Title William Henry Harrison/Leslie and Ron
Two-Sentence Summary As Ron and Leslie’s feud continues to escalate, their friends realize they have to take drastic measures, locking them in the Parks Department office overnight. As they realize there’s nothing to do but talk about their feelings, both Leslie and Ron discuss the events that led to the dissolution of their friendship, including the Morningstar incident.
Ron: Why does anybody in the world ever eat anything other than breakfast food?
Leslie: People are idiots, Ron.
My Thoughts I think most fans of Parks and Recreation expected to cry more than once during this final run of episodes. However, I’m not sure anyone expected the deluge of tears to start as soon as the season’s fourth episode. But there I was, sitting on my couch on Tuesday night, sobbing into my sweatshirt sleeve as Leslie and Ron bonded over breakfast food once again. And I know I wasn’t the only one moved to tears in that moment.
It takes something really special to unite people on the Internet in a positive way, but “Leslie and Ron” was something really special. I’ve never before seen the kind of unanimous love for and emotional response to an episode of television that I’ve seen with this one. “Leslie and Ron” was an instant Parks and Rec classic, and it was the best single episode of television I’ve seen so far this TV season. It was a brave episode for many reasons but especially because it wore its heart so openly on its sleeve, and, as such, it represented the very best of what makes Parks and Rec such a treasure.
“Leslie and Ron” wasn’t the only episode of Parks and Rec to air this week, though. “William Henry Harrison” was a standard episode of the show—fun and smart and filled with more than a few moments of Leslie (and Ron) acting ridiculously stubborn in a way that some find hilarious and others find off-putting. There were some strong individual moments in that half-hour, including the return of Pawnee’s favorite tastemaker Annabel Porter, a classic Ben Wyatt breakdown (where we found out that he’s now a ghost going through notary purgatory), and a lot of great humor at the expense of the titular U.S. president. (I especially loved the museum tour featuring evidence that The Wire would have swept the Emmys had Harrison worn a coat to his inauguration.) I also found myself once again really connecting with April’s quest to find a fulfilling career and enjoying Andy’s show of support for his wife. It never ceases to amaze me that most TV shows still shy away from depicting happy marriages, while Parks and Rec has never been afraid of showing a variety of stable, loving married couples.
Ultimately, “William Henry Harrison” was a setup episode. It was meant to further deepen the divide between Leslie and Ron that was set up in last week’s season premiere in order to get them to be place they needed to be for “Leslie and Ron” to resonate as strongly as it did. It served its purpose well—to escalate their feud to the point where their friends couldn’t ignore it anymore and we felt they were justified in taking extreme actions to get them to talk to each other.
This was another place where the decision to play episodes back-to-back paid off. On its own, “William Henry Harrison” would have seemed an adequate but underwhelming episode of Parks and Rec. However, it played so much better as an immediate prelude to “Leslie and Ron.” Also, by playing the first four episodes in the span of only two weeks, Leslie and Ron’s conflict never felt like it was dragging the show down. What many (myself included) worried would last for a long time was resolved much more quickly than I think anyone was expecting—and in spectacular fashion. We all knew Leslie and Ron would end the show as friends, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for the beautiful way this show would get them back to that place.
I thought it was an incredibly smart decision to devote the entirety of “Leslie and Ron” to these characters and their relationship—no B-plot, no supporting characters (except to bookend the episode and in the flashbacks). Leslie and Ron are the foundation that Parks and Rec was built on, and this episode was a beautiful final-season love letter to that foundational dynamic. Not all bottle episodes work, but this one felt like a great, two-person play that allowed Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler to demonstrate the full range of their abilities as actors. Each was hilarious, heartbreaking, and honest in the ways only actors who’ve been with their characters as long as they have can be.
There was something really lovely about the way “Leslie and Ron” built from the predictable to the unexpected. The first scenes, with Leslie trying anything and everything to get Ron to talk about his feelings were a lot of fun. I know that I will be watching Leslie’s version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” whenever I need a laugh for the foreseeable future. I also thought the callback to Ron’s landmine was brilliant. Of course he would want to use that to escape having to talk to Leslie about anything remotely emotional. And of course Leslie gave him a landmine that exploded into pieces of confetti and balloons.
The comedic bits sprinkled throughout “Leslie and Ron” provided some levity in an otherwise incredibly emotional episode. And all of those emotions started with the revelation of what “Morningstar” was (something I also thought we were going to have to wait a lot longer to see). I knew whatever it was had to be something hugely important to Leslie in order to cause her to walk away from a friendship, but even I wasn’t expecting it to all come back to Pawnee Commons and, ultimately, to Ann.
