The big surprise of Donna’s wedding is that, for once in Parks history, it comes with no surprises. Parks has mastered the art of the perfect-for-the-couple nuptials, and so far, every couple who's tied the knot has zigzagged wildly off course before arriving at their adorably happy ending. April and Andy got hitched so suddenly that Leslie tried to convince those crazy kids to call the whole thing off; Leslie and Ben turned a gala into their wedding at the last minute; and Ron and Diane hustled through City Hall for the most unceremonious ceremony of them all.
But that kind of haphazard, chaotic event is so not for Donna Meagle. Donna is a boss. Donna has everything under control at all times. Donna is the idol of all the women we mortals idolize; when Beyoncé wants to get inspired, she looks up Donna quotes on Tumblr. So there will be orchids in all the pews, because orchids are Donna’s favorite flower and Donna is Joe’s flower. And nothing will go awry. Do you think this is Craig’s first time working a side job as a wedding planner for a co-worker?
April is Donna’s maid of honor, not only because she’s become one of Donna’s best friends and Donna loves her like a sister (April: “Eww”), but also because April is the toughest cookie in town and Donna needs to keep that Meagle family drama under control. April is up to the task: “I actually care whether you’re having a good time and are happy. It’s weird.”
“The Meagles are a cold-blooded crew of judgmental grudge-holders,” Donna says. I see no problem here, personally. I believe grudges are to grown-ups what teddy bears are to toddlers: If you don’t hold them, what’s the point? Donna’s family sounds over-the-top bananas, and I cannot wait to meet them. “Legally, no more than three Meagles are allowed on an international flight together.” Obviously they are invited anyway, because they are solid gift-givers. “Gotta get that flatware.”
Thanks to the teamwork and ferocity of the Ludgate-Dwyer dynamic duo, Donna's wedding goes even more smoothly than she hoped. (“Brian and Gloria, stop making Horatio feel bad about your daughter going to Yale. No one gives a shit.”) But it wouldn’t be a big night in Pawnee without something going haywire or — another Parks trademark — a major life change at a moment’s notice. Which brings us to Ben and Leslie.
Jen Barkley (the fantastic Kathryn Hahn) comes calling just as Ben and Leslie are heading to a hotel for Donna and Joe’s wedding weekend (or to make three more kids, just so all the kids they already have can each have a friend). Apparently Jen has spent the past three years trying to convince Leslie to run for higher political office. Leslie wants to stay put — am I correct in thinking this is the first time we’ve heard her say she doesn’t want to climb any higher up the political ladder? The Leslie we left in 2014 dreamed of the Oval Office. But now Leslie sees the NPS as the best gig she could hope for, because “the whole world is my park.”
Turns out Jen didn’t want Leslie anyway: She wants Ben to run for Congress. She insists that he’s overqualified, the incumbent is incompetent, and she’s already made him an ad!
To the camera, Leslie says she wants Ben to run. He would be good for America, and the world! “Ben should be the royal archduke emperor of all inhabitable lands on Earth!" To Ben, she says, “I am completely neutral. I will support you no matter what you do.” She tells him to spend the night pretending he’s going to run and the next day pretending that he’s not running, so he can see which feels like the right choice. They, of course, get wasted and get busy drunk dancing, drunk toasting, and drunk dialing. When they wake up the next morning, Ben’s ad is already live.
That day, as Ben and Leslie nurse their vicious hangovers at JJ’s, Jen shows up. “You guys should’ve corner-boothed it, because you look awful.” Jen is perfection. “Those kids keep you up all night? So happy with my choices.” Apparently Ben left four messages last night with really specific policy choices on Jen’s voice mail. Jen assures Ben that his alcohol consumption is not a problem. “Oh, you guys are gonna fit in so great in Washington. Most of Congress is drunk all the time.” Ben could bail, she says, but it would look terrible and destroy his career. Or maybe not. But probably! “I’m going to go spend my time doing exactly what I want to do, because I don’t have children!”
