Welcome back to the future, everybody! When we said good-bye to the gang last season, they’d already left us in the dust: 2014 was so three years ago. It’s 2017 in Pawnee, and everything is just a little bit snazzier: Gryzzl tablets; Leslie’s perfect, fringe-y bangs; Ben’s tux with that GQ fit. Leslie is, as usual, thrusting her overachieving nature on everyone around her, even her beloved husband, who, as he continues to remind her, does not actually work for the National Park Service, as she does.
And yet something is not quite right. Leslie has a nemesis. A nemesis we dare not name. Hearing the name of this man “fills you with rage,” Ben reminds Leslie. I mentally place bets: Councilman Jamm? Liam Bonneville, bad boy of the Department of the Interior? Greg Pikitus, all grown up and spray-painting obscenities national monuments?
It is none of these men. IT IS RON.
Ron Swanson, who walked Leslie down the aisle at her wedding in an episode I may or may not have been able to watch without tearing up. Ron is, in Leslie’s words, “a stupid garbage-head doody face.”
Ron’s specific crime is not revealed in this episode (so, everybody, leave your guesses in the comments). We get only this vague clue: Morning Star. (Or is it Mourning Star? Or Morning Starr, as in the Starr Mill, a landmark on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, two 19th-century factory buildings where commemorative swords were once manufactured for the likes of Andrew Jackson?) Leslie is a loyal woman; Ron dislikes people, but he always made an exception for the exceptional Ms. Knope. What changed?
Watching these two engage in mortal/civic combat is funny, obviously, but it also makes me feel really uncomfortable. It’s all very Mommy-and-Daddy-are-fighting. We do, however, get great exchanges like this:
Leslie: Hello, former strange person I used to friend. You’re looking very Ron-like.
Ron: You have the same hair.
Leslie: No, I don’t! I have bangs now!
Ron: I’VE NEVER KNOWN WHAT BANGS ARE, AND I DON’T INTEND TO LEARN.
Leslie: WELL, MAYBE YOU SHOULD.
In a turn of events that demonstrates just how much this show has transcended its humble, “Let’s fill in the pit at Lot 48!” beginnings, the arc of the final season becomes clear: The Newports a selling a huge hunk of land, and Leslie wants to turn it into a national park. This could be her crowning achievement, and then she could retire! Well, she could. But she’s not retiring until she’s 100, “and then I’ll cut back to four days a week. I’m so bored thinking about that one day off. Maybe I’ll go to law school or something.”
Ron should be on her team for this, but he’s working with Gryzzl, that perfect start-up parody. He also runs Very Good Building and Development Company and is going to help Gryzzl build a new campus on the Newport land. It does have good sky. The Gryzzl guy says Ron is “so far out, so normcore,” which makes me feel sort of nervous about the future: Is normcore still a thing three years from now?
First, Leslie tries to scrape together the $90 million Jessica from the Sweetums Foundation says she’ll need for a viable bid. She is driven by “a blind, stubborn belief that what I am doing is 100 percent right!” In this moment, a pause: Is it just me, or is Parks moving at a 30 Rock clip? Feels like the joke density is WAY up. Then again, maybe my typing is just rusty.
At the Pawnee Bicentennial Celebration, Ben’s biggest gig since Ice Town, he is supposed to be honored as Pawnee’s Man of the Year — did Leslie really green-light a “Man of the Year” thing? It’s not “Person of the Year”? — but the event falls apart when Ron and Leslie get in a fight, light a “lifelike” statue of Ben on fire, and throw each other into the cake while Andy just stands there, Winnie the Pooh–style (shirt, no pants).
See, April and Andy are in full-on domestic mode, and by definition, this plot is not the most thrilling: They are afraid that they’ve become boring, and they aren’t exactly wrong. I still liked watching these crazy kids wrestle with the struggles of age (heartburn, gutter-fixing injuries, making plans more than ten minutes in advance), but maybe that’s just because it hits so close to home. Three years isn’t so many for someone like Ron; for April and Andy, it’s the difference between practically being children and legitimate adulthood. Perks of adulthood: April’s dress is super-hot, and she and Andy have enough money to “buy the fuck out of this house,” which is haunted and features a staircase to nowhere.
Tom seems kind of dickish in the future. I’m glad he’s a mogul now — remember when he wanted to run a bunch of ski mountains or whatever, and be a mogul mogul? Good times — and that he’s earned a coveted slot on Indiana Business Monthly’s “35 under 35,” but of everyone in the group, he looks like he’s gone back in time. His arrogant speech (“I’m pretty amazing at being humble”) is almost worth it for the switch at the end of the episode, when he reveals that the thought of reading his real speech made him too emotional to go on, and he and Ben cry in each other's arms. Fine, fine, I won’t complain about anything that leads to such beautiful friendship moments. I AM WEAK WITH LOVE FOR PAWNEE. Going to be a wreck all season, AMA.
Anyway, while it would have been very in-character of Leslie to reach an impossible goal in 36 hours, she ends up doing something even more Leslie-like instead: bidding $0, with the promise that the park would be named after the Newports and would be around for generations to come.
Donna is getting married to Joe! A refresher: Joe is Donna’s ex-boyfriend, played by Keegan-Michael Key of Key and Peele fame. He’s a music teacher, he bakes muffins, is Über-respectful, and is basically perfect, but Donna was afraid that with Joe, she became boring (and she’s probably not wrong — see also: April and Andy — but is that a reason to run from love? IDK, TBH, check back with me in our own 2017).
At the end, Leslie announces to her enemies that “This is war! You guys are going down. And that’s all I wanted to say.” Oh, also, she’s sorry she is out of touch with Donna and Tom. Also, prepare for war! Also, she made cookies, BUT Ron is not allowed to eat them, and they say “Prepare for War” on them, but the O in for is a heart.
A few other notes:
• Hey, Jon Hamm! The least competent NPS employee ever, Ed, returns, only to be fired — but not before finding a file called Bird Census from 1980. “It was empty. If anyone wants to hang, I’ll be at Subway!”
• “The Tommy Chopper: We serve chopped salads out of a decommissioned military helicopter.”
• Leslie has $2 million in a discretionary fund, but she’s already used some of the money “to make Thomas Jefferson sexier in those Mount Rushmore promotions. Attendance has been up, that’s not a coincidence!”
• “That tuxedo makes you look like a sexy orchestra conductor. Here, wave this pen around.”
• “Is that a new bolo tie?” “Yes! My son sells them on Etsy. He is a huge disappointment.”
• I’d watch the Johnny Karate Super Awesome Explosion Show. Probably would ditch that Mailman Gary, though.
• In the future, Shia LaBeouf designs wedding dresses. And they are not cheap.
• Better turn that Gryzzl tablet off before you go to sleep: “I love you too! I love your skin. GIVE ME YOUR SKIN.”
• “I’ve known a lot of ballers in my day, but no man balls harder than the man I’m about to bring up.”
• In the words of Jason Bourne, “This is where it started for me, this is where it ends.” Kevin James, interesting choice for a reboot.