Title Halloween Surprise
Two-Sentence Summary On Halloween in Pawnee, Ron experiences the challenges of dating a single mother when he’s left to take Diane’s daughters trick-or-treating, and Jerry suffers a mild heart attack (or “fart attack”). Meanwhile, Leslie and Ben reach a major turning point in their relationship after he’s offered a new job in Florida heading up a gubernatorial campaign.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. I REPEAT: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Leslie: Oh my God, what are you doing?
Ben: I’m thinking about my future…I’m deeply, ridiculously in love with you. And above everything else I want to be with you forever. So Leslie Knope, will you…
Leslie: Wait. Wait. Okay? I need to remember this. Give me a second.
Ben: Okay…Leslie Knope…
Leslie: No, no no. Hold on. I need another second, please. I need to remember every little thing about how perfect my life is right now at this exact moment.
Ben: Are you good?
Leslie: Yeah I’m good.
Ben: Leslie Knope, will you –
This is the only accurate way to describe how I feel about last night’s episode of Parks and Rec. I’ve watched the ending about eight times in the last 24 hours, and I still cry every single time.
This episode was titled “Halloween Surprise,” and never has an episode title been so perfect. I’ll admit it; I didn’t see Ben’s proposal coming at all. In fact, there was a brief moment where I really thought he was going to take the job in Florida. When Leslie was getting ready to back out of the lease on their house, my sister turned to me and said that she had a feeling Ben was going to show up. I told her, “If he does, I’m going to start crying.” So as soon as he walked in, my eyes got misty.
And the crying only got worse from there.
When Ben got down on one knee, you would have thought it was me getting proposed to and not Leslie. I was muttering “Oh my God” under my breath, smiling like a crazy person, and crying harder than I’ve ever cried over a TV show for happy reasons. I was so happy that I was unspoiled for this episode because so much of the proposal’s beauty came from how much of a surprise it was—both for Leslie and for the audience. I genuinely feel like this is going to be one of those rare TV moments where I remember exactly where I was and how I was feeling when it happened; it made that big of an impression on me.
My favorite thing about Ben and Leslie’s relationship has always been that Ben never forces Leslie to give up any of her dreams—to curb any of her ambitions—to be with him. In fact, it’s Ben who—once again—makes a sacrifice for love because that’s the man he is, not because Leslie demands it of him, either. He loves helping other people make their dreams come true—that’s why he excels at managing political campaigns. But the person whose dreams he most wants to help bring to fruition are Leslie’s. There’s never any resentment or any indication that it’s strange or revolutionary for this male character to sacrifice so much for the woman he loves; it’s just who he is. He’s not at his happiest managing campaigns; he’s at his happiest with Leslie. She’s his future.
And Leslie, my favorite, the woman I relate to most on television—she acted in such a perfectly in-character way during this proposal. Wanting to memorize every single detail of the moment is such a “Leslie” thing to do, and it’s something that I know I’m going to want to do if and when that ever happens for me. Leslie is the kind of woman who loves to celebrate life and love and milestones—and this is the biggest one she’s ever experienced. When she’s telling this story to Ann, she’s going to want to include everything—from the color of Ben’s shoes to the way the light was glinting off of the hardwood floors. It was so relatable and so brilliantly true to who she is as a character for her to take that extra-long pause; memories and moments matter to Leslie, and this moment matters more than anything.
There were so many small details in that scene that proved once again that the team behind Parks and Rec is one of the best on television. The box Ben used for the ring was the same one he used to give Leslie her “Knope 2012” button and the one she used to give him his miniature Washington Monument last season. It represents the leaps of faith they’ve taken together, the dreams they’ve helped each other achieve. The way Adam Scott’s voice wavered and shook throughout the proposal was absolutely perfect, and don’t even get me started on the way his eyes were filled with tears for the whole scene. And then there’s Amy Poehler. Her reaction was the very definition of flawless. It was emotional and moving without being over-the-top. Her tears seemed so genuine (as did the way her voice broke as soon as she saw him get down on one knee). There’s a moment when she looks away from him and exhales that turns me into a weepy mess every time I see it because it’s like she’s trying to control her emotions as they start to overwhelm her, which is such a hard thing to convincingly do as an actor. The intensity of their kiss was so much more than we’ve ever seen from Ben and Leslie, which speaks to the intimate nature of the moment and the almost intrusive feeling I got while watching it. And their little laughs (and Leslie’s holding his lapel) when he finally finished his proposal made the moment so true to them as characters.
There was so much genuine emotion in that scene, and that speaks to the power of Poehler and Scott as actors. The script was fantastic, but what sold me—what still makes me cry each time I watch it—were their reactions. Their voices, their smiles, their tears (both the ones she cried and the ones he tried to hold back)—each moment felt real and so full of love that I think both of these actors deserve Emmy nominations for this scene alone. I’ve never seen a more convincing television proposal, and I’ve watched a lot of TV in my life.
Even without the proposal, this was a great episode—the best of the season so far. I loved seeing Ron so out of his element (and Andy so in his element) with Diane’s daughters, but more than that, I loved Ron genuinely wanting to do what it takes to make this relationship work; it’s a new side to his character, and it’s a really interesting one. I loved Tom’s reaction to Jerry’s heart attack: disgust followed by genuine concern, and I was so happy to see Tom have another business idea (and a good one at that). I loved Ann and Leslie dancing when Leslie leased the house. I loved Donna’s live-tweeting. And I loved everything about the “Ann auction.”
But when this episode is remembered (and remembered fondly), it will be for that proposal scene. It felt earned because we’ve come to care about these characters with a depth and a sincerity that is rare for a TV comedy. We’ve seen them fall in love, we’ve seen them struggle and succeed, and we’ve seen them put the other’s happiness before their own. We want happiness for this couple because they feel real to us, and we feel that they deserve this happiness as much as two characters can deserve it.
Parks and Rec is at its best when it mixes comedy and genuine emotion, and “Halloween Surprise” was a great example of that. I’m deeply, ridiculously in love with these characters and this show in general.
And now I’m off to go watch the proposal again (and search for some more tissues)…