Parks and Recreation Season 7, Episode 4
“Leslie and Ron”
Our long national nightmare is over at last. Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are friends again.
Parks and Recreation turned in one of its finest half-hours in “Leslie and Ron” and I was left a sobbing mess on my couch wondering how in the Hell I would ever put my feels into words. It’s an honor as a new Parks recapper to be gifted with this episode but it’s also a burden. Leslie and Ron’s relationship is the true heart of Parks…more than Leslie and Ann and more than Beslie. An episode with JUST the two of them working through their issues and Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman acting their faces off in a perfectly written duet? As many have said, It’s Parks and Rec’s version of “The Suitcase”. No biggie. I knew as soon as I watched it that Sage was going to be bummed this wasn’t hers. I offered it to her, but she is a flawless and generous blog-wife and I QUOTE she “didn’t want to clip my wings”. So let’s get to it.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. After all the runaround in “William Henry Harrison”, Ben and the rest of the erstwhile Parks Department lock Ron and Leslie up in their old offices, where they will leave them until the next morning. Ben has had ENOUGH and it’s time for them to sort out their issues. Since it’s the night of the Game of Thrones finale, you know Ben means business. Tonight, he watches his show on his Iron Throne ALONE. (Which, let’s face it, he probably wanted to do anyway. Leslie never read the books.)
Everything is disconnected…the phones, the internet, everything. Ben leaves a baby monitor so they can contact them if there is an emergency or once they sort everything out. After a very close call with Terry and his keycard (“For once in your life, do something right.”), Leslie and Ron are left alone. Naturally their first instinct is to try to get out, but the Parks Department has gotten super high-tech in 2017 and they have magnetic locks. Ron threatens to punch through a window, but Leslie (proving that while she talks a big game, she would rather have an alive Ron Swanson she can actively hate than a dead one) stops him because of the security wire in the glass. “I would rather bleed out than sit here and talk about my feelings for 10 hours,” Ron declares. And I believe him. This whole situation is his greatest nightmare.
Leslie says they should just call Ben on the monitor and say they made up. She can say she’s sorry for heroically caring too much, while Ron can apologize for being a stubborn butt head. This is all it takes to set Ron off and they launch into the same fight that they have been having for the past two years. Ron says it’s LESLIE who is the problem and the unreasonable one and THAT’S what they should tell Ben. Leslie sarcastically counters that they should say she is the deluded one and she’s the one that decided to end their friendship for no good reason, despite the fact that she was the very reason for them being friends in the first place. I love how Ron flinches for the briefest of moments when she says that. Leslie’s words cut deep, but Ron (being Ron) refuses to admit it. He agrees to the story but Leslie impulsively smashes the baby monitor, cutting off their last means of communication with the outside world.
Naturally, Ron finds something to whittle, while Leslie paces around her old stomping grounds marveling at all the changes…and then she gives in. It’s very telling how quickly Leslie caves and wants to talk to Ron. She believes in the importance of sentiment and memory and being in her old office makes her realize that she’s tired of this war. She misses her friend. Desperately. She wants him back in her life. And if the friendship is beyond repair, she’s at least going to get down to the heart of WHY it failed. She knows her perspective, but she finally realizes that she needs Ron’s. Too bad. He’s not talking. No matter what kind of Leslie Knope torture tactic she employs.
Leslie finds a box hilariously labeled “Old Junk” from 2007. In it there is a mix CD from the Parks Barbeque of 2007. Because her mind “is a steel trap of friendship nuggets”, Leslie remembers that Ron’s submission was Willie Nelson’s “Buddy”, but instead she chooses to play Jerry’s choice (because he was Jerry in 2007) of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” on repeat. And she doesn’t know the words. (Does anybody?) This is what finally breaks Ron. He agrees to speak to Leslie for three minutes. No more, no less.
Even when he agrees to talk to her, Ron still forces Leslie to lead the way because he is afraid of the depths of his feelings. He desperately tries to DENY them, claiming he and Leslie were only “work proximity associates” when Leslie says they have been friends for ten years. We all know this isn’t what Ron actually thinks of Leslie. He just tries to keep telling himself that to make the loss of her friendship hurt less.
