Grading the Season Finales: Parks and Recreation

Title Win, Lose, or Draw (4.22)

Written By Michael Schur

Major Characters Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), Donna Meagle (Retta), Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir), Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd), Jennifer Barkley (Kathryn Hahn)

What Happens It’s Election Day in Pawnee, Indiana, the day Leslie Knope and Bobby Newport square off in a showdown for a spot on the city council. As Election Day heads into Election Night, various subplots unfold: Chris getting his groove back after a one-night stand with Jennifer; April and Andy panicking over the deletion of important parks department files; and Jerry fearing that his failure to make it to the voting booth on time could be the deciding factor in the election. At its heart, though, this is an episode about change, and the most important storylines in this finale deal with big changes that loom on the horizon for important members of Leslie’s team.

Change comes to Ben in the form of Jennifer offering him a job on a congressional reelection campaign. The new job requires him to move to Washington, D.C., for six months. At first, Leslie is less than supportive of this plan; she’d hoped they could finally have time to really enjoy being a couple after her campaign was over. Hearing this, Ben tells Leslie that he’ll turn down the offer. Leslie has bigger problems than just Ben, though; the initial election results reveal that Bobby won by a very slim margin. This triggers an automatic recount, and, while waiting for those results, Leslie has a talk with Ron that opens her eyes to the fact that caring about someone means supporting their dreams, just like her friends did for her.

With Ron’s words echoing in her head, Leslie finds Ben and tells him that he should go to Washington, and they’ll make it their relationship work despite the distance between them. As they contemplate what the future has in store for them as a couple, Ann delivers the results of the recount: Leslie Knope is Pawnee’s newest city council member.

After delivering a heartfelt victory speech (Ben reveals to her that he never wrote the concession one), Leslie joins her friends to celebrate the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to serve Pawnee as an elected official. As the victory celebration rages on, Ron declines Chris’s job offer (for the assistant city manager position). Andy, however, might be pursuing a new career path next season, as April encourages him to think about joining the police force. Ann and Tom drunkenly decide to move in together, promising not to take it back when they’re sober. Big changes are coming to Pawnee, indeed…

The Game-Changing Moment It was the moment that this entire season had been building towards: Leslie winning the election. Not only is this a huge moment for her as a character, it’s a game-changer in the most literal of ways in terms of the structure of the show. For four seasons, Leslie’s work life has revolved around the parks department, but now she will also be a city council member, which opens up many new avenues for the writers to explore. Leslie’s victory represents everything that this show is about: rooting for the underdog, the journeys of everyday people, and the belief that there are still fundamentally kind people in the world who deserve for good things to happen to them. Leslie winning was like a reinforcement of all of the positive values that this show espouses, so, while it did fundamentally alter the show, it was a truly natural way to end this season; it felt earned, believable, and true to everything that this show is about.

Finale MVP As is the case with nearly every episode of this show, I could name any member of this cast as the MVP. They were each given good material, and they made that material matter to the audience—from Jerry’s worries over being the deciding vote (or non-vote) to Ron’s honest advice to both Ben and Leslie. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t single out Amy Poehler for her work in this episode. She was laugh-out-loud funny (her boxing session with Ann). She was painfully relatable (laughing because of the absurdity of her dream dying at the hands of Bobby Newport). And she was sweet in her own awkwardly adorable way (Telling Ben, “We’ll do it all over Washington,” when discussing how their relationship will work with him being gone). My favorite of Poehler’s scenes came early in the episode, when her tears in the voting booth showed us how much this election really means to Leslie. It was such an honest moment of believable emotion, and she acted the hell out of it. I’ll admit to getting misty-eyed myself at the shot of Leslie standing next to her picture on the wall of city council members, and it’s all because of Amy Poehler and the way she is able to make me feel for and care about this quirky-but-relatable woman whose dreams are finally coming true.

Most Memorable Line Ron Swanson: “Well, I’ve never been one for meeting new people, or doing new things, or eating new types of food, or traveling outside of southern Indiana. I’ve had the same haircut since 1978, and I’ve driven the same car since 1991. I’ve used the same wooden comb for three decades. I have one bowl. I still get my milk delivered by horse…But you and Leslie like to hold hands and jump off of cliffs together into the great unknown. You two have a good relationship. I don’t personally know what that’s like, but I’m given to understand it means you’re going to land on your feet.”

What Didn’t Work While the April/Andy subplot provided some hilarious material and some good potential for expanding on Andy’s character next season, it felt like a strangely disconnected story for an episode that had such a clear central plot. I enjoyed it as a B plot, but it almost felt like a B plot from a different episode that was brought in to give these two something to do when it would have made more sense to have them with the rest of the cast for this episode.

