Parks and Recreation Recap: Woman of the Year

Ben and his calzone. Photo: Chris Haston/NBC
Parks and Recreation
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Last episode was all about feelings and hugs, but now it’s time to talk shop. Fortunately, shop talk is one of Leslie’s five favorite types of talk, along with pillow, girl, real, and TED. Jen is over to talk campaign strategy, and she is wearing a poncho “because every surface in this house is sticky.”

Parks has really doubled down on the "marriage + kids (or the promise thereof) = happiness" equation over the past couple of seasons, and while I’m glad all the lovebirds of Pawnee have found their soul mates and produced, or married into having, adorable children, I love that Jen is here as a counterweight to all of that. Every time she shows up, unabashedly loving her single, kid-free life, she brings some much-needed bite to the proceedings. Her disdain for Pawnee, with its ceremonial squash tosses and pie-baking events, is wonderful. “Excuse me, I have to get back to a city where things happen.”

The biggest political liability for Ben, it turns out, is Leslie. “Being the ‘wife of’ is a minefield,” warns Jen, adding that it would be easier “if you were just a ding-dong … It’s the smarties that freak people out.”

Thus begins one of Parks’ finest “issue” episodes. Parks has gone down the women’s-equality road before, like when April and Leslie had to prove women could be garbage collectors, too, or basically whenever Leslie opens her mouth, really. But this has been the most on-the-nose rallying cry: supporting feminism; criticizing the way even groups with which you agree can put you in a corner where you can’t do anything right; ripping apart men’s-rights organizations for the bullshit factories that they are; sending up the bogus expectations we have for women not just in public office but in the proximity of public office, and, well, in public, in general. Was it sort of pandering, just a bit, to all the would-be Leslie Knopes out there, tired of hearing the #notallmen men chime in with their idiocy all the time? Yes. But sometimes it feels really good to have a TV show pander to you. Especially when they do it with so much humor, insight, and, to be scientific about it, awesomeness.

The big event at stake here is the “Pie-Mary,” a pie-baking competition among all the wives of candidates (guess they’ve never had a female candidate before?). As Leslie puts it, “Last contest’s loser was all women.” It doesn’t take long before Leslie’s refusal to participate in an event she thinks is misogynistic and distracting earns her scorn from all directions. Mike Patterson accuses her of “making it pretty clear that you don’t think homemaking is important” and wants to know what other traditions Leslie opposes. “Hugging?”

Later, on an episode of No, You’re Wrong: With Mike Patterson, June Hartwell says that Leslie thinks women who love their families are stupid. “Ms. Knope chose to try to have it all. I chose to put my family first.”

Leslie thinks maybe the smart move is to jump back into the Pie-Mary, just to avoid conflict. But then Elise from the Indiana Organization of Women shows up at her door to dismiss the event as “retrogressive and misogynistic” and tell Leslie, “If you participate, we’ll have no choice but to protest you and Ben at the event. Hope you like pies IN YO' FACE. Metaphorically. We’ll be civil.” This is not good at all. Leslie gave the IOW $100 in her annual pledge. “Do you know how many anti-me signs that could buy?”

But Ben has what he believes is an inspired idea: He can enter the pie contest! “More importantly, we change the idea of what a pie is.” Ben is going to make a calzone. Oh, God. See, here I thought everyone would get caught up in how terrible and pointless calzones are, and Ben would lose the contest. But after we take the highway to the Calzone Zone, Ben’s choice of culinary delight doesn’t end up mattering too much.

At the Pie-Mary, Leslie is introduced as “Mrs. Wyatt,” which Ben quickly corrects: “It’s actually Ms. Knope and right now, it’s Mr. Wyatt!” Then in walks “The Male Men,” a men’s-rights activist group, demanding that Leslie “Free Ben Wyatt from the tyranny of women! Behind every successful woman is a man she has oppressed.” Leslie trips right into their trap, arguing point by point instead of throwing out their infuriating claims altogether. Ben loves to bake, she insists: “He has five personalized aprons!” “Oh, so I guess he was asking for it, because of the way he was dressed?”

Then my favorite line from this jerk: “Men have had a very rough go of it for [confused pause] just recently [pauses again]. And it ends now!”

