NBC’s scheduling has mostly done the final season of Parks and Rec very, very wrong. But there’s something sweet about one of the few, possibly the only, optimistic representations of politics on TV leading into the State of the Union. Particularly these two episodes of Parks and Rec, which see Leslie passionately championing even our most pathetic President—then going head to head with Ron Swanson himself, whose hatred of the federal government is enough to torpedo a decade-long Work Proximity Association.
The first of tonight’s episodes brings Leslie and Ron’s rivalry to a peak, showing both characters at their worst, most vindictive selves. In a last-minute effort to preserve the Newport land, Leslie latches onto the legacy of William Henry Harrison. You know: the guy who was president for thirty-two days before dying of the pneumonia he caught at his own inauguration? The bar for Leslie’s genuine enthusiasm about presidents is not exactly high, but even we can tell she’s not really that impressed with the “If He’d Worn a Coat” room. (Sample alternate-history newspaper headline: “HBO’S ‘THE WIRE’ SWEEPS THE EMMYS.”)
Still, Leslie being Leslie, she commits whole hog, arranging a press conference complete with a giant campaign ball (a toy not even manchild Andy Dwyer finds appealing) and a live performance of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” But in typical Jerry/Larry/Terry fashion, Terry screws it up; while ferrying documents in his new capacity as a notary public, he lets Ron in on Leslie’s plans. Ron, meanwhile, is acting on Jorma Taccone’s “far-out brain tornado” and recruiting local celebrity/”Best Top 10 Listicle” Pulitzer Prize winner Annabel Porter to be the face of Gryzzl’s campaign. She agrees to add Gryzzl to her list of endorsements alongside “angora toothbrushes” and “almond milk that’s been squeezed through little holes in living cows,” appearing at Gryzzl’s competing press conference. The Somebody’s Daughter Dancers serve as backup.
Furious that Ron stole her and Zachary Harrison’s thunder, Leslie confronts Ron, who replies with the nastiest burn since “I won both of ’em”: “You’re not that good at scrapbooking.” Worried the feud is approaching Morgan Freeman/Shailene Woodley levels, Ben, Donna, Tom, and the gang decide to lock Ron and Leslie in the Parks office overnight.
I wasn’t crazy about “William Henry Harrison,” mostly because it (intentionally) showcases Ron and Leslie at their stubbornest. “Leslie and Ron,” on the other hand, is a good ol’ fashioned bottle episode that brings this show’s protagonist and most popular supporting player back to their small but significant common ground. Ron and Leslie don’t just share an awe-inspiring ability to dig in their heels, no matter how many Post-It notes their rival sticks on their person; they’re also people of deep integrity willing to look beyond their superficial disagreements and craft a friendship based on mutual respect.
Thanks to “the most powerful tool known to man: a well-organized chart,” we finally learn what Morningstar is. It’s a giant apartment complex Ron built next to Pawnee Commons on the site of Ann’s old house, ruining the views from Leslie’s most hard-won victory while bulldozing the place where she crafted her first smoky-eye look. After leaving the Parks department without bothering to tell Leslie, it’s no wonder Ron set Leslie off. And to Nick Offerman’s eternal credit, it’s obvious Ron knows it, too, despite his stoic expression. (Though as he pointed out at the time, Morningstar is ironically something of a credit to Leslie’s hard work: “The park you built is nice, and people want to live next to it.”)
After Leslie breaks his silence with a spectacularly awful ad-libbed singalong to “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Ron reveals his side of the story: he only left the Parks department after all his friends left, half of them hired away by Leslie. He doesn’t resent Leslie because she sent him a letter through the USPS, revealing his address to the federal government; he resents her because she accidentally stood him up at his lowest point, when he planned to ask for a job at the federal government. She had to race off to Washington for a Congressional hearing, handing childcare duties off to Ben in an awesomely nonchalant fashion (seriously, one of the best things about this time jump is the way the show depicts Leslie effortlessly having it all), thereby placing “a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence that had already been written.”
Leslie apologizes profusely, and along with Ron’s interview writeup—he hired her because of her willingness to stand up for her beliefs, and also her brownies—Leslie’s partially defused Claymore mine filled with “Congrats, Ron” balloons, and the sight of Ron in Craig’s yoga uniform, it’s enough to heal their broken bond. All that remains is the frame Ron thoughtfully made out of Ann’s front door when he turned the lot into condos, and we’re free to wrap up Parks and Rec with Ron and Leslie together again….but still competing for the same land. Oops.