This post contains spoilers through the January 12 episode of Parks and Recreation.
If there’s been a theme to this season of Parks and Recreation, it’s accepting who you are, and all the gifts and limitations that come with that state. It’s a theme that was fully on display tonight in a somewhat subdued return for the show, as Leslie tries to figure out how to run a campaign, Ben tries to figure out life after Pawnee government, and Local Hero Pistol Pete comes to terms with his Roman Catholic childhood as the son of a single father.
After the loss of her campaign team, Leslie’s trying to convince them — and herself — that her staff represents an ass-kicking All Star team, even though it consists of a man who lines his shoes with red carpet, a man who thinks he can drive trucks (rented, hilariously, from a firm called Sissman), a campaign manager who Googlesources her wardrobe, and Andy, who rushes into Leslie’s confrontation to tell her, “Leslie, I tried to make ramen in the coffeemaker and I broke…everything.” It turns out that may be what happens when you try to turn a local election into an extravaganza. Leslie’s planned relaunch ends with a too-short red carpet, a stage out of Ron’s workshop, and a group effort to get a three-legged dog across a vast expanse of ice that was supposed to be a basketball court. The moment when Leslie admits to the increasingly disconcerted crowd (pulled together by Jerry, getting a rare, and though mixed, welcome, win), “This is the worst political event ever in history” was the best part of the event. But whether she realizes that simply being Leslie Knope — someone whose accomplishments with the parks pulled Pistol Pete out of a self-imposed exile from pubic attention and the memories of a tough childhood — is enough remains an open question.
The two people who did have come-to-Jesus moments about themselves in this episode, Ben and Anne, ended up switching jobs. Leslie roped Anne into running her campaign with a typical dose of hyperbole, telling her “Anne, you beautiful tropical fish. you’re smart as a whip and you’re cool under pressure. You’ve resuscitated a human heart in your bare hands…You haven’t? You will. You’re that good of a nurse.” And if anything, this episode proved that Anne’s a really good nurse. She listens to Pistol Pete, and figures out why he’s reluctant to take on his mantle of glory. “Right now he’s curled up in the back seat of my car,” she explains to Leslie. “Who sounds like a piece of work. But I think maybe he did the best he could as a single father. I don’t know. I might be too close to the situation.”
Then there’s Ben, who’s trying to fill post-political life with plans to revolutionize Italian cuisine with “The Low Cal Calzone Zone” and claymation projects. When he sees the latter, he’s shattered. “In my head I compared it to Avatar, Chris!” he wails. “And how could it not be longer?” I think it’s a little cheap to have Leslie keep resolving the issues with Ben and her campaign by saying things like, “I don’t care if you’re poison to my campaign. This team has a lot of heart and zero knowhow.” But if she’s going to win this thing on evidence of her hypercompetence, she’s sure setting up a lot of things that she can tell voters don’t matter because she’s so good at her job.