PARKS AND RECREATION: “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington” / “Pie-Mary”

April finds her purpose, Ben scores a victory, and Ron solves a puzzle.

Creativity is for people with glasses who like to lie.

–Ron

Last week (a week I took off–sorry about that), brought us an endlessly pleasurable distillation of everything we love about Parks: another successful and touching wedding, this time between Donna and her man, with all of her friends surrounding her and giving her exactly what she needs (including guest appearances from her “cousin,” Ginuwine, and a microwave-hurling Questlove!) But the biggest revelation came in the rare Leslie & Ben B-story, as Hurricane Jen Barkley crashed into their home and essentially told Ben he was going to run for Congress — she even already had an ad! And by the end of the episode, Ben was on board, outlining his qualifications to a gaggle of reporters while holding a pair of stuffed zebras. It was cute.

My favorite thing about this “twist” is that Leslie is right — she’s incredibly happy with the National Park Service, and has been put through the electoral wringer once before. But Ben, with the specter of Ice Town still lucking over his shoulder, really needs the redemption, and it sets us up for a tear-jerking finale where the Knope-Wyatts leave their friends, and Pawnee, behind for new lives in Washington, D.C.

But hey — guess who else is moving to D.C? April and Andy, as the former has finally figured out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. To Leslie’s initial horror, it’s not politics — Leslie had made not one but two “5 Year Plan” binders that April was forced to accept, along with matching “Gov Buds For Life” t-shirts, and she storms away from “their bench” angry and hurt. The pair had gone to our nation’s capitol in an effort to drum up more funding for the NPS, leading to another parade of humorous Beltway cameos: Senator Barbara Boxer! John McCain! Kirsten Gillibrand! Senators Cory Booker & Orrin Hatch, who see eye-to-eye on two things: national parks, and Polynesian folk music! And, most importantly, Madeleine Albright, who gives Leslie some much-needed advice in how to deal with her friend’s change in careers. Eventually Leslie comes around, and takes on the case herself.

Back in Pawnee, Andy is on the same mission, and has enlisted the rest of the gang for help. The first stop is Ron’s building company, which, it doesn’t take long to see, wouldn’t be a good fit — even working with Ron, Don(!), Lon(!!), and Bob(!!!) Swanson. (Seriously, what a fun reveal — though Ron only admits to being related to one of them, as the others shuffle away quickly.) So, updated resumes and recommendation letters in tow — Craig does not compare people to Mary J. Blige lightly — the group heads back to the accounting firm of put-upon Barney. There’s a consulting position on the table, and Barney is willing to give April a shot even after Andy surprises him at his car with fireworks (a bonehead move, even for Andy). It seems to have everything April wants — creative problem solving, and no need to have people like her — but is it really right for her?

April, for all her dark fantasies and eye-rolling, is deeply loved by her friends, and it’s been rewarding to watch her slowly return that love over the past few seasons. This episode, seen through her eyes, is a glimpse of how maddening — and wonderful — it would be to have someone as tenacious as Leslie on her team. When they patch things up on the banks of the Potomac, April gives her a genuine hug, and genuine words: “I love you very much…which is why I’ve decided not to turn you into a sea urchin.” Leslie then takes her to the American Service Foundation, which matches candidates with job openings in public service. But after her meeting, April discovers the job she really wants…is with the American Service Foundation! “It’s everything I want — tell people what to do, and send them away from me!” Now, someone just has to break the news to Barney.

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The second half hour returns the focus to the fledgling Wyatt campaign; Leslie may be getting promoted to Deputy Director of Operations at the Department of the Interior — a mouthful of a title that, to Leslie’s delight, includes a confirmation hearing — but she right now has to recede into the background and play “the candidate’s wife.” As Jen Barkley notes, people are threatened by wives that seem “too smart.” Leslie thinks she’s not not giving the voters enough credit (which prompts violent laughter from Jen), but even Ben admits that they might have to play the game.

