PARKS AND RECREATION: “William Henry Harrison” / “Leslie and Ron”

One of these episodes is an all-timer, and the other is better for being next to it.

 Why does anybody in the world eat anything other than breakfast food?

–Ron

People are idiots, Ron.

–Leslie

An hour before the President of the United States called for Congress to put aside their differences and act with decency, which will likely never happen in my lifetime, two of Pawnee’s bitterest adversaries actually did it.

Whatever NBC’s true motives were for scheduling this final season of Parks as back-to-back episodes, the move actually paid off last night when the wheel-spinning (though funny) “William Henry Harrison” gave way to “Ron and Leslie.” After a cheeky “To be continued…RIGHT NOW!” title card, the episode revealed itself to be a simple two-hander, as the pair’s friends had conspired to trap them in the office that had once been theirs. (Now it’s Craig’s, who has redecorated more than a little.) Parks isn’t known for its structural gambits, but this was a “bottle episode” in a way that would make Community‘s Abed Nadir proud, and one of the very best in the series’s illustrious run.

Forced to work out their issues, “Ron and Leslie” is a bittersweet summation of the relationships these two “work proximity associates” have had for a decade. It’s the strength of the writing that we know the characters as well as we do, and the strength of the performances that we care about them so deeply. (Amy Poehler is so good at being sunnily annoying, while Nick Offerman has perfected the art of silent annoyance.) Leslie tries to get to the bottom of why Ron really quit, information that he is not eager to share, even whittling a key to his old office door from memory so he can lock himself inside — until Leslie singing nonsense lyrics to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (a particularly glorious moment for Poehler) finally cracks him.

In true Leslie fashion, there are hastily-scribbled dry erase flowcharts and binders of notes; in true Ron fashion, he tries every way he can think of to escape the room, from pulling the fire alarm (nope, just connected to the sprinklers) to detonating that old “partially-defused” Claymore he’d had sitting on his desk. When nothing comes out of it but confetti and balloons (“You’ve been doing an EXPLOSIVE job!”), his devastation is palpable. He gets so desperate, in fact, that he offers to watch a foreign film or talk to a man with a ponytail if the janitor across the way would just turn his head.

But in the end, as they begin to reminisce about their first impressions of each other (Ron’s notes from Leslie’s interview: “It’s possible we would murder each other. Hire her.”), the layers of hurt and mistrust begin to fall away, and the two polar opposites start to reconnect once again. Leslie, who had been 110% sure she was in the right from the beginning, is thoroughly chastened to learn Ron’s side of the story. Yes, Ron quit his job at the parks department, and yes, his development company put up the Morningstar luxury apartments right next to Leslie’s beloved park, tearing down Ann’s house in the process (so that’s what that was about — and ouch). And he did both of those things without telling Leslie first. But why did he leave in the first place?

Parks and Recreation - Season 7

Just the day before, the pair had been at each others’ throats, in full view of all their friends and half of Pawnee. (The cruelest line, from Ron: “You’re not that good at scrapbooking!”) Their game of one-upmanship had reached a dizzying low with duel press conferences, each trotting out a “local celebrity” in an effort to secure the Newport land (while pleasing the Gryzzl Vice President of “Cool New Shizz.”) On Leslie’s side, she has discovered the remains of a cabin belonging to ill-fated American president William Henry Harrison, which is not particularly inspiring; in her desperation, she turns to the oddball curator of the “William Henry Harrison Museum,” and a dude named Zach, who is distantly descended from Harrison.

But any public support this might have gained (despite the best efforts of the “Jug or Nots” performing “Tippecanoe & Tyler Too”) is wiped out when the curtain drops, and Gryzzl — and Tom, Donna, and Ron — trots out dancers and flashing lights in lieu of anything of substance. Ron, it turns out, is willing to stoop so low to defeat Leslie that he’ll align with Annabel Porter (of “Bloosh”), a tastemaker who is the antithesis of everything he stands for — and a Pulitzer Prize winner for “Top 10 Listicle” (God help us). Even as much as it pains him to hear her spout her zeitgeist-y word salad (“Let’s binge-watch the future!”) he’ll put up with it if it means beating Leslie out for the Newport bid.

However, “William Henry Harrison” — a solid episode, if somewhat redundant after “2017” — is all prologue for the main event, and the heartbreaking revelations to come. At 3:37 the next morning, emotions fraying, Ron is ready to talk. One piece of the puzzle Leslie had already suspected — she had lured April away, someone who had improbably become one of Ron’s better friends — but she hadn’t considered how increasingly alone Ron had begun to feel. With Leslie having taken April and Gerry, while Tom and Donna both left for the private sector, one day Ron looked up and found he didn’t really know anyone who remained. It had gotten so bad that Ron had even considered the unthinkable — asking Leslie for a federal government job. “Just saying it out loud feels dirty.” (Nick Offerman’s work in this scene is incredible. That he has never been nominated for an Emmy is a crime.)

However, Leslie was so busy that she stood him up for their lunch to talk about it, and he struck out on his own instead. He says it was for the best, as much as he enjoyed his time spent destroying the government from the inside, but Leslie is wrecked, and eager to patch things up between them. So when Ben and the others return the next morning and find them drunk and dancing (while Ron plays sax), Ben is stunned: “This is different than what I expected to find.” Craig, on the other hand, is just angry Ron stretched out his yoga outfit.

The best thing about Parks and Recreation, ultimately, is its sweetness. And this has never been more exemplified by the hour’s final scene, where Ron returns that photo of himself and Leslie (with Lil’ Sebastian, RIP) with a new frame, that he’d made from Ann’s front door, and had been holding for more than a year in case they ever became friends again. I’m sorry — it just got really dusty in here, or something.

Odds and Ends:

  • Two other minor subplots this hour: April’s ongoing search for a new dream job, and Ben’s seven circles of form notarization hell. The latter also allowed us to see how even Ben’s defense of Gerry has its limits, when it comes to arcane notary trivia.
  • Exhibits at the William Henry Harrison Museum: “Other Things Popular for One Month,” cardboard stand-ups of other famous Harrisons, and my personal favorite, the alternate-history “If He’d Worn A Coat” room. The Wire would have swept the Emmys!
  • I’m always happy to have a (final?) cameo from The Reasonablists, Pawnee’s favorite cult. Hail Zorp!
  • “One day, Magnus, I will wear you as a jacket.”
  • Tom’s latest bad idea: Toddler Cologne. “Baby…you smell good.”
  • Things Annabel Porter is into this year: asymmetrical overalls; “beef milk.” Ron’s perfect response: “It’s just f—ing milk.”
  • IN THE YEAR 2017: Elton John has bought Chick-fil-a! Morgan Freeman and Shailene Woodley have a beef! On Game of Thrones, Khaleesi is marrying Jack Sparrow! “God, that series has really gone off the rails.” “It makes sense if you’ve read the books!”

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