Parks and Recreation Season 7, Episode 12 and 13
“One Last Ride” – Producer’s Cut
Posted by Sage
When Kim and I launched Head Over Feels back in 2012, we had a title we loved, a pocketful of pop culture opinions, and enough mimosa ingredients for small brunch party. What we didn’t have was much of a concrete plan. The blog has grown organically, reflecting our changing obsessions and (hopefully) growth as writers. Think of it as the field of wildflowers that inspired Leslie’s favorite mural: a little unkempt, but still beautiful.
From the very beginning, there was one regular feature that I knew we had to include. I had to recap Parks and Recreation. It wasn’t about a defined schedule. It wasn’t about our audience – at that point, we didn’t really have one. It was about me needing to respond to this show in some way other than just grinning like a maniac at my TV screen for 22 minutes a week.
I’ve stuck with Parks since the pilot, though that qualifier only really applies to those first six shaky episodes. And there was significant value in those too. It’s just that when the show plugged into the right vein early on in season two, it became and remained one of television’s most reliable and reliably inspirational comedies. More than that: to me and so many others, Parks has been a companion and a cheerleader. Just knowing that Leslie and her team were out there taking risks and having each other’s backs made me feel more adventurous and less inclined to take my life teammates for granted. The series finale of Parks and Rec has come and gone, but the show’s goofy, optimistic spirit will live on: on Hulu and Netflix and DVD, in gifsets and Swansonisms and my JJ’s Diner t-shirt. It’s like Mike Schur and his team presented us with 125 lovingly crafted scrapbooks, each bedazzled and puffy painted in true Knope fashion.
A Reddit user recently did a cool calculation, plotting the audience response to dozens of series finales. And the proof is right there in green and red: it’s tough to stick the landing. Not for Parks (its finale was rated even higher than the average episode, thank you very much), and that’s because I’ve never watched a show that has takes such wonderful care of its characters.
I watched the finale while eating breakfast for dinner (complete with waffle bar) with Kim and Kelly of The TV Mouse. Fitting, since Parks brought the three of us together in the first place. It was Kelly and my mutual admiration of each other’s recaps that led to our meeting and a treasured friendship. And really, was there any other possible outcome of that first hang than gChat pep talks, marathon TV nights, and us dragging Kelly into the Doctor Who fandom by her adorable curly hair? As far as personality indicators go, appreciating Parks is the most solid one I know.
As sad as I was to see Parks go, I sat on Kim’s couch confident that it would get the send-off it deserved. I was a big fan of the three-year time jump to begin with; it allowed for new storylines and dynamics (Ron and Leslie’s falling out, for example) to be explored without the time it would have taken to develop a proper run-up. In “One Last Ride,” Parks co-opted the nifty trick that made Six Feet Under’s finale one of the highest rated on that Reddit list. We got flash forwards for our Pawneeans. They felt satisfying, but not final. We learned something new about everyone; they got to share some of their future with us. But there was so much more we hadn’t seen, and so many life events still to come. Let it be known that if Parks had given all its characters the FULL Six Feet Under treatment, Kim would still be trying to peel me off her floor.
Instead, Parks time traveled to significant moments in its characters’ lives. Most were milestones. Some, like Donna’s, were small moments of realization. We caught up with Donna and Joe in Seattle, where the former is making that paper while her boo continues to shape young lives as a teacher. Donna’s life has always been about decadence; about giving herself the best that she can offer. But what could be more decadent than getting to enjoy your life with someone who’s fully dedicated to your happiness? Donna has always been quick to accept change. And if the guy who deserves to see her in that little red thing needs something other than a dream vacation to Middle Korea, she won’t think twice about giving it to him.
