There was a moment early in last night’s Parks and Recreation episode, “Doppelgängers,” that was utterly perfect, though it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely why. It came at the conclusion of the prologue, in which Leslie is explaining to the various Eagelton city employees how their departments will be joined with their Pawnee counterparts—save for the Department of Infinity Pool Design and Department of Dressage, of course, which have no match. And at the conclusion of this straightforward explanation, April announces loudly, via a makeshift paper megaphone, “ATTENTION! EAGLETON IS NOW UNDER MARTIAL LAW!” Most shows would treat that as the joke and hard cut to the credits. But this show throws in Leslie’s quick, insistent, “No…” Amy Poehler’s reading of that one-word line is exactly the right combination of assurance for the Eagletonians and loving but stern scolding of her subordinate, and the timing of her immediate cutaway just makes the moment sing. And it’s not a funny line in and of itself, but this show has long past the point of relying on “funny lines.”
The episode’s primary concern is the merging of the Pawnee and Eagleton Parks departments, and the tough spot Leslie finds herself in by having to choose who will keep their jobs. She is, understandably, leaning towards her own staff (“April, Tom, and Donna are three of the best human beings that have ever lived…”), but Ann has decided to take the opportunity to break the news of her and Chris’s possible move, and if her initial overtures towards the conversation are awkward (“I just need to talk some more words into Leslie’s face…”), she’s wisely come armed with waffles and photos of shirtless Joe Biden on a horse. Both Rashida Jones and Amy Poehler are absolutely at the top of their game in this, one of the season’s best scenes so far; Jones’s nervousness couldn’t be more charming, while Poehler knows this is one instance where there’s no such thing as overplaying, and she lets loose with the crazy eyes and honest-to-God growling.
The secondary plotlines have some real juice too. Ben and Chris’s auditing of the Eagleton books allows them to trot out a very funny good cop/bad cop dynamic, and the writers to work in some more snooty-rich-Eagleton humor (there were six full-time baristas on the city payroll, including one specifically for the team of masseuses); even if their storyline had nothing else to offer, we now know that Ben is a full-on Twin Peaks nerd, which is wonderful in several different ways. (Also great in that scene: the continuing joy of Pawnee’s terribly unhealthy cuisine, prompting this discovery in Chris’s salad: “Cherry tomato! Nope. Gumball”)
And the doppelgängers device actually goes far less predictably than we might’ve anticipated. April’s counterpart, Tennyfer (the excellent June Diane Raphael) is a vapid twit, so April acts like one too, giving Plaza some very funny new beats to play. The match-up of Ron Swanson and Ron Dunn (Sam Elliot, perfection) is a clever bait-and-switch; once we see those sandals, it’s all down the toilet. And the Craig-Donna relationship let us in on Donna’s love for Scandal, which we can only presume she live-tweets. If there was a disappointment here, it was that we didn’t see more of Leslie’s counterpart from last week, Kristen Bell’s Ingrid. Please tell me this was not a one-and-done guest shot.
Ultimately, though, “Doppelgängers” is focused squarely where it should be: on Leslie and Ann, and Leslie’s despair over the potential loss of her best friend. Initially, unsurprisingly, she does not take it well, resorting to broad declarations of the importance of loyalty, and even trying to put said loyalty to paper: “I’m just trying to stop time with legally-binding loyalty contracts, what part of that do you not understand?” But a few wise words from Ron get her thinking the right way, and after a rehearsal session with Evelyn, aka “Fake Ann” (who snorts upon her exit, “That was six hours well spent”), she’s finally ready to sit down and talk with her best friend, providing a nice little bittersweet ending to this very fine episode.