This brings us the return of Marcia and Marshall Langman, the conservative couple with some, uhh, flair. (Marshall compliments his wife by proclaiming, “Fierce alert! Eat ‘em up, honey!”) Joining the Langmans at this televised roundtable are Sasha Dunkirk, head of the group Women Against Feminism — any relation to this amazing Twitter feed? — and Brandi Maxxxx, Leslie’s look-alike porn star who manages to support Leslie and completely humiliate Leslie at the same time, always. Of course, that douchey men’s-rights activist is there: “Can we have one conversation about feminism where men get to be in charge?”

It’s finally time for Ben’s big speech. But first, he wants to defend his wife. “I am tired of everybody constantly telling her that she’s making the wrong choice,” he says before handing the microphone over to Leslie. “You can say whatever you want. I couldn’t care less about the political consequences.”

Okay, everyone. Brace yourselves for some RELENTLESS FAN SERVICE. Get ready to tweet lines from this speech with all the exclamation points you’ve got. Prepare to utilize both the prayer-hands emoji and the clapping-hands emoji — maybe even the 100 emoji, I don’t know, I can’t tell you how to live your lives, but I know you’ll do the right thing.

“I’m sorry that the spotlight is on me and not on Ben, because he’s going to make a great congressman. Second, the Male Men? You’re ridiculous, and men’s rights is nothing. Third, I am now going to give you permanent answers to all of the silly questions you’re going to ask me and every other woman in this election: ‘Why did I change my hairstyle?’ I don’t know, I just thought it would look better, or my kids got gum in it. ‘Are you trying to have it all?’ That question makes no sense! It’s a stupid question. Stop asking it. ‘Do you miss your kids when you’re at work?’ Yes, of course I do! Everybody does! And then, you know, sometimes, I don’t.”

Ben, jumping in: “And, by the way, no one’s ever asked me that question.”

Stop judging, says Leslie, and focus on what matters. Bake or work, or bake and work, or do whatever works for you. “We’re all just trying to find the right path for us as individuals on this earth.”

This speech is met with 50/50 boos and applause in Pawnee, but I think it’s safe to predict nothing but applause from all of us in front of our respective TVs. And Ben earns the IOW Woman of the Year award, that sonofabitch.

In her second week of having to deliver good-but-tough news to mentors she adores, April must tell Ron about her new job. He’s fine with the content of the work, but freezes up when she says she and Andy will be moving in a few months. Ron says he’s going to need his key back — which, whoa! I can’t believe Ron gave April a spare key to his house, even if it turned out to be mostly symbolic! What a major Swanson gesture.

The fact that April hid the key too well turns out to be the saving grace for these two, because Ron gets giddy and giggly — he loves puzzles, remember. April’s clues include her wisdom teeth, a ticket stub from The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which she saw with Donna — “You only get to see the second Twilight film for the seventh time once” — and notes that reveal her then-just-burgeoning, super-embarrassing crush on Andy. Ron is overjoyed: “Finally, a scavenger hunt worthy of my time.”

April thinks they’ll never find the key, but Ron tells her that he changes his house locks every 16 days. “That key has been useless since the second Tuesday after I gave it to you.” Still, Ron trusts April and admires her as a person. He will be sorry to see her leave! “Not the least of which is, you created a puzzle that I couldn’t solve. And boy, oh boy, did you love Andy! Woof woof! That really is embarrassing!” This gleeful joke reminds April that she does know where she hid the key: under a tree (woof woof = bark bark) that reminds her of Ron. “It’s strong and quiet and always here when you need it. Or whatever.”

“I’ve always felt a certain kinship with April, and this is proof that she is correct,” says Ron. How does this prove it? Oh, he buried a large amount of gold under that same tree many years ago. It’s not there anymore. Or is it? 

And a few other things …

  • Ron’s reaction to April’s new job of choice: “Well, I had hoped you’d choose a more dignified trade, like masonry or logging, but you are out of local government. So that’s a step in the right direction.”
  • June Hartwell is a lukewarm bowl of nothing who encourages people to always bring sweaters with them for “goosebump prevention.”
  • “It’s like taking a shot of tequila,” Jen says of apologizing. “I take three shots every time I have to enter this house.”
  • Donna and Garry’s relationship is so heartfelt! I wish we could see more of it, although I understand the time constraints mean we probably never will.
  • Councilman Milton misses the good old days, “when there were no Mexicans in the music business.”