It’s nice to see that Donna’s maid of honor (“Call Satan’s Niece.”) is still her partner in crime. (And I’d like to request a web series about their two weeks in Venezuela. Did they visit Pawnee’s sister city and sabotage some important, cultural festival?) April already had a hell of an arc in the final season; with all the inane think pieces about the struggle and shortcomings of the millennial, only Amy Poehler and her writers can be counted on to treat a journey like April’s with respect and empathy. A few years into their new lives in D.C., Andy, already king of the kids, is dying to have one of their own. (“Babe, I wanna put a baby in you, babe.”)
April acts like nothing scares her, but the people closest to her (especially Leslie) know that her projected fearlessness is all a front. In past episodes, what panicked April the most was the thought of losing her own identity and becoming a boring adult. (As if that’s possible for any spouse of Andrew Dwyer, who will threaten your OBGYN with a Taken monologue just so your child’s birthdate can officially be Halloween.) But her private conversation with Leslie about Andy’s baby jones reveals a deeper fear: that she won’t be any good at it. And what’s the point if so many variables are up in the air? “You have kids because you and Andy are a team,” Leslie tells her. “And you want to bring in some new team members.” There’s no question that Andy will be the dad to make other kids insane with jealousy; and April is coming around to the idea that she might not fuck everything up. But I think what really helps her decide the issue is the thought of the bigger team standing behind her and Andy. Jack-O-Lantern Ludgate-Dwyer is a part of that too, now. That team gave April everything. So how bad could it possibly go?
Tom has a rockier road than most of his friends. But that’s because he refuses to settle. The most telling part of Tom’s flash-forward is the scene where he mopes in front a documentary that he made about his own business failures. That’s so Big T. He can’t stop interpreting and analyzing and creating things out of other things, even when he wishes he could. Yeah, it’s a visual gag to see Tom in suit and a wireless mic standing underneath the word “FAILURE” in bold capital letters. But it’s also kind of the story of his life, and it’s not a bad one. I mean, what’s the difference really between Tom’s list of defeats and Donna’s list of “experiences” other than the way that they frame them? Tom has too many ideas to be stuck in one industry for the rest of his life; and Failure: An American Success story will lead to many other crazy ventures, I’m sure. And every one of them will be fueled in part by a Knope-Wyatt gift basket and a Ron Swanson pep talk, because his friends aren’t giving up on him either.
We learned long ago that Ron needs his own pep talks every once in a while, no more so when he’s at a personal crossroads of sorts. (“YES! Love personal crossroads.”) Unlike Tom, Ron has planned too well. His family and finances are in terrific shape; he’s left Very Good in the stoic hands of his brothers; and he holds a controlling stake in the Lagavulin distillery. There’s nothing left to do. I think we neglected to put this on our life lessons from Pawnee post, but it’s an important one: know when to ask for help. “I once made the mistake of not talking to you at such a moment,” he says to Leslie. “And I do not intend to repeat that error.” (Just punch me in the face, please. It would hurt less.) Ron Swanson is a timeless character because he embodies this brilliant version of masculinity, a version that develops as he lets himself be changed. Parks skewered meninists so superbly in the Pie-Mary episode; it was a particular joy to watch Ben and Leslie take down these pathetic excuses for what men ought to be when real masculinity is celebrated every time Ron is on screen. One of my favorite books ever is John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, where Dr. Larch teaches his young protege Homer Wells that the highest calling that any person can aspire to is to be “of use.” That’s what Ron wants, and that’s Leslie’s gift to him. I honestly don’t know what to tell you if you didn’t shed a tear when Ron took in his new workplace and weakly tried to talk himself out of a favor that would leave him so much in Leslie’s debt. (“You’d work outside, you’d talk to bears, next argument.”) This is the national park that almost ripped Ron and Leslie apart for good; in the finale, I almost felt like Ron taking over stewardship of it was Leslie’s endgame all along. Then “Buddy” started playing and the rest of my coherent thoughts were swept away in a flood of tears. FRIENDSHIP.
