Title Donna and Joe
Two-Sentence Summary Donna’s wedding brings the Meagle family to Pawnee, and April is tasked with keeping the drama to a minimum. Meanwhile, Jen Barkley returns to convince Ben to run for the House of Representatives.
Ben: You have never been neutral on anything in your life. You have an opinion on pockets!
Leslie: Yes! I think they should all be bigger!
My Thoughts No show does weddings like Parks and Recreation. After the excellent way this show handled April and Andy, Leslie and Ben, and Ron and Diane getting married, I had high hopes for Donna’s wedding. And, like everything that’s happened so far during this fantastic final season, Parks and Rec managed to create something even better than I could have hoped to see. “Donna and Joe” fits in beautifully with both the tradition of great Parks and Rec weddings and the tradition of great Parks and Rec episodes that feature a pair of names in the title (“Leslie and Ben,” “Ann and Chris,” both “Ron and Tammy” and “Ron and Tammys,” “Leslie and Ron,” …).
We’ve spent a lot of time here at NGN discussing the surprising benefits of airing these final Parks and Rec episodes in back-to-back pairs. However, “Donna and Joe” deserved to stand alone. It contained plenty of big moments for a variety of characters, and I am happy that those moments will get a full week’s worth of attention on their own instead of being followed immediately by another episode.
When talking about big moments in “Donna and Joe,” you have to start with the wedding of its title characters. Each Parks and Rec wedding has reflected the characters getting married so well, which kept them from feeling like the same wedding episode repeated four times. The three weddings that took place before this one were all spontaneous, so it was cool to see what a planned Parks and Rec wedding looked like. It was relatively traditional—rehearsal dinner the night before, church wedding, gorgeous white dress, big reception—with a classy touch befitting Donna Meagle. And while we still know next to nothing about Joe, I actually found myself getting a little emotional at their vows. The shots of all of the characters smiling at their friend’s happiness summed up everything that’s right about this show.
Maybe I’m just being sappy because I—like Ron Swanson—love weddings. Ron’s love for weddings made Diane’s absence very obvious (Did she stay home with their son?), but I didn’t spend too much time speculating about where she was because Ron’s storyline gave him plenty to do without her. It was a fun change of pace to see Ron talking about other people’s feelings (even if it did seem like a huge leap for his character), and it was even more fun to see it come back to bite him—and Tom. It reminded me in a wonderful way of Captain Holt digging himself deeper into a hole each time he talked to Terry’s wife in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Season One episode “The Bet.”
I think we all knew, though, that Ron and Tom would find a way to fix things with Lucy. I want all of these characters to end the series on a happy note, and I like that Tom seems to be heading that direction with Lucy. She brings his sincerity to the forefront while still appreciating the swagger that makes him who he is, and I think that’s what we’ve seen in the little glimpses of Donna and Joe’s relationship we’ve been given, too.
Another supporting character also got an incredibly happy moment in “Donna and Joe,” and that was Jerry. (Or should I now say Garry?) It’s been well-documented that the only thing about Parks and Rec that I’ve never been able to warm up to is the constant name-changing for this character. But leave it to this show to make the payoff for all of those name changes resonate in such a surprisingly sweet way.
The name-switching bugged me for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it reflected the mean-spirited behavior towards this genuinely nice character. So to see his joy over finally being called his real name actually made me cry. (I’m not kidding when I say I’m not emotionally stable enough to handle this final season.) To have it be Donna who gave him such a huge gift and show of respect and friendship was perfect. Those two characters grew from the background to such crucial parts of the ensemble together, and I thought it was such a fitting tribute to the workplace relationship we watched them cultivate over seven seasons.
