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Parks and Recreation Recap: Goddesses 1, Ron Swanson 0

For all its busy couplings and uncouplings over three-plus seasons, the romantic heart of Parks and Recreation is still the relationship between Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson. Even when it’s adversarial — in this case, Leslie going to lengths to prove to Ron that her freaking awesome Pawnee Goddesses club (with their lassoing lessons and campfire bulgogi and s’more-offs) is superior to his survivalist, he-man-woman-haters Pawnee Rangers troop — there’s a stubborn mutual respect that most marriages would be lucky to have. During a weekend retreat, Leslie gets her revenge on the Rangers for having refused to let girls join five years earlier, vanquishing Ron and his beans and his canvas-draped shelter boxes and his solitude through the power of a puppy party. “We just struck a huge blow for equality by proving that we’re better than them,” Leslie tells her little Knope-monsters, in an attempt to quash their desire to allow a boy to defect from the Rangers into the Goddesses.

The Rangers’ mantra is simple and perfectly Swanson-like: BE A MAN. And Ron’s melancholy when he finally realizes that his boys don’t want to be men, or at least what he considers a man (“When did kids get so interested in fun?”) is almost painful to behold. At least it is for Leslie, who celebrates her victory by placing an ad for Pawnee’s first co-ed survivalist club, the Swansons, who have no dietary restrictions. This is the part that’s so uniquely Parks and Rec — the heated competition, entertaining as it may be, turns out to just be a prelude to a disarmingly sweet resolution that other sitcoms wouldn’t think to bother with.

Of course, Ron’s melancholy has nothing on Ben’s, so Donna and Tom take him out on their annual Treat Yo’ Self excursion, saving him from another day of moping on a park bench about Leslie, eating soup alone. But nothing works to cheer him up — not Tom’s cashmere and velvet candy cane outfit, not Donna’s acupuncture recommendation (“Needles in your face, pleasure in your base”), and not any of the Plaza at Eagleton’s three Burberry stores. The only gift Ben can think to lavish unto himself is a Batman outfit (Nolan-style, although a Schumacher rubber-nipple version would have been a great look). Only then can he let himself have a good cry, embracing his Dark Knight spirit animal even as he fixes the Wi-Fi at home.

Meanwhile, Chris’s compulsive need for full disclosure reaches its logical conclusion: not when he tells Jerry that he already passed the kale salad he had at lunch with Jerry and his charity-bike-race-enjoying daughter Millie, but when he later tells Jerry that Millie spent the night at his house. Just when Chris Treager’s character quirks seem like they have the potential to lit-trally head into catchphrase hell, the revelation that he’s kind of a scumbag, albeit an unfailingly polite and forthright one, is welcome. But not nearly as welcome as the barely perceptible sigh of comfort that the huge-schlonged Jerry emits when, earlier, Chris hugs him in gratitude. Ditto Leslie’s maybe-not-intentional mix-up of “hair” and “head” (“haird”) while taunting Ron in her southern drawl. It’s the little things that give the most pleasure: One man’s puppy party is another’s trench-digging demonstration.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC