(SPOILER ALERT: Read this post only AFTER watching “Are You Better Off?,” the season 5 finale of Parks and Recreation, which aired Thursday night.) Season 4 of Parks and Recreation concluded on a note of triumph and sweetness as Leslie Knope proved victorious in her bid for a seat on the City Council. This year’s Macklin-daddy finale, though, ended with a… What. In. Ron’s. Name. Just. Happened? Yes, Ron Swanson — the man who values an abundance of meat and a lack of government above all else — will have to rearrange his priorities now that his girlfriend, Diane, is apparently carrying his child, news that she seemed ready to drop on his lap just before we cut to commercial/summer vacation. Meanwhile, Leslie was also left hanging from a dramatic cliff as a highly motivated group of Pawnee business owners and community leaders were angling to recall her from office. And wait, is April heading out of town to attend veterinary school, a dream that Andy has been aware of for the last 20 seconds? Seeking information and clarity on these matters, EW spoke with series co-creator/exec producer Michael Schur.
• First off: Is Diane (Lucy Lawless) really pregnant, or did the episode purposely leave the weensiest bit of wiggle room at the end by not showing her delivering any news ?
Nope. Stop overanalyzing it. “There’s no ambiguity — she is indeed pregnant,” says Schur.
•Does this mean that Diane will play a big role in next season?
Schur cautions that it’s challenging to schedule guest spots for Lawless, who lives in New Zealand. “I think she really likes doing the show and we love having her, and obviously we would love to have her around as much as possible, but she’s also always in demand for everything,” he explains. “She’s going to be the mother of Ron’s child so she’s not going to suddenly disappear. And we don’t know exactly when we’ll be able to use her but we foresee at least trying to use her a lot next year… The most interesting thing about it is how it affects Ron (Nick Offerman). It’s his life that we’ve been following for five years, so that story can play out in a lot of different areas of his life. He’s going to go through a significant transformation as he prepares to do this gigantic thing, which is to become a biological father. That’s obviously going to be a big part of the year for his character, and it won’t only be in the ