Springfield has Shelbyville. East Dillon has Dillon. Cheers has Gary’s Old Town Tavern. Every beloved television community worth its made-up salt needs an adjoining community of nemeses — bizarro, relatively well-to-do rivals against whom they can bristle and, in a good episode, overcome. And now Pawnee, Indiana, has Eagleton, posh enclave of smug snobs and a cupcake factory that makes the air smell like vanilla.
But Pawnee also has Leslie Knope, who has more civic pride in her little finger than the Eagleton city council does in its entire crepe bar. So when she learns that Eagleton has built a fence in the middle of a park that shares the town’s border to keep the fluorescent-light-tube-smashing Pawnee ingrates out, Leslie takes it personally. Which she should, as it’s actually part of a personal vendetta between her and her Eagleton parks department counterpart Lindsay Carlyle-Smith (Parker Posey at her Parker Posey–est), who was Leslie’s best friend and co-worker five years, 35 pounds, and one nose job ago. The people in Eagleton may be straight-up mean, but it’s the only place Tom can get his Bumble and Bumble hair-care product, so he has to go every eight days.
The contrast between the wingnuts at the Pawnee public forum (always a reliable go-to for the show) and the posh country-club Champagne brunch meeting in Eagleton is about as broad as Parks and Recreation’s comedy gets. But the jokes are so slyly done that it doesn’t even matter, nor does the fact that Posey’s character is only measurably snootier than any other character she’s ever played. (The garbage-bag brawl between Leslie and Lindsay is easily the best onscreen catfight since 2 Days in the Valley.) It’s the story line’s resolution, in which Leslie uses the wooden fence as an outfield fence for a new Wiffle-ball field on the Pawnee side and melts the icy Lindsay with her pluck that feels, if not forced, then at least a little abrupt. Maybe it’s that Posey is too good at her job — after being so convincingly horrible, is this moment enough to soften the character? But then again: so what?
Even with the B-plotline, Ron Swanson owns the episode. After Leslie tricks him into admitting that Friday is his birthday — a secret he has doctored many government documents to keep because birthdays were just invented by Hallmark to sell cards — he devolves into utter, depraved paranoia, sleeping in his office, anticipating whatever fresh extrovert hell she might be unleashing on him with April’s assistance. The scene in which he corners Ann to grill her for information is, amazingly, as funny with the sound off, just watching Nick Offerman’s facial tics and grinding jaw he would have been the greatest silent-film actor. Yes, we’ve said things to that effect before, and we probably will again as long as he continues to just be better than everyone else at everything.
But the final scene — in which Leslie leads a genuinely terrified Ron to his dreaded surprise meeting, only to greet him with a giant steak (from the reopened Mulligan’s?); bacon; scotch; a Bridge on the River Kwai DVD; and the greatest present of all, total privacy — could be the best of the series. “Leslie has a lot of qualities I find horrifying,” he says early in the episode. “But the worst one by far is how thoughtful she can be.” She has enjoyed fucking with him all week, but above all, she’s grateful to him for the advice he gave her five years ago, when she turned down the Eagleton job that Lindsay wound up taking, turning her into the worst human being ever. The moment is more poignant and loaded than any sitcom needs to be and perfectly encapsulates what makes the show unique. If my HD screen is to be believed, Ron Swanson’s eyes may have even been a little wet. Someone’s were, anyway.