In less than one month, Parks and Recreation will return to our TV screens, and I don’t think I’m alone in my longing for some Pawnee sunshine to come back into my life. So to celebrate the impending return of my favorite television show, let’s go back in time and remember a season premiere before Ben and Leslie were married, before they could even be openly in love, and before Leslie won the city council election.
Even this early on in Ben and Leslie’s relationship, the foundation was there for them to ascend to their current status as the best couple on TV. Ben’s unwavering support of Leslie’s dreams, Leslie’s appreciation for everything he is, and their realistically sweet chemistry were there from the start—or in this case, the end—of their first attempt at a relationship.
This scene is incredibly bittersweet. There’s sadness, but there’s no angst, which is so refreshing and also so beautiful. Your heart breaks for this couple, but there’s just enough warmth and love in this scene to keep that heartbreak from being oppressive.
This is the first moment where I really started to see just how incredible Ben Wyatt is as a character. He’s willing to give up something he wants and has wanted for a long time because he also wants Leslie to be happy—and he knows that running for city council is going to make her happy. Ben fell in love with Leslie for her passion and her drive, and he doesn’t want her to have to sacrifice those things in order to be with him. He respects Leslie’s hard work so much that he doesn’t want anyone else to question whether or not she earned everything she’s been given—because he knows how much she deserves every success she’s ever had. So he’s willing to step back and let the woman he loves chase her dream—because that dream won’t be there forever, but in this scene you can already tell that Ben will be.
Amy Poehler and Adam Scott absolutely kill me in any scene where they get to be soft and gentle and emotionally honest with one another. I love the way Poehler’s eyes have tears in them through so much of this scene because it feels real—the same way Scott’s shaky voice feels real. Those aren’t the kind of overdramatic hysterics that are going to be noticed by most people, but they’re the kind of realistic details that can make a comedy the most emotionally affecting show on television.
This is the first use of the box that has come to mean so much for this couple, and its meaning can be traced back to this scene. The box represents the leaps of faith Ben and Leslie take together and the knowledge that they will always be the other’s biggest supporter. It holds symbols of their dreams: first Leslie’s dream, then Ben’s, and finally their dream of beginning a life together.
While this scene is technically a “breakup scene,” it’s filled with more hope and love than most “love scenes” on TV today. It’s a scene about the sacrifices we make for love and for our own dreams. It’s a scene about the reality of love not always being enough to conquer all (at least not right away). And it’s a scene about a woman who makes campaign speeches in her sleep and a man who looks at her like those speeches are the most perfect things he’s ever heard in his life.
Like the opening line to Leslie’s speech, this scene is simple—but I like it.