A rather treacly episode featuring April and Leslie in Washington, DC, was followed up by a truly sublime exploration of gender politics in last night’s doubleheader of Parks and Recreation, “Mrs. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington” and “Pie-Mary.” When Parks and Rec gets topical, it can be so perfect, which is why we’ll miss it so dearly in the years to come.
“April, are you super psyched?” is never a good question to ask April Ludgate, even when you’re going on a trip to DC, but such is the nature of working for Leslie Knope. Ben urges April to tell Leslie she wants a new job, but Leslie is so anxious about changing the font on the itinerary that the plan stalls.
Back in Pawnee, the hunt is on for a new job for April. Ron, their first prospective employer, is excited to get April into the private sector. “I’m guessing it’s a business,” says an otherwise-underused Andy during the visit to Ron’s office. “Assassins, hit men, doctors!” But the best part of this visit is… surprise! Ron has a brother, Don Swanson, plus two others who hurry away from the visitors — and they all have his noble and taciturn mien. “Creativity is for people who wear glasses and lie,” says Ron, leading the gang to look elsewhere for April’s employment.
En route to our nation’s fair capitol, Leslie presents April with a five-year plan for her “path through the federal governments,” which stresses April out to no end. Not even Leslie’s “Gov Buds for Life” matching T-shirts can calm her down. In DC, it’s time for a parade of senatorial cameos. A radiant-looking Senator Barbara Boxer likes their ideas, as does Senator Gillibrand. But please: in 2017, we know Boxer will be retired, living it up in California, while Gillibrand will be president of the known world.
“Did anyone ever tell you your tenacity is intimidating?” says Senator McCain, acting like the cranky man he probably really is. The best part of the political detour is Cory Booker and Orrin Hatch, who both listen to Leslie, but are more interested in promoting their Polynesian folk band Across the Isle. April is very excited to attend their jam sesh.
Ben takes the gang to his accounting firm, where they continue to love his puns but are uninterested in April. Meanwhile, April tells Leslie the truth, on their special bench, and sends Leslie, in distress, to her mentor, Madeleine Albright, who reminds her of her own shortcomings: “Sometimes you’re so focused and driven you forget other people’s feelings.” Leslie has also eaten Albright’s waffles and stolen her pin.
Andy is sabotaging April’s prospects at home with an ill-conceived fireworks display, but April and Leslie make it up with a heartfelt speech. “When I started working for you, I was aimless and thought everything was stupid and lame,” says April to Leslie’s back. “You turned me into someone with goals and ambition, which is the only reason I’m thinking about what I really want. I want to say thank you, and I love you.” Just to prove she’s still April, she tacks on a coda about being an evil witch.
Even though Andy has sabotaged April’s accounting future, Leslie knows some people in the do-gooder community service branch of government, which suits April fine. “I want to tell people what to do, and send them far away from me,” she says. Later, she remarks that everyone has been very helpful in her search. “I need to take a shower in pig’s blood to take all the niceness off of me.” Oh April, we’ve got your number, you sap.
The next episode brings Leslie into the spotlight as something a little unfamiliar: the candidate’s wife. “It’s the smarties that freak people out,” says campaign manager Jen Barkley, an always-sublime Kathryn Hahn. “I think you’re underestimating the voters,” says Leslie. The reply: “Hahaha, I don’t think that’s possible.” This exchange is only the beginning of a dead-on satire of women in politics, in which Leslie comes under fire by traditionalists for boycotting the Pie-mary — “Ms. Knope chose to try to have it all; I chose to take care of my family,” says Ben’s rival’s wife.
But when she capitulates and agrees to make a pie, a representative from the Indiana Organization of Women arrives and threatens to boycott Leslie for changing her mind and participating in a “retrogressive and misogynistic” ritual. Just then, Ben enters. “Babe, the oven’s ready. Chop chop, time to get baking. Daddy want pie,” he says as the IOW lady’s jaw drops. At this point I nearly died, but the best was yet to come.
Ben eventually decides to bake the pie himself, hastening the reimagining of gender as a social construct and pies as dessert calzones. In perhaps the timeliest coincidence in a long time, a band of ragged MRAs show up to protest Ben’s pie-making. “We are sick and tired of this feminized society,” they say. “Men have had a very rough go of it for… just recently.”
Ben and Leslie agree to apologize, but at the last minute, Ben can’t. It’s a Coach and Tami moment. “This whole thing makes me queasy,” he says. He points out the double standard, and Leslie, freed to be herself, says the line that will surely echo around the web for days to come: “You’re ridiculous and men’s rights is nothing.”
Score one for Ben and Leslie, who get booed, cheered, and finally honored by the Indiana Organization of Women. Well, at least, Ben does.