“Donna and Joe” was an episode that celebrated Donna for who she is—a woman who is as real as it gets in her dealings with people, so when she shows you she cares about you (like she did with Garry’s place card), you know she means it. That part of her character was on full display in her speeches to her bridesmaids. I thought it was hilarious that she—like so many brides—included the token childhood friend in her bridal party and was brutally honest about the state of their relationship. And that fantastic bit of comedy was balanced by the genuine love she had for her other two bridesmaids: April and Leslie. (Side note: This was the first episode this season where I was actually bothered by Ann and Chris’s absence, mainly because I always loved Ann and Donna’s friendship.) And leave it to Leslie to start crying and wanting to hug everyone. In an episode filled with surprises and changes, it’s good to know you can always count on Knope tears whenever someone is sharing their feelings.
Donna’s wedding also allowed us to meet the rest of the Meagle family beyond just Cousin Ginuwine. (Who was once again used perfectly.) Casting Questlove as Donna’s brother LeVondrious was a stroke of genius, and I loved the way Andy introduced him (as if it were a soap opera or episode of Jerry Springer). Putting April in charge of the dramatic Meagle family was perfect; of course she would be the only one tough enough to make Ginuwine cry (to the point where he needed a hug from Andy). It seemed to be another step on the way to figuring out her career path, but I’m not sure “Meagle family wrangler” is a real job—even if it should be. I still can’t figure out exactly what April is going to do in terms of her career (Or could she end up deciding she wants to have a baby?), but watching it all play out has given Aubrey Plaza some really great material in this final season.
Career changes are on the horizon for more characters than just April this season. While there were many surprises in “Donna and Joe,” such as LeVondrious’s appearance and Jerry becoming Garry, no surprise was bigger than Ben deciding to run for Congress. I loved everything about this storyline. First and foremost, it brought back Kathryn Hahn as Jen Barkley. Her line delivery is so fantastic as she says such horrible things that I find myself leaning in toward the TV so I don’t miss any of her scathing comments or shockingly sound advice.
It was such a smart bit of storytelling to have Ben be the congressional candidate in the family instead of Leslie. To make Leslie the candidate would have felt like a retread of Season Four, and we already know that Leslie fares better as a government worker than as a politician. Leslie ventured into that world, and it wasn’t for her. But Ben thrived during his time managing campaigns in Washington. And running for office would give Ben the chance to finally face his Ice Town demons directly, giving his character a great sense of full-circle closure in the way Leslie’s quest to bring a national park to Pawnee is wrapping up her story in a very fitting way.
Ben’s storyline was a source of a lot of the humor in this episode. Drunk Ben and Leslie were perfect; his toast (“You’re my sexy roommate!”) was only topped by his dance moves. Adam Scott has turned “drunk Ben” (or “high on morphine Ben”) into an art form at this point in the show’s run. And of course, Ben figured out that “in vino veritas” is a saying for a reason. The truth was Ben wanted to run for Congress, and Leslie wanted him to run. The only thing standing in their way was a sense of fear that it would be too much for them to handle, which reminded me in no small way of their worries about Ben taking the job in Washington at the end of Season Four.
And just like in Season Four’s finale, they decided to hold hands and jump off into the great unknown together. Yes, their lives are insane. (We got a closer look at the insanity in this episode with the introduction of Rachel Dratch as their hilariously harried nanny, Roz.) Yes, it will take a lot of sacrifice and effort to make it all work. But when have Leslie and Ben ever been afraid of working hard for things that matter to them or to the people they love?
I love that the series seems poised to end with Leslie supporting her husband as he runs for office. Ben was there every step of the way as Leslie chased her political dreams, and I’m excited to see her stand beside him in the same way. Theirs is probably the healthiest and most balanced relationship in the mainstream media and has been for years. It’s a relationship based in mutual respect and support of the other’s goals and dreams. And it’s a relationship strong enough to give them a sense of stability as they chase new adventures.
I’d vote for Ben, especially after what I took to be his little nod to The American President: “My name is Ben Wyatt, and I’m running for Congress.” I never thought about him running for office before this episode, and now it seems like the most natural thing in the world. It was the most pleasant surprise in an episode full of pleasant surprises, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out—even if part of me can wait, because it means this fantastic show is getting even closer to finishing its victory lap.