First on the docket is one of Pawnee’s sacred traditions: the “Pie-mary,” where the candidates’ wives have a charity bake-off. Leslie is at first planning to skip this outdated and misogynistic event, until, once again, the citizens turn on her in increasingly ludicrous ways: reporter Mike Patterson (Seth Morris) ambushes her, accusing her of “hating her family,” the uptight Langmans (of course) smell blood, and even the all-too-real Men’s Rights Movement materializes out of thin air: “Men have had a very rough go of it for just recently,” claims their leader, Kipp Bunthart. “Male and proud!”

The MRA, to be sure, is a ripe target for satire — I just wish we didn’t have to keep treading the same ground of everyone in Pawnee irrationally hating whatever Leslie stands for in a given week (well, not everyone — Brandi Maxxx is still here for you, Leslie!) Even with the Indiana Organization of Women (bestowers of the coveted “Woman of the Year” award) breathing down their necks for considering attending the Pie-mary, Leslie and Ben decide to participate…with a twist. After all, isn’t a pie just a dessert calzone? Put on the hit single “Highway to the Calzone Zone” — Ben is all over this.

Elsewhere, April tells Ron about her plans to move to D.C., and he asks simply that she return the spare key to his home that he gave her for safekeeping eight years ago. The problem is, April has no idea where she left it, save a cryptic clue that nevertheless fills Ron with glee: it’s an impossible puzzle! A scavenger hunt! Ron’s infectious enthusiasm sucks April and Andy into his wake, as their quest takes them through the bowels of City Hall, and ultimately to a lone oak tree, where April had originally buried the key. “It reminded me of you: it’s strong and quiet, and always here when you need it,” she says to Ron. April and Ron have always been kindred spirits, and his words of gratitude for all she’s done for him were truly touching. (As for the key itself, it’s been useless for years, as Ron routinely changes his locks. Heh.)

In the C-story, Gerry (yes, he is at last known as Gerry, thanks to some Donna magic at her wedding) has dropped his keys and his wedding ring down a grate, and Donna sticks around to offer moral support.  Compared to Ludgate and Swanson, these two couldn’t be more different, but they have a mutual respect and trust — and Gerry’s latest “bozo” move (the dreaded B-word in the Gergich home) gives them a chance to reminisce over Chinese takeout. It’s an almost throwaway plot, sure, but it’s sweet.

Finally, Ben’s calzone gambit goes down in flames when the Men’s Rights group interrupts the event (“Can we have one conversation about feminism in which men are in charge?”), and the ensuing backlash is so strong that Leslie feels she has no choice but to make a half-hearted apology. But Ben interrupts that, too, instead offering her an open platform to speak her mind, and earnestly skewer the sexist double standards that exist for women like her (indeed, why is it only the women who have to get asked where their kids are?) It’s delicious, and 100% right, and actually earns a 50-50 mix of boos and cheers, which Leslie and Ben are happy to settle for. It even earns them the support of the IOW, who bestow award “Woman of the Year,” which Leslie has been trying to win for years, to…Ben. “Son of a b—-,” Leslie mutters.

Odds and Ends:

  • Ben had been trying to keep April’s plan from Leslie a secret: every time April’s name came up at home, he’d “talk about the Twin Peaks reboot until Leslie got bored.”
  • The only thing better than Ben’s constant punnery at the accounting firm (“It’s actuar-ily very good to see you guys!”) was Ron’s increasingly strained efforts to not snap and murder them all.
  • As Jen Barkley, Kathryn Hahn is the absolute best. Her fear and revulsion of the Knope-Wyatt kids is a terrific running gag, as are her constant proclamations about how great her life is (“I have to get back to a CITY! Where THINGS happen!”) Her return as a recurring character is one of my favorite things about this final season.
  • More familiar faces that popped up in “Pie-Mary”: the scoundrels of the Animal Control Squad, who have definitely not been squatting in the City Hall basement, and Councilman Milton, who is using the old shoeshine stand in his office and is definitely not still a racist.
  • Mike Patterson’s Show: No, YOU’RE Wrong! With Mike Patterson.
  • IN THE YEAR 2017…All of those senators are still in office, which is not remotely shocking. They’re senators.

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