It makes so much sense, though, that Leslie would see ultimate betrayal as the physical destruction of a place that represents all she holds dear—friendship, memories, and love. Poehler broke my heart when Leslie talked about all the things that happened in Ann’s house because she played that moment with such unforced nostalgia and honest grief. We don’t just grieve for people—we grieve for places and moments and memories we feel are lost to us. And that’s how Leslie felt about Ann’s house. What could have been played with typical Knope overreaction was instead played with realism, and that made it a thousand times more effective.
But for as emotional as it was to see Leslie so upset about Morningstar and what it represented, nothing was more poignant than Ron’s story in this episode. As “Leslie and Ron” went on, I kept wondering what made Ron leave his job in the Parks Department. I thought it was something as simple as him missing Leslie or April, but the reality was so much more complex. Yes, he admitted that he was sad when Leslie took April to work for her (a wonderful moment of vulnerability by Offerman), but Ron’s real sense of loss and disappointment could only be understood by knowing his character as well as we’ve come to know him over the last seven seasons.
Ron Swanson hates change, but he ended up changing and growing a lot thanks to the people around him in the Parks Department. He let himself get closer to them, he shared things about himself with them, and he opened his heart to them in a way he’s probably never done before. But one day it hit him that these people—his friends—were gone, moving on with their lives while he was still where he always was. Ron—one of television’s most beloved loners—missed his friends. The people he’d tried not to care about had ultimately become so important to him that he was willing to do the unthinkable: ask Leslie for a job with the federal government.
For that confession to resonate, Ron had to be developed well enough from the start of the series that we knew how huge that decision was and Offerman had to deliver that confession with enough gravitas to convey its importance. Asking Leslie for a job was Ron’s way of choosing his friends over his political beliefs. It was nothing short of Ron completely redefining himself and his priorities because his friends were more important than his hatred of the federal government, and that decision only carried the weight it did because Ron has been such a well-written character since the earliest days of the show.
Offerman played Ron’s confession with such surprising vulnerability, and Poehler was there for him every step of the way as a scene partner. The way she played Leslie’s dawning realization of what Ron had once wanted to ask her was heartbreaking. To add to that sense of heartbreak, we saw in the flashbacks that Leslie stood Ron up for their lunch, effectively choosing work over a friend for one of the first times (if not the first time) in the years we’ve known this character. Leslie standing Ron up further proved to him that things had changed, and he needed a change, too. Ron was the one who got left behind while everything around him changed, so him taking a new job and cutting himself off from Leslie was his way to deal with that change by asserting his own agency.
The revelations behind what happened to Leslie and Ron’s friendship were some of the most moving, honest, and heartfelt pieces of television this show has ever produced. I loved that neither was the “bad guy;” they were both at fault, and there were some things that happened that neither could truly be blamed for. It’s a brave move to have a conflict between characters on a sitcom that doesn’t ask the audience to choose sides and instead makes us feel deeply for both parties. But Parks and Rec has always been brave when it comes its characters and their relationships.
What followed that beautiful scene between Leslie and Ron was an equally beautiful montage of them restoring the Parks Department to its former glory—complete with Ron’s beloved breakfast poster. As Willie Nelson’s “Buddy” played, we watched a lot of things go back to how they were—even if we knew the clock wasn’t really turning back. The office might look like it once did, but new people will be sitting in those desks. And Ron and Leslie might be friends again, but they’re still on opposite sides of the fight for the Newport land.
In the end, though, order was restored in the only place that really mattered—Leslie and Ron’s friendship. To devote precious minutes of a 30-minute show to a montage about friendship is no small thing, but friendship has never been a small thing on Parks and Rec. It’s the very soul of the show. The outcome of the Newport land battle will ultimately matter so much less than the outcome of this episode, because if “Leslie and Ron” proved anything, it’s that friendship is more important that politics or business.
In true Parks and Rec fashion, “Leslie and Ron” ended with two things: a perfect gift and the promise of breakfast food. Ron giving Leslie a frame made from the front door of Ann’s house was so beautiful it’s still making me emotional to think about. The fact that he kept the gift in case they ever became friends again showed that Leslie’s optimism has officially rubbed off on him. With a picture of Leslie and Ron inside it, that frame is a testament to the two most important friendships in Leslie’s life. And the fact that this episode was devoted in its entirety to the restoration of Leslie and Ron’s relationship is a testament to the importance of friendship on Parks and Rec.
I’ll end this post with what I said through my tears right after “Leslie and Ron” aired: I don’t want this show to end. But if it has to end, I’m so glad it’s going out in a blaze of glory.