Ben and Leslie are the ultimate couple fantasy. Sometimes they seem like more of a fantasy than the dragons on Game of Thrones: They are pure, unadulterated wish-fulfillment. They are the couple that has it all. Ben, without judgment, hesitation, or resentment, supports every single one of Leslie’s professional ambitions. And when Ben gets this enormous, stability-shattering opportunity, Leslie is onboard even before Ben is. If she is feeling at all envious or bitter that he is headed for the public office she used to incessantly talk about wanting, she’s hiding it pretty damn well. And somehow, in the midst of all of this madness, they are raising toddler triplets, maintaining deep and beautiful relationships with their friends, and making enough money for child care in the form of a frazzled and always-welcome Rachel Dratch.
Leslie keeps insisting that she doesn’t have an opinion, but Ben knows better. “Honey, you have never been neutral on anything in your life. You have an opinion on pockets.” “Yes, I think they should all be bigger!” Ben, improbably, gets surrounded by the media outside of Donna’s wedding and spontaneously delivers a decent stump speech while holding some stuffed zebras. It’s official: Ben Wyatt is running for Congress.
Lucy and Tom are so perfect for each other, she even knows to bring him home Dream Hand Cream from the nail salon. Ron tells Lucy that he’s “always liked her,” and, out loud, I’m like, "GOD, RON. STOP GUSHING." I'm so trained to see surprise weddings in Pawnee that, when Tom says he could marry Lucy tomorrow, I typed in my notes, in all-caps: FORESHADOWING. But what actually happens is that Ron lets it slip to Lucy that Tom has said all these whoa-too-soon things about their relationship, and then Ron utterly fails at walking back these indiscretions because of his rigid (and, in this case, not particularly fair) moral code. “I am a liar — no, I am not a liar. I have never lied about anything in my life. Though I suppose you could construe camouflage as a lie.”
Eventually Ron makes things right between these two, sacrificing a lecture on limestone to tell them that there’s no shame in “declaring how you feel to a person you cherish.” Tom tells Lucy he’s all in. Lucy puts her head on his shoulder. Feelings are real, love is out there, etc.
And a few other things:
- Craig mostly has his rage problem under control now; you just have to avoid his trigger words: “flowers, schedule, bows, bride, groom, food, love, happy, church, event, wedding, and Craig.” Joe, immediately: “I am so sorry, Craig.”
- I love that Leslie just addresses her children as “monsters.”
- Leslie, to her nanny: “I love you more than Ben. It’s true. If Ben left me, I would be sad, but I would get through it. If you left me, I don’t know how I would get through it.”
- Jen, entering the Knope-Wyatt household: "What’s that horrible sound?" Ben: "Children?" Jen: "Ugh, your life is gross, my life is amazing."
- Andy, on the Meagles: “The words that they say sound passive but seem aggressive. I feel like there should be a term for that. Like, 'nicey-meany'?”
- Ron is all about weddings, particularly churches. “Say what you will about organized religion: Those bastards knew how to construct an edifice.”
- Ben, weighing his options: “If I won I would be a congressman. Or woman, I mean. Equal rights! No, that doesn’t apply.”
- “Well I hope that you are a podiatrist or a dentist, because I appear to have a case of foot-in-mouth disorder.” Ben Wyatt, already gunning for that dad-joke vote. Great job on that drunk toast, too!
- Donna, to her bridesmaids: “Knope, you’re a softie, but on the inside, you’re a straight-up boss. April, you’re the exact opposite. Y’all inspire me and I love you.” HOW PERFECT IS THIS? Galentine's Day–level perfect. Could it get any better? Oh wait, it does: “Michelle, you were my best friend from childhood, until we lost touch because you thought your college boyfriend was into me. He was. I never gave him the time of day. Now we’re rebuilding our friendship. Is this wedding gonna be a test for you? Yes. But the doctors once told you you were never going to walk again so, this should be easy.”
- Joe learns something new about Donna every day. “Just yesterday I learned that the Pearl Jam album Vitalogy was written about you!”
- After 30 years, everyone is going to call Garry by his real name!
- Hey, Ginuwine! And also hi to Questlove, who appears as Donna’s brother LeVondrius, whom April invited so Donna could have just the right amount of Meagle drama at her wedding. He remembers the microwave incident. Now no one gets any popcorn.