It’s ironic that the only force in the universe that could possibly compel Leslie to hold herself back is her love for these people – these people, together, in this room. Luckily, her need to document and celebrate and remember is only rivaled by her desire for more life – more for herself and more for her friends. She’s been tempted to hold them back for her own comfort, but selflessness has always won out. There is no more “these people together in this room” because she’s inspired and enabled all of them to get to bigger and better things. Parks were her dream. Not Andy’s, not April’s, not Donna’s. When the show began, the humor lived in the fact that Leslie was so much more motivated to conquer this tiny sphere than any of her colleagues. Leslie may have intended to foster a passion for parks and public service in her friends; but instead she inspired their individual dreams. How could anyone sit idly by and watch Leslie attack her own goals without getting an indirect kick in the ass to seek out their own?
I have so many head canons about Leslie’s run for President. You know that was a team effort. Oliver and Sonia, just engaged, ran campaign headquarters together. Leslie ignored every adviser who tried to style her for her public appearances, opting instead to have a Skype fashion show with Ann. (“What about like, a sexy hat?”) Chris ran a Superman marathon to raise campaign funding. Donna pitched in with the social media campaign when she was in the country. Andy resurrected Burt Macklin because nothing could be more important than keeping Leslie safe. He’s getting on in years, but Garry still gathers his beautiful family to watch every one of Leslie’s speeches. They have matching Vote Knope sweaters that Gayle knit herself. And so on.
And then there’s Ben. Sweet, sweet Ben. Ben set Leslie on this path the moment he announced her candidacy for governor to her friends, and even before. Leslie nurtures every one else’s dreams; Ben is the caretaker of hers. I think he’s more proud of her than anything. He loves the work too, but not as much as he loves standing back with that goofy, fond smile on his face watching Leslie crush it. When they met, Ben didn’t think he belonged with those people in that room. (And, to be fair, Leslie didn’t either.) What Ben Wyatt got from Leslie was an actual home – welcoming, but weird enough to keep things interesting. Mean Ben has a soft spot, and it’s the town that birthed the love of his life.
There were several little Easter eggs in the Parks finale; the most significant is that the man who comes to the Parks department to report the broken swing is the same guy who was stuck in the slide in the show’s pilot. We got one more taste of small-town bureaucracy as Leslie and her team cheerfully set about fulfilling the request. Changing the system is slow; there’s quicker satisfaction in changing your response to it. (“When we worked here together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better.”) Be a Leslie, who enjoys vanquishing obstacles in the name of service. It makes her feel like a hero, and a hero she is.
Random Thoughts and B-Stories:
- Finally, confirmation that every one in Pawnee is a little bit in love with Leslie Knope. Can you blame them?
- “I am calm, I am grateful, I am Craig.” (Are you watching Difficult People yet??)
- It took me two viewings to spot that Star Lord among the trick or treaters, but I DID.
- Andy is me when he realizes he’s at an all grown-up party.
- Jean Ralphio’s send-off was worthy of his greatness, from his incredible greeting of Tom and Leslie (“What are you two bad Larrys up to?”) to his and Mona Lisa’s plot to fake their own deaths for insurance money. (“We will now listen to his favorite song, “Bend Over” by ‘Lil Jon featuring Tyga.”)
- ‘I had to sell my pocket square collection. Where are people’s eyes gonna be drawn to?”
- “I’m really sorry you’re sad. No one should ever be sad.” Guys, I really do think that Shawna and Bobby Newport are gonna be happy together.
- “Your job and mine is to walk this land and make sure no one harms it. If you show up on time, speak honestly, and treat everyone with fairness, we will get along just fine. though hopefully not too fine as I’m not looking for any new friends. End of speech.”
- “I’m gonna take this energy and i’m gonna go crush Joe Biden in charades.”
- “Hey Jen, I didn’t know you were here.” “I’m everywhere.”
- Ann is still a sucker for weird trends, bless.
- MY HEART.
Well, that only took four months. Next on the docket: my top 15 episodes of Parks and Recreation, because I just can’t let go. What did you think about the series finale? Leave your thoughts in the comments!