Let’s start there then, because the Ann-Tom relationship arc was the starkest example of the problem Leslie’s campaign caused in the second half of Season 4: figuring out what to do with everyone. Among its more subtle achievements is how well Parks has managed to combine and recombine its ensemble every week into interesting storylines (Community, with just as big a cast, made a running joke about the number of dances and parties required to cram everyone into one plot).
With the campaign popping up in most every episode, Tom and Ann were frequently just hanging around on the sidelines. The writers made an unlikely couple out of the pair as a pragmatic, if not always successful, means of ensuring audiences got a combined dose of Aziz Ansari’s swagger and Rashida Jones’ adorableness every week.
Which is why it comes as a bit of a relief that Haverkins (Tom’s pet name for the two) is no more, accomplished in a fittingly inelegant fashion. Having Tom and Ann pretend to be living together to avoid the humiliation of admitting their relationship was a mistake is fine, but having Tom’s financial stability threatened by a bet with Donna over how long the move-in experiment would last is unnecessary. Though the two had their moments, separating them was a long time coming, though it still begs the question of how to keep them relevant.
As for the guy who’s always been on the outskirts, Chris’ season worth of heartbreak and self-reflection comes to a head in typical Chris fashion, when trying to find what motivates Andy to become a cop (which definitely could use some explaining) sends the human-microchip into a depressive tailspin. Seems that being fit and perky isn’t much fun when you don’t have anyone to admire how fit and perky you are. Despite Chris fearing that he has a fatal case of the “nothings”, Tom smartly points out that whatever ailment he has is mental, convincing Chris to go see a shrink, which like Ann and Tom’s breakup, was overdue.
Where the show has struggled in pacing every secondary character’s story, the main threads are as engaging as ever. Instead of skipping over Ben’s six-month stint in D.C., only a month has passed since he accepted the job after Leslie got elected to city council, and the premiere episode, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington”, is just as the title describes. The two are desperate to see each other’s faces (and asses, in Leslie’s case) again, although maybe not quite in the roll-around-on-the-floor-making-out sense that Andy and April demonstrate when they are reunited, April having followed Ben to D.C. as his assistant.
Leslie’s whirlwind tour of historical sites and waffle trucks takes a turn for the sobering when the scope of national politics starts to set in. She’s denied face time with the commissioner who can give her a grant to clean up the river in Pawnee (Indiana, not the total crap hole in Missouri), and all the women Ben works with are extremely successful and tall. Even a meeting with Olympia Snow and Barbara Boxer (numbers 4 and 26 on Leslie’s List of Amazing Women) leaves her feeling like a small fish just realizing how big the political pond is. It leads to the kind of Leslie freakout moment that Poehler does so well, hiding in a coat closet, inadvertently telling John McCain to take a hike when all he wants is his coat.
What’s most interesting about splitting the show between Pawnee and D.C. is that it brings to light something viewers have known for a while, that Leslie’s positive outlook and charm isn’t the silver bullet in Washington that it was in Pawnee. It might not be effective back home for much longer either, as the second episode has her first vote as councilwoman be on a controversial soda tax she proposes as a means to fight obesity. A Sweetums representative lays it out with perky menace: if the vote passes, hundreds of local restaurant workers will be out of work, and Leslie will be to blame.
It’s the sort of hard decision the show would force characters to address in earlier episodes, only to find a solution that appeases both parties. This time though, there’s no 11th hour out, and Leslie has to choose between her conscience, and her career. Something that hasn’t changed is that Ron still offers her guidance by simplifying the issue. Despite how they may differ politically, personally and professionally, Ron respects Leslie for her conviction, and its what’s gotten her this far to begin with, so she votes in favour of passing the bill. If Ron Swanson can’t get rid of Leslie Knope after trying to fire her four times, what chance does anyone else have?
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