What Worked I’m trying to find an eloquent way of saying “everything,” but maybe I’ll just leave it at that. Everything worked. This show has carved out its own place in the television landscape by creating a group of characters (and especially a protagonist) who are genuinely good people who care about each other, and I loved how strongly this finale reflected that. I was caught off guard in the best possible way when Ben told Leslie that he never wrote her concession speech; little moments like that had me reaching for my tissues because they were written and played so earnestly and without being over-the-top in their sentiment (the camera lingering on Ben and Leslie’s joined hands before Ann tells Leslie that she won is another such moment, as is Leslie crying in the voting booth).

Leslie’s victory speech was such a truly triumphant scene for all of the characters that we as an audience have come to care about on this show. I loved that the best parts of the speech were shown to be ad-libbed by Leslie because that felt so natural for her as a character. She’s a woman who is always trying to show people how much she cares—about her town, her friends, and her dreams. It felt right that she would need more than just Ben’s words to convey how much she cares about the people that helped her win the election and how much she cares about making Pawnee a better place for its residents. Leslie Knope is one of the most inspiring characters on television right now, and it’s nice to watch a show where a character like this is rewarded in the way that Leslie was in this finale.

The Burning Questions to Keep Us Guessing All Summer Will Ben and Leslie’s relationship strengthen or weaken during his time in Washington? And are Tom and Ann really moving in together?

Finale Grade A. “Win, Lose, or Draw” was touching, funny, well-written, and well-acted. I couldn’t have asked for more from the conclusion to what has been another strong season of Parks and Recreation, and I’m excited to see where all of the characters (especially Leslie and Ben) go from here.

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9 thoughts on “Grading the Season Finales: Parks and Recreation

  1. Honestly, I think this was one of my favorite season finales of all time. I think this is the show that I’m most attached to at the moment and this episode was everything I wanted it to be.

    Amy Poehler really deserves so much credit for making Leslie come to life. In this episode, we felt her pride at being able to vote for her self, her devastation when she lost, and her victory and relief when Ann told her that she won. She makes viewers want to root for Leslie the same way all of Leslie’s friends do in Pawnee.

    I was so glad the elected ended up the way it did. I love Paul Rudd and he and Amy work fantastically together, but I would have been really unhappy if Bobby Newport won. Leslie has a passion for government work and for making Pawnee a better place and I loved seeing that passion rewarded. She achieved one of her professional dreams though hard work, determinism, and a lot of love from her friends, which is just such a fantastic message for a show to send.

    I’m really happy that Leslie told Ben to go to Washington. He would have stayed for her not only because he loves her and wants to make her happy, but also because he loves being in Pawnee with her. He would have been giving up an amazing job, but he would have gotten to stay with Leslie and I can see Ben feeling like that was enough. I love that they both know that their relationship will withstand a 6 month separation and that they both support each other’s dreams. They believe in each other, which is one of the most important qualities in a relationship to me, and seeing their relationship grow over the course of the past couple seasons has been such a rewarding journey.

    On an ending note, April and Andy’s story line was a little out of place and there was a lack of Donna in this episode (though her group hug was adorable). However, I loved how nerdy some of April and Andy’s suggestions on a place to live were. It showcased their dynamic so wonderfully and I like seeing the way they work together to solve a problem.

    • There was something about this finale that just felt so satisfying to me as a viewer and as a fan of Leslie Knope. I loved getting to see her accomplish something that she’s always dreamed of because she worked hard and developed a great support system through being a good person. It’s a message that’s not depicted enough in the media, and it’s one of the things I treasure most about this amazing show.

      I agree with everything you said about Ben and Leslie. I love that they have a relationship of equals; they support each other and allow each other to chase their dreams. There’s nothing that inspires me more in a fictional relationship than the idea of two people being true partners, and that’s what Ben and Leslie have become. They have a real partnership, and I loved seeing Leslie be able to support Ben just as much as he’s been supporting her this season.

  2. I agree with everything, but this is the best quote by far: “Last night at approximately 2:30am, I woke up from a dream that felt so real it had to be a premonition. Me, Drake, and the T-Mobile girl were playing baccarat on a private jet. Ann Perkins walks up to me and says “Tommy, tomorrow night, I’m taking you back”. Then Blue Ivy Carter high-fived me and gave me $40 million dollars. It was all so real.”–Tom

    • You’re finally commenting! I should have known you’d like the Blue Ivy Carter quote the best! That was definitely in the running, but I worried that my love for Tom was blinding me to the value of other quotes.

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