredible staff on the show, or the lovable crew who reside in the Pawnee inside us all.
L.O.L.Ls: Laugh Out Loud Lines
– “Last night at approximately 2:30 a.m, I woke up from a dream that felt so real it had to be a premonition. Me, Drake and the T-Mobile girl were playing baccarat on a private jet. Ann Perkins walks up to me and says, ‘Tommy, tomorrow night I’m taking you back.’ Then Blue Ivy Carter high-fived me and gave me 40 million dollars. It was all SO REAL.”
– Chris: “Recently, in a moment of weakness I had sex, with Bobby Newport’s campaign manager, Jennifer Barkley.” Ann: “Seriously?” Chris: “Yes, several times. And several more times. Then a couple more times. And then one more time.”
– “Our ferocious sexual decathlon did improve my mood.”
– “First of all, you did the right thing hiding under this table.”
– Leslie: “What were you talking with Jenn about?” Ben: “Oh nuthin’. No I just—nuthin’. She’s—nuthin’. Nuthin’ nuthin’. It’s nuthin’. Hey, what’s a good place to buy jeans.” Leslie: “You have plenty of jeans!”
– “Brandi Maxxxx, the porn star, is gonna beat me. What is this, Italy?”
– “You’re thoughtful, you’re brilliant, and your ambiguous ethnic blend perfectly represents the dream of the American melting pot.”
– “Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets.”
– “I’ve had the same haircut since 1978, and I’ve had the same car since 1991. I’ve used the same wooden comb for three decades. I have one bowl. I still get my milk delivered by horse.”
– Ben: “Why are you laughing?” Leslie: “Because my dream is dead (laughs manically). Oh f*ck.”
– “Who’s got two thumbs and was just cleared of insurance fraud? This guy!”
– “Guys, we’re going to J.J’s for victory waffles, then we’re staying up all night talking about our lives and our feelings. Non-negotiable! Let’s go! City council bitches!!!”
UPDATE: All is right with the world! As of 3 p.m. Friday, NBC has renewed “Parks and Recreation!” For more details, click here.