To get to the bottom of where things went wrong, Leslie busts out the “most powerful tool known to man. A well-organized chart,” and we at last get to see some of what went down in the 3 years we missed. Leslie’s chart is a timeline of everything that happened, and Ron’s jaw clenches as she points everything out to him. (Seriously, Nick Offerman is EXTRAORDINARY in this episode. So much with Ron Swanson is what he DOESN’T say.) Leslie hired April to work for her in August of 2014. At her Zombie Teenage Biker Gang Pizza Jamboree party, we see Ron sitting forlornly at a table and Leslie tells him it was the last time they saw each other for more than 5 minutes. Three months later, Ron visits Leslie on the third floor for the first time ever and a week later, after she gets back from a trip, she finds that he’s quit his job without telling her. The whole time Leslie is recounting her side of the story, Ron sits there quietly, but there is SO MUCH going on in his eyes. Finally, we learned what happened in Budapest…erm…Morningstar. And it’s just as bad as we thought it would be.
Morningstar is an apartment complex that Ron’s company was contracted to build. Next to Pawnee Commons. AKA Leslie’s Park that she built from scratch and the entire impetus for the show in the first place. The construction not only destroys all the views from the park that Leslie worked SO HARD to build but it also requires the demolition of the house that once belonged to Ann Perkins. The house where she put on her wedding dress. The house where April and Andy met for the first time. The house where Ann gave her her first ever smokey eye look. I said earlier that Leslie is a person who values sentiment and memory over everything else in the world (other than waffles that is) and this? This is the ultimate betrayal. Leslie had so many life milestones at that house and she doesn’t understand why Ron doesn’t get that the loss of it would mean the loss of tangible proof of how richly her life in Pawnee has been lived. She views this as Ron shitting all over everything they ever did together. Well, she would have said shitting if the NBC censors would have let her. Ron looks at Leslie’s chart, his eyes filled with emotion, and gruffly tells her that she doesn’t have the whole story. But oh well, her three minutes are up. He’s done talking. He takes the key he’s been whittling and locks himself in his old office, leaving Leslie to ponder what exactly she may have missed.
Leslie goes into full steamroller mode and starts rattling off potential offenses that could have led to Ron quitting his job (including sending him a card through the postal service and shutting down Food and Stuff). Ron won’t stand for it; he’s had enough talking about his feelings for one night. Since he has the right as a citizen of the United States to blow a hole through that fucking door, he finds the partially defused Claymore mine Leslie gave him 10 years ago.
Ron’s reaction when he realizes that the mine was filled with confetti and balloons is priceless (as is Leslie’s look of joy). Like Leslie with Ann’s house, the realization that he has had a TOY on his desk cuts to the very heart of him, and he storms into his office, probably to do some crying. Meanwhile, Leslie goes full-on Goldblum trying to find the reason that Ron quit, tearing apart all the archives from the work they did together.
Leslie takes it back to the very beginning: her job application. The Rosetta Stone of Ron’s first impressions of her. Much to her outrage, those impressions are limited to three lines. Ron claims he doesn’t remember what he wrote, which I think is bullshit. Ron remembers everything. Ron knew after one encounter with her that Leslie’s idealism and tunnel vision would dive him bananas and that they would possibly murder each other. That’s exactly why he hired her, he recalls fondly. She went on a tirade, calling him a heartless thug after he called her ideals nonsense (his LAUGH as he tells this story destroys me). She was tough, honest, and stood up for her beliefs, even when they threatened her chances at the job. These are the kind of qualities that Ron F. Swanson holds closest to his heart. He wants to surround himself with people who have integrity and people who challenge him to maintain his own. All that “government is useless” stuff he spews all the time? It’s all a bunch of lies when you get right down to it. He’d rather have a person like Leslie working by his side than a “milquetoast yes man” because he thinks the work deserves it. And when that person sends him damn good brownies after calling him a heartless thug? Well that’s just a bonus.
What’s so interesting about Ron in this episode is that the closer he skirts to the truth, the more he fights to get out of the room. After that moment of complete honesty with Leslie regarding the reasons he hired her, he warns Leslie not to push it when she asks to really get to the heart of their issues. That give and take with them is the essential definition of their relationship. Also Ron is afraid of crushing Leslie’s spirits with the truth, because he treasures her idealism above all things, so he would rather that she stay in the dark than hurt her. So he pulls the fire alarm. Unfortunately, that alarm is just for sprinklers because April used to pull it all the time. Way to go, past April.
Drenched and now wearing Craig’s bright yellow yoga clothes, Ron’s walls are finally broken down. Over a bottle of scotch, which is what they should have done in the first place, Ron comes clean. Leslie left, taking Jerry/Terry with her. But then she took April. I think Ron’s always seen April as his surrogate daughter and while he wanted his closest work proximity associate to stay with him always, he also didn’t want to hold her back. Leslie’s offer was too good to refuse. So he let her go. Then Tom and Donna left and one day Ron looked up and realized all of his friends were gone. The thing that kills me is that no one thought to check-in on Ron once they left. He always projects that he is solid and doesn’t care, but the thing is, he cares more than anyone…possibly even more than Leslie. Ron realized that some work isn’t worth doing if you don’t do it with people you CARE about. So he screwed up his courage and went and asked Leslie (who was overjoyed to see him) to lunch at JJ’s so that he could ask her something. Leslie missed the lunch date because of an emergency trip to D.C. and as Ron sat in JJ’s alone (MY HEART), he realized that everyone had moved on without him.
It’s in that moment that Leslie realizes what that lunch date was going to be. Ron was going to ask her for a job. In the federal government. That’s how much he missed her. This is also where Leslie realizes how much SHE has let Ron down. Friendship goes both ways, and if you don’t tend to the relationship and make efforts to maintain it, it dies. Leslie was so wrapped up in her own life (with good reason. She was kicking ass and taking names) that she didn’t see that her friend was floundering. “I should have been a better friend to you,” Leslie confesses. “Honestly, Leslie, it’s fine,” Ron says. (NO IT’S NOT and I want to punch all the things because of Ron’s broken expression.) “It was a punctuation mark on a sentence that had already been written.” Excuse me whilst I go weep in a corner singing “5000 Candles in the Wind”.
Ron didn’t feel like explaining why he left to Leslie, or to anyone (again, because his feelings about it were too real and he didn’t want to shame anyone for moving on with their lives). He does regret what happened with Morningstar…but I also think that in that moment Leslie sees that he was just what he needed to do to move on with HIS life. He had a good run at the Parks Department…but after Leslie, April, Tom, Donna, and Jerry left, he looked around and nothing was the same. “Well…there’s a way we can fix that,” Leslie says, and here is where Mike Schurr really starts to twist the knife (cackling gleefully, I like to think).
To the strains of “Buddy” (RUDE), we see Leslie and Ron spending the rest of the night rearranging the Parks office to look like it did when they worked there. They laugh, they destroy that bottle of scotch, and they start catching up on 2 years of missed memories. If you didn’t weep during this montage, you should check yourself. The gang arrives at the office the next morning to find Ron having gone full Duke Silver, tooting on his sax while Leslie dances around to “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. All is well.
Later at Leslie’s office, where she is both drunk and hungover at the same time (been there, done that), Ron shows up with a gift. It turns out that he salvaged Ann’s door when the house was demolished and he made it into a frame for Leslie. He knew all along what that house meant to her, and while practicality demanded that the house be torn down (time marches endlessly on after all), he saved the one thing that changed Leslie’s life forever. Now, she will have the door with her always. Let’s discuss the fact that Ron has had that frame waiting for Leslie for TWO YEARS. He always held hope that they would find their way back to each other someday. He was always there waiting for Leslie to come around. And now, with their picture from the Harvest Festival tucked securely in the frame, Leslie always has a reminder of what tore her relationship with Ron apart…and ultimately what brought them back together. The doors of friendship rarely close for good. You just have to be willing to put the effort into opening them back up.
I think it’s interesting to note that Leslie and Ron are still on opposite sides of the Newport Land Debate. I’m intrigued to see how that issue plays out going forward. Even with the lines of communication reopened, they will still butt heads. They will NEVER not butt heads…it’s how they keep each other honest. It’s how they keep each other in check and how they keep each other from becoming the worst version of themselves. But I like to think that Leslie and Ron will never let something like this come between them again. I like to think that from this point on they will have a standing weekly lunch date at JJ’s where they will eat way too much breakfast food.
Because there’s nothing breakfast food can’t cure.