I want to start at the end: what a stellar last three minutes.
With a beautiful zoom-in-zoom-out shot of a framed photo of the gang, we jump ahead three years in time. Leslie is Sorkin-power-walking through her new, now-bustling office. Her bangs look amazing. We feel at once disoriented — where is the sweet, slow Parks Department we used to know? — and at home, with Larry-now-Terry dropping files on the floor and April and Andy playing aunt and uncle to the Knope-Wyatt triplets (two boys, one girl). Ben has traded his Batsuit for a Bruce Wayne tux for some as-yet-revealed formal event. Jon Hamm, always a welcome presence, makes a brief appearance as an incompetent staffer before getting fired. Parks hit reset by hitting fast-forward, and I am feeling as hopeful and eager for the seventh season as I could possibly be.
The scene reminded me, in tone and pace, of the last few minutes of the 30 Rock series finale: a quick look at everyone all a bit more grown-up. Wave to the kids, smile at the working mom, blow a kiss to the happy couple, and it’s over. Except Parks still has a victory lap to do.
I know this sounds a little strange, but at the end of the episode, even though we had only been away from old Parks for a few minutes, I was already feeling nostalgic for the Parks we used to know. Is that weird? I’m so glad they made this choice (also relieved; you know how I feel about pregnancy plot lines), and yet it made me realize just how attached I was to the way things were, how lived-in that space felt. It was like watching Walt and Jesse in the superlab after the RV got crushed.
Parks might not be a fantasy in the Game of Thronesian sense of the word, but it does have this element of adult wish-fulfillment to it that makes Pawnee this beautiful alternate reality. In real life, you do have to leave one great thing behind to move on to the next greater thing. You don’t get to take all of your favorite colleagues with you every time you switch jobs; you don’t just go up a flight of stairs and find yourself in your new office. Friends move away. It feels like friends are always moving away, doesn’t it? Lured from one transient city to another with the promise of, I don’t know, grad school or cheaper rent or whatever Google is giving out to new hires these days.
If Parks were real life, there’s no way Leslie’s dream job would have also allowed her to stay in her dream town. Pawnee is not comparable to Chicago. Pawnee, as Ben earnestly insisted to the Gryzzl start-up nerds, could maybe be the next Toledo. Even Leslie, the most desirable hire the National Park Service has ever seen, wouldn’t have that kind of pull. But that escapist power of Parks is part of what makes the show so special: It is this magical place where most of your friends never leave, where you can realize all your dreams at once, where the waffles are always warm.
Even though we wind up right back in Pawnee, we start the night in San Francisco, where Leslie is speaking at the National Parks Conference. And what happens at the National Parks Conference … is compiled into a PDF that will be emailed to you the following Monday.
Grant from the National Park Service is there to give Leslie a hard deadline to accept or reject his job offer. Watching Leslie geek out over her NPS heroes — Liam Bonneville, the bad boy of the Department of the Interior! — is a delight, as is watching Leslie finally be respected for her incredible efforts. One of the things that’s always irritated me about Pawnee is how viciously the town has treated Leslie. I get the need to create obstacles between Leslie and her desired government goals, but I find it really draining as a viewer to see Leslie just get beat up over and over again by her fellow Pawneeans, even when she was obviously acting in ways that would improve their lives. So to see her be celebrated by her heroes (who, as Grant points out, could be her peers) was immensely satisfying.
As if Leslie needs more enticement to take the Chicago offer (oh wait, she does; God, the woman loves Pawnee so much), Grant introduces her to Michelle Obama. Was FLOTUS as funny as Joe Biden? Is anyone as funny as Joe Biden, doing anything, ever? Still, the first lady did her duty and then some, bringing out great work from Amy Poehler, who played Leslie as too nervous to control the volume of her voice. (Her screech-as-speech really brought me back to Kaitlin at the mall. “YOU ARE FROM CHICAGO SO YOU LIKE IT.”) Also, Mrs. Obama’s “yeah, well” when Leslie asks for a high-five made me giggle, too, as did Leslie’s fan-girling: “I agree with you on all things throughout history and until the end of time.”
Leslie tells Ben she’s made her decision to accept the job, and though she almost goes back on it after a very dark NPC presentation — if she doesn’t put in at least eight years to make sure the merger goes through, a creepy old man warns her, Pawnee could become “unincorporated territory” — she’s won over in the end by a grand romantic gesture. Ben and Leslie are the champions of the grand romantic gesture. Ben’s relentless, and seemingly angst-free support of Leslie’s career is another bit of grown-up wish-fulfillment. His willingness to do whatever it takes to help Leslie achieve her dreams, with what seem to be little to no complications or arguments over who’s “turn” it is — it’s all like fairy-tale life. (Not that those arguments are the sign of a failing relationship — only that real relationships go through rough patches like that, but Parks chooses not to dwell there. Compare last night’s conversations between Ben and Leslie to the way Coach and Tami handled the decision to move from Dillon to Philadelphia, and how fraught with hurt and tension that was.) “You take this job,” Ben tells her, Golden Gate Bridge beaming in the background. “Places like this will be your office.”
