This post contains spoilers for the Nov. 3 episode of Parks and Recreation.
Three good things happened in this fairly uneven episode of Parks and Recreation: Leslie’s regret at breaking up with Ben surfaced; we got Ron Swanson’s view on the separation of church and state and a constitutional right to privacy; and the Entertainment 720 subplot that has mucked up this season so far is finally, mercifully over.
The cult subplot was extremely over the top it was, but I do appreciate that the cast treated it with the same deadpan calm that they treat everything, with Leslie checking Google calendars for open dates for apocalypse vigils and Ron taking every opportunity he can to advance his side hustles (I’m amazed Chris didn’t bust him for making like Tom and Snake Juice, though). I do generally really like the idea that Pawnee is outwardly this normal town with a deeply bizarre history, where the residents handle even the strangest experiences with absolute aplomb. And Chris’s cheerful approach to the cultists with questions about their text, beginning with “Full disclosure, I think they’re Bonkersville,” was one of the better uses of his perpetual optimism the show’s made this season. Plus, it brought him and Ann closer together, which I’m in favor of. Ann’s love life was diverting last season, but the two of them feel like a bit too much of a typical television couple kept apart by ridiculousness rather than real obstacles.
And speaking of relationships, Leslie’s reaction when Ben tells her they can’t hang out any more was some of the best acting Amy Poehler’s done in this role. I appreciate that the show demonstrates that there’s a cost to these kinds of decisions. “We broke up because of me,” Leslie confesses to Ron mournfully. “But I have to tell you, Ron, if the world was ending tomorrow, I’d want to be with him.” Parks and Recreation may be a romantic comedy, but it’s one that subtly undermines tropes. There is no chance for a big romantic gesture here, because that could ruin Leslie’s campaign and get Ben fired, just people stumbling towards what they want. The prospect of him hooking up with a pretty reporter is perfect not just because said reporter is someone Leslie’s always tried to control, but because if they go forward, it’s almost inevitable that their affair will be revealed. To win this race, Leslie’s going to have to let go not just of romantic possibilities but of the idea that she can behave exactly as she always has. The world is not the Parks Department, no matter how often it seems like Leslie can manage everything.
Finally, there was the end of Tom’s dream and the fulfillment of April and Andy’s. I thought both were quite sweet stories, though substantially unmoored from the plot. For Tom, at least, it was a return to an emotional tempo that makes sense with the rest of the show. It’s hard not to look at Entertainment 720 and be a bit frustrated with Tom. He’s not a stupid guy: Snake Juice may produce the world’s worst hangovers, but it was lethally effective, and he killed Lil’ Sebastian’s memorial service. And it’s too bad that his effort to strike out on his own couldn’t have been a more measured, meaningful transition that would have brought him into Pawnee’s business community, broadening the scope of the show as Leslie prepares to leave the Parks Department. Similarly, I wonder if April and Andy’s bucket list night marks a turning point for two of them, their growth into something approaching an actual adult couple. A lot of tonight’s episode was about the tough parts of being an actual grownup instead of pop culture’s idea of one, and it was nice to have a reminder that along with the difficult decisions, sometimes you get wonder and beauty.