Tom Haverford loves ads. He loves superficial images of unattainable wealth and happiness. It’s one of the show’s just-shut-up-and-take-it conceits that Tom should, and could, be sliming his way past velvet ropes in the meatpacking district, but is instead stranded in this Podunk burg refilling hummingbird feeders and trying to attract women in City Hall by wearing Ron’s coonskin cap and shouting lines like, “An animal on my head, a manimal in bed!” (Who moves from South Carolina to small-town Indiana for the action? Can we get a Lost-style flashback to see how this happened?) Tom knows it’s not about what’s being sold, it’s how you sell it. Who better to oversee the cover of Pawnee’s summer course catalogue?
This glossy tome is Pawnee’s equivalent of the September issue of Vogue — all the more important to the town because they don’t get Vogue. (Either this is a broad, cheap shot against Indiana rubes, or Condé Nast needs to check their circulation model.) Tom makes his pitch in the conference room in true Don Draper style (see video below), complete with arty photos, wistful mumbo jumbo delivered with hammy gravitas, and a tumbler of scotch in hand. Perhaps showing a slide of a merry-go-round would have been too on-the-nose.
If Tom is the office’s Grace Coddington, then Leslie is the Anna Wintour, and her dream for the catalogue’s intro letter is to triumphantly reunite the four past parks directors at a surprise picnic to reminisce over the joys and frustrations of zoning boards over wine and cheese. These four former and present statesmen turn out to be, in order of service: a sexist codger who believes women can’t lead because their blood needs to flow to their baby parts; a crass opportunist and serial litterer who whizzes on a butterfly; and Steven Keaton from Family Ties, playing to type as an ex-hippie non-wrongly imprisoned for getting high in City Hall and turning Pawnee’s municipal parks into his own personal pot farm. The fourth is Ron, whose annoyance with Leslie’s doomed picnic idea and having to socialize with these foul people is compounded by his bacon lust. And it becomes clear over their post-lunch breakfast why, for all her naïveté and ambition, Leslie doesn’t provoke a toxic reaction in Ron: (a) She’s at least genuine, and (b) He thinks he can control her. Leslie never does quite get that she’s the only person in her orbit who considers civil service to be about civility and serving. The minute she gets as cynical as everyone else in her office building, and in front of their TV sets, is the minute the show loses its ballast.
Since we know the Ann and Mark relationship is approaching its expiration date, it seems like the fatal flaw will be, as hinted in “Galantine’s Day,” Ann’s boredom. It will end with a whimper, not a bang. All of the prospective catalogue-cover photos Tom takes of the so-called happy couple show Ann looking miserable, and Mark knows that can’t be good. Meanwhile, the increasingly adorable April and Andy courtship (“Sweater swap!”) comes to an awkward, screeching halt when he realizes she can’t even get into Tucker’s for a drink without a fake I.D. Andy is a giant third-grader, but the realization that April is, in a way, still an actual child sobers him up in a way we haven’t seen yet. The concept of being in a relationship with someone less mature than himself must be horrifying, especially after Ann’s maternal treatment. The fact that Andy and April wind up on the summer catalogue cover in mid-picnic bliss is cold comfort, but oddly fitting — as any disciple of Don Draper knows, the point of advertising is to try and sell something that can never quite be.