When Leslie tells everyone she and Ben are leaving, they all burst into cheers. It’s very sweet, although kind of surprising. I thought at least one person would be like, “Leslie, don’t go!” And Leslie's friends also did this very kind thing of adding Leslie’s name to the Founders’ statue because, as April said, she “basically founded this new town.” Emblazoned on the bottom: “Only a moron would ever live anywhere other than Pawnee, Indiana. –Leslie Knope on multiple occasions.”
Music break: Time for the Unity Concert! There is not enough space for all of the cameos here. Donna’s cousin Ginuwine dedicating “Pony” to Lil Sebastian “because you’re my pony!” was my personal favorite, as was Donna’s threat to out his childhood bathtime behavior. “Why you gotta bring the Quackson 5 into this?”
Leslie tries, and fails, to recruit all her loved ones to come with her to Chicago. As she typically does, Leslie figures out the right thing to do by having a heart-to-heart with Ron. Sure, Ron thinks that “with your courage and small frame, you’d make an excellent coal miner,” but appreciates that Leslie’s heart is in public service. He tells her that it’s time to move on from Pawnee to fulfill her great ambitions. “You can’t have everything you want.”
Leslie, eyes widening: “Oh my God. I can have everything I want.”
So the third floor that Ron’s spent all season shining up is Leslie’s new headquarters, her old staff can move on up with her, and if Grant doesn’t agree with that idea, well, it’s nine against one and “we can make you disappear.” “What?” “I said, we have free Wi-Fi!” Aubrey Plaza, unsung MVP. As Leslie’s binder says, it is the best option, hands down.
And a few other things:
- Holy smokes, the joke density was just phenomenal in this episode. I am not going to be able to get them all in here, but I trust you to pick up the slack in the comments.
- I’m always in favor of making fun of start-up bros and their douchey, holier-than-thou, “we’re so laid back” culture. Gryzzl is just a fever dream of the worst wannabe Zuckerbergs, right down to the “we don’t like to say ‘no’ here, so I’ll just say, ‘nah, brah.’” (Ben: “How is that better?”)
- “In fact, a lot of people go to the library just to order pizzas.”
- Andy and April were sometimes sidelined in a plot I didn’t find all that compelling — I didn’t really need a Mouserat reunion; I’m all about Johnny Karate — but they both got in some of the best jokes of the night. Especially Andy: “We can tell them there’s buried treasure in Pawnee. And after they give us the Wi-Fi, we can tell them the treasure was love all along.”
- If the only reason we had to do this whole Tom’s Bistro thing was to find out that Joan Callamezzo’s signature drink is “a tumbler of gin, with crushed aspirin around the rim,” it will almost be worth it. Almost. Tom was more immature this episode than I remember him being in a while — “Ron, I haven’t asked you for anything today!” — so here’s hoping the three years did him good, and we can keep flashy, outrageous Tom but lose the “I’ve never worked hard, wow, what a cool life!” Tom.
- Colin Meloy of the Decemberists: “I ordered a small cheeseburger, and both of the buns were pizzas.”
- Leslie’s reaction to a woman laughing at the end of Leslie’s “Merger, She Wrote” presentation: “I know, I know, I think it was a good presentation too, is that why you’re laughing?”
- Tom: “Do you mind if I snap a youie? That’s what I call selfies of other people.”
- I was surprised, but also glad, to not hear anything about Ann or Chris this episode. Their farewell was so elegantly executed, it might have felt out of place to mention them. (Although I did think that the proximity of Chicago to Michigan would have come up, at least in passing, while Leslie was deciding whether or not to move there.)
- I think Joan and Jean-Ralphio should date, as soon as he gets off both of his ankle monitors. I don’t think Mona Lisa should date anyone, ever.
- Ron, initially declining to be Duke Silver at the Unity Concert: “Playing music is something I like to keep private. Along with my family, my conversations, and my whereabouts at all times.”
- The return of Cones of Dunshire! And the return of Barney, the poor accountant, who will forever think of Ben as the one who got away. Wonder what this Cones popularity means for our new “three years later” season. Is Ben a millionaire?
- Andy, signing autographs: “Thanks, guys! Remember: karate on bad guys only.”
- Leslie, reacting to the news that Ron is Duke Silver: “When were you going to tell me about that? Unbelievable! I am so furious at you, but I’ve already forgiven you and you need to teach me how to play the saxophone.”
Until next season, friends! I’ll miss you in the saddest fashion. You are all my 5,000 candles in the wind.