Parks and Recreation Recap: Work Proximity Associates

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Photo: NBC
Parks and Recreation
Episode Title
Leslie and Ron
Season
7
Episode
4
Editor’s Rating
5/5

Tonight the president gave the State of the Union Address. I, however, spent the evening concerned with the state of a much more important union: the relationship between Ron and Leslie. What happened to these two? How could such a beautiful friendship be torn asunder? Where did they fall apart? I was relieved and thrilled at the prospect of a stuck-in-the-elevator-type gambit to force these two to deal with their issues and, crucially, explain to all of us the context for their current status.

We begin with Ron trying to break out of the office, which naturally cannot be done, and Leslie smashing the monitor to prevent Ron from lying about their reconciliation. (“What if we have an emergency and have to get out of here?” “I DID NOT CONSIDER THAT POSSIBILITY.”)

Leslie is going to get Ron to talk. Excellent supercut time! There’s some slow water torture, some heresy — “You guys, Ron loves plastic!” — and a modified version of that mummy-wrap game you play at bar mitzvahs wherein Leslie covers Ron with Post-its. Then Leslie busts out the mix she made for the Parks summer barbecue in 2007. (“My mind is a steel trap of friendship nuggets!”) Leslie plays Jerry’s song pick, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and sings along with all the wrong words while maintaining eye contact the entire time. It’s so good — too good to do it justice here with mere words.

Nothing is working; it’s time to get serious. It is time for the most powerful tool known to man: a well-organized chart. Ron refuses to even acknowledge that he and Leslie were “friends,” preferring the term “work proximity associates.” But Leslie knows their bond was real, and she is going to Carrie Mathison Crazy Wall the hell out of this until she figures it out. 

We learn that Leslie hired April at the National Park Service and, at April’s request, the theme for her party was Zombie Teenage Biker Gang Pizza Jamboree. And this was the last time Leslie and Ron saw each other for more than five minutes. In 2014, Ron quit the Parks Department. He started his own building company without even telling Leslie. And then, January 2015: MORNINGSTAR. “I calmly saunter down to your office and attempt to have a rational discussion with you about it,” Leslie says, as we cut to Leslie in the past bursting into Ron’s office and shouting at him, “What the hell, Ron? You’re building your stupid building on the lot next to Pawnee Commons? The park that I built from scratch out of a pit?” (A quick tip of the hat to commenter Freetobe00 who correctly predicted that Morningstar would have something to do with Lot 48. Excellent future-seeing, reader!)

To build Morningstar, Ron tore down Ann’s house. The house where Leslie put on her wedding dress. “Where Ann gave me my first smoky-eye look!” He “basically spit on” all the work he and Leslie did at Parks together, cutting down trees and fighting zoning laws. Ron is unmoved. “The world needs apartment buildings.” But Leslie is outraged: “You knew that I would be furious, and you didn’t have the guts to tell me yourself. Enjoy your new job, Judas.”

There’s more to the story, but the three minutes Ron allotted to talking has passed. In that time, he has whittled himself a key to his old office and locks himself away. A very talented craftsman, even under duress.

By 11:55, Ron is trying to blow up the door so he can escape this forced, feelings-filled confrontation. But it turns out the land mine Leslie gave him was actually a "congratulations mine" for his fifth anniversary as Parks director. “You told me this was a genuine partially diffused claymore mine.” “It was! I bought the empty shell off of eBay, and I filled it with balloons and confetti and such!”

Leslie digs into the archives and, thanks to a FOIA request, has her job application from when Ron first hired her. Ron only wrote three lines: “Leslie Knope is an absurd idealist whose political leanings are slightly to the left of Leon Trotsky. If we were to work together, she would undoubtedly drive me insane, and it is possible that we would murder each other.” The last sentence, which Ron remembers, just says, “Hire her.” He remembers that in her job interview, she gave one of her “top-ten tirades.” “I would rather work with a person like that than with a milquetoast yes man.” How touched is everyone that Ron saved Leslie’s thank-you note? Not at all surprised that Leslie hand-writes her thank-you notes (emailed thank-you notes are for heathens and Neanderthals), or that the brownies she baked him were so good he couldn’t not hire her. 

Finally, Ron explains why he left. I think we sort of knew where this was going — that Ron felt abandoned by everyone, so he abandoned everyone in return — but I was taken aback by how Leslie was so caught up in her new job that she actually stood Ron up for lunch at J.J.’s Diner! I also felt so sad when Ron said, “One day, I looked up and I just didn’t recognize anyone.” That is the weird thing about “work proximity associates.” You don’t pick each other. You don’t necessarily have anything in common. Your relationships are freshman-roommate random. And then somehow they just become this part of your routine, of the day-to-day of getting coffee and shooting the shit about that project you can’t believe is due so soon, and you realize after a while that you actually see these people for more hours in a day than you see anyone else that you know.

Ron was going to ask Leslie for a job in the federal government. A betrayal of everything in which he believes! “Just saying it out loud feels dirty.”

Ron: Sure, I love shutting things down and bleeding the rotten beast from the inside—

Leslie: Your metaphors are so beautiful.

Ron: But it was time for me to leave. 

One day, Ron says, he looked around the office “and nothing was the same.” But Leslie knows how to fix that. 

Look, there are probably some people who didn’t feel every feeling that a person can simultaneously feel while watching that montage of Leslie and Ron getting drunk and rearranging everything in the Parks office to the tune of Willie Nelson’s “Buddy.” People without souls, for instance. Heartless monster-people. And literally no one else. 

By 2 p.m. the next day, Leslie is simultaneously drunk and hung-over. She is so excited to see Ron, even though she just saw him! “I have three years' worth of hugs to force upon you against your will.” Ron gifts her a wooden frame with the Lil Sebastian photo she just gave him; the wood was salvaged from Ann’s old front door. And then they go to J.J.’s together. 

“Why does anybody in the world ever eat anything but breakfast food?” Ron asks. “People are idiots, Ron.” Leslie puts her arm around him, and everything is right in the world and the universe and all things are possible and happiness is real. 

And a few other things: 

  • “The Game of Thrones series finale is tonight, and Khaleesi is marrying Jack Sparrow!”
  • “Is it because I sent you a birthday card through the U.S. mail so the post office knew your address?”
  • “Two years ago you found out you were a quarter French, and you had a nervous breakdown.”
  • Leslie pantomiming farting while Ron makes a fart sound with a saxophone? Perfection.