It’s a shame that Parks and Recreation wasn’t allowed a double episode before the Christmas break, as having the first episode back being both the 100th and one that would act as a nice chapter end/mid-season finale, if needed, is slightly cock-eyed. That said, it’s nice to be back. This episode is about differing realizations, of worthwhile home truths, and the emergence of loftier goals.
In presenting what is a comparatively small-scale episode, writers Michael Schur and Amy Poehler are hiding what would appear to be the actual intentions of the next phase of the show – a gradual increase in scale and ambition. In giving Leslie a hard but well-intentioned dose of sweet reality check, and allowing Tom to realise his dreams of finally becoming something of a mogul – with the world now his oyster – they’re setting the stage for the players to take part in a bigger scheme of things. Bigger than Pawnee.
We’ve glimpsed this before – if you cast your mind back to season one, Leslie baldly stated that she saw herself as the first female president of the United States of America. When she got on the city council, which was her biggest achievement at that point, she even visited the White House with Ben to stake out the area. That she was ignored and belittled is neither here nor there; there has always been more to Leslie Knope than mere Pawnee city council, and it takes her being recalled, losing her position, seeing the success of an unworthy opponent in a different district with higher opinion polls than her after multiple sex scandals, and finally the brief return of Jennifer Barkley, to make her realize this – to make her realize that it’s actually what she wanted all along, even though it takes a long time for her to get to this position.
Others see success in other areas, which we’ll come to in a minute, but the crux of this episode is getting Leslie to confront her own feelings about Pawnee. It’s been bubbling under since the London trip in episode 1, seeing the lack of hatred that other women in politics received from their respective towns, but here it becomes something solid and tangible. Of course, Ben supports her every step of the way – Adam Scott’s performance should be commended, alongside Poehler’s, as a great portrayal of a loving, devoted couple who understand each other totally, barely ever argue, but also manage to not be boring – and spends most of the episode worrying about potential gifts he could get her to celebrate her last day on the job. He manages it in the end by booking Jennifer Barkley and giving Leslie the cold hard truth that she really needed, in the way that she needed it – “You should think bigger – I don’t care enough about you to lie about this” being basically the sum total of her advice – and then taking her to Paris to clear her head. Lovely. As fun as it would have been to see her negative counter-campaign against Dexhart, mangled banners and all, I’m glad she’s happier now
But what of the others?