Title Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington/Pie-Mary
Two-Sentence Summary While on a trip to Washington, Leslie and April both find themselves facing new career opportunities. After returning to Pawnee, April and Ron embark on a scavenger hunt to find his house key, and Ben and Leslie struggle with how to handle the sexism inherent in political campaigns.
Favorite Line “The Male Men? Where are you? You’re ridiculous, and men’s rights is nothing.” (Leslie)
My Thoughts Sometimes Parks and Recreation is an idealistic, feel-good show. Other times, it’s a satirical force to be reckoned with. And on very rare, very wonderful occasions, it’s able to be both at the same time. My all-time favorite Parks and Rec episode, “The Debate,” is one of those rare episodes that was able to walk the line between satire and sincere emotion perfectly. And the second episode of this week’s double-header, “Pie-Mary,” is another.
The one-two punch of “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington” and “Pie-Mary” had something for everyone—unless you only like Tom Haverford, and then you were probably disappointed because Aziz Ansari was absent from this hour of the show. (For as much as I love Tom, I actually didn’t notice his absence until reading some things about these episodes this morning.) All of the things that make Parks and Rec special had a moment in the spotlight: character growth and relationship development for all of its characters, supportive female friendships and male/female friendships, great guest stars, recurring characters stopping by for some fun, emotional beats, big laughs, smart social and political commentary, plenty of hugs, and more feminism on display in one half-hour than most shows are brave enough to show in entire seasons.
This pair of episodes had great moments for the whole ensemble. A personal favorite of mine was the subplot in “Pie-Mary” that had Garry and Donna taking a little trip down memory lane together. There was such genuine warmth between Jim O’Heir and Retta in those scenes. They built on the kindness Donna showed Garry at her wedding last week in such a natural way, and it was lovely to see this relationship—which was so often in the background—get its time to shine before all is said and done.
While this hour had plenty of strong ensemble moments, it really belonged to two women: April and Leslie. The first episode was centered around their relationship and April’s growth in particular, and the second episode featured both of them as focal points of the episodes A and B-plots. I know we still have a few episodes left, but I feel like these two could very well be Aubrey Plaza and Amy Poehler’s 2015 Emmy submission episodes, respectively.
“Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington” made great use of its connected A and B-plots. Watching everyone back in Pawnee work so hard to help find April a job was a testament to the fact that these people aren’t just nice to Leslie because she’s the main character; they’re that nice to everyone else, too. This is a show about good people who like to do nice things for each other and support their friends (or their wife, if you’re Andy in this episode). The B-plot also provided plenty of laughs—from April’s first resume being a picture of Alf to the discovery of Ron’s brothers. But the biggest laughs came once again from Ben’s not-so-secret admirers at the accounting firm. The humor they find in everything Ben says and Ben’s inability to accept a job from them is one of my favorite running jokes in Parks and Rec history. Making it so he had to turn them down on April’s behalf was the perfect final twist on that joke.
The reason April had Ben turn the accountants down was because she finally found her dream job, but it took a lot of soul-searching and some overreacting from Leslie to help her find it. It would have been easy for the heart of this episode to get lost amid the parade of famous Washington faces, but perhaps the most famous actually turned out to serve the episode’s main theme instead of distracting us from it. Madeleine Albright was used to absolute perfection as Leslie’s Washington waffle buddy, and her scene served to remind us that Leslie Knope isn’t a perfect character: She’s still a bit of a steamroller, and that’s okay. Perfect characters are profoundly boring. And one of the best things about Leslie is watching her grow and learn each time her flaws rise to the surface.
In this case, Leslie had to learn that people need to find their own way in life. You can love them and want to protect them by planning their lives for them, but, ultimately, all you can do is offer advice and support as they choose their own path. And that’s what April did; she chose her own path, even though it scared her to do it and to tell Leslie about it. Plaza brought such wonderfully uncharacteristic anxiety to her work in this episode, and I thought it was such a great, subtle way of showing just how much April cares about both Leslie and her future.
When April lets her inner Leslie—that part of her that’s emotional and open and affectionate—show, it’s a big deal. I thought Plaza played April’s big speech about how much she’s learned from Leslie perfectly. It was a fitting tribute to both characters—April’s growth and Leslie’s ability to inspire the best in people. And Poehler showed just enough emotion in her face as April hugged her to let us see just how much those words meant to Leslie. All Leslie wants is to make a difference in any way she can, and I love that April was so open about telling her the difference she’s made in her life. It was such a huge moment for both women and another great example of the strength of all the relationships on this show.
With Leslie’s support, April took a position with a job placement organization in Washington, which will fit in well with Leslie seemingly set to take on a new role with the Department of the Interior and Ben becoming a Congressman. Big changes are coming for these characters, and it’s been interesting to see how everyone’s favorite change-averse character, Ron Swanson, adapts to them. In “Pie-Mary,” he enjoyed a gleeful scavenger hunt with April, which ended being incredibly poignant when it was revealed that he constantly changes his locks and therefore didn’t actually need the key. It was simply a chance for Ron and April to spend some time together, which ended with these two characters—who are often so unwilling to show their emotions—opening up about how much they care for each other. As with Garry and Donna’s storyline, Ron and April’s scenes in “Pie-Mary” were a fantastic way to remind us that every friendship on this show is important and emotionally compelling in their own way.
The A-plot in “Pie-Mary” also focused on another important relationship on Parks and Rec—perhaps one of the most important ones on the show: Leslie and Ben. Yes, it gave us the return of Jen Barkley and her new poncho, but this was really a story about these two characters and their feminist beliefs. What was really unique about this episode was the way it portrayed both the husband and wife as being feminists. Ben Wyatt is the single most supportive, encouraging, and feminist husband imaginable. He showed it in his desire to bake the pie (which was really just an excuse to make one of his beloved calzones) instead of Leslie, but he showed it even more blatantly in his support of Leslie’s strong opinions and the platform he freely gave her to voice them. Leslie may have intimidated people since the fourth grade (another reason she’s my television spirit animal), but her husband loves her for all of the parts of her that might intimidate others. If that’s not a relationship to aspire to, then I don’t know what is.
While Ben provided an example of the right response to feminism by men, the Male Men provided an example of the worst response. I love that this show chose to take one of its last episodes and use it as one big middle finger to the “meninist” movement and so many other antifeminist attitudes. That included women who want to shame other women for choosing to focus solely being wives and mothers, which isn’t a stance shown often in the media. Leslie’s speech about not judging other women for the choices they make in terms of career, home, and children was one of the most perfect feminist statements I’ve ever seen on television. And it was made even more powerful when paired with her beautifully blistering takedown of all the questions political candidates’ wives and female candidates themselves get asked. I’ve always been disgusted by the way women in politics are asked questions about “having it all” and “balancing children and career,” while men are never asked these questions. So bravo, Parks and Rec, for having the guts to call attention to the ridiculously sexist nature of those questions and who gets asked them.
Both of this week’s episodes were reminders that Parks and Rec has never been shy about telling a decidedly feminist story. These episodes were about strong women making their own choices and finding support systems as they made those choices. Those are stories Parks and Rec tells often and tells brilliantly, and these episodes were no exception.
There’s a certain freedom that TV shows have in their final season, and that can often make or break a show’s legacy. For Parks and Rec, that freedom to say goodbye on its own terms has led to one of the greatest single stretches of television episodes I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. We’re already nine episodes in, and there hasn’t been a dud—or even an average episode—yet. My wish for all TV fans is that their favorite show ends with the kind of brilliance Parks and Rec is ending with.