It’s the second week of back-to-back Parks and Recreation episodes, and while nothing glaringly new happens in the life of Leslie Knope, times they are a-changin’. “Fluoride” is all about coping with the harsh realities of Leslie’s prematurely ending term, upcoming long distance best-friendship, and continuing struggle to get stuff done. It’s an uncomfortable and confusing process, but, as always, everything works out in the end.
While Leslie will be out of office in a month with no backup plan, Tom’s also going through his own personal crisis. After selling Rent-A-Swag, he feels like his business skills are wasted in the Parks Department. However, they each gain some clarity when they successfully convince Pawnee to adopt water with fluoride in it. Tom rebrands it as #tdazzle (“It’s not a chemical, it’s an aquatic-based social media oral experience”) and, later, H2Flow. He shines during these flashy, but quintessentially Haverford, business presentations, which do double duty in helping Leslie best Councilman Jamm.
While Leslie is no longer depressed, she’s still coping with the impending early end to her term. She speaks out against Sweetums, which gets Ben fired, but her moral struggle over publicly apologizing to get his job back shows how much her life has changed in the last few seasons. She’s more likely to say how she feels, politics be damned, but she’s also aware that her actions now have consequences for Ben, too. It’s a good sign that she won’t revert back to Depressed Leslie, but it will be interesting to see how she copes with being between jobs and in an Ann-less Pawnee. She’s managed for two episodes, but it’s a friendship void that no amount of waffles could ever fill.
Meanwhile, the secondary plots are pretty innocuous. While Ron tries to teach Chris how to build his own crib, the rest of the Parks Department tries to determine everyone’s spirit dogs. It’s a pretty minor aside, though notably hilarious, but it’s also fun to see how the new Eagleton employees are interacting with the old guard. Overly emotional Craig is a caricature who may gain little to no depth, but all his feelings work so well. Probably because, without Chris, the Pawnee government is going to need some straight-up oblivious earnestness. There’s reason not to (entirely) despair the exit of Chris and Ann.
While “Fluoride” included subplots featuring relationships between characters who never quite clicked, “The Cones of Dunshire” brings back some comforting and familiar pairings. Watching Donna and Tom team up to show off and sell Ron’s cabin as Ron and April simultaneously sit outside, deadpan, and mess with circa-2008 hipsters ejaculating over Dave Eggers, is a treat. I can never fault the pair that invented the infinitely meme-able Treat Yo Self Day. And it’s also easy to get nostalgic for the old “Ron as April’s pseudo dad” dynamic.
Ben is also at his best with his cadre of accounting geeks, after finally taking the accounting job he’s been turning down for years. The office scenes are adorably nerdy, like when his coworkers throw him a surprise pizza party and — oh wait! — it’s actually a calzone party and he’s unnecessarily giddy. When Ben nerds out about Twin Peaks or his game, The Cones of Dunshire, it shows a geeky passion that rivals Leslie’s, and makes their relationship ever-endearing
Of course, Leslie is the only one out of her element. In the process of trying to curry Councilman Jamm’s favor in order to lock in funding for the Pawnee Commons, she goes over to his house with Chris acting as the referee. And stuff gets weird.
Beyond his normal assholery, we get a peek into Jamm’s home life, which includes an obsession with “Asian culture” (i.e., wearing a silk kimono to answer the door, covering his walls in pictures of a Photoshopped Michelle Wie in a bikini, and calling edamame “Tokyo beans”) that explains a lot about Councilman Jamm as a person. It’s not entirely clear why he lets Leslie and Chris hang out with him for the weekend, because he seems to genuinely enjoy singing karaoke with Leslie, and not just as a means to torture her.
As the last episode of 2013, “The Cones of Dunshire” isn’t an unsatisfying ending. It’s just as well that the writers didn’t milk the “will Leslie and Ben be unemployed forever?” card for longer. Ben conveniently loses his job while Chris is conveniently leaving, so Ben conveniently replaces Chris! Parks doesn’t need to leave us with a big cliffhanger when we’re riding on the coattails of a sweet, wrapped-up ending. It’s a bit too clean, but it makes sense. Leslie and Ben are destined to find their way back to the Pawnee local government. I don’t know if they, or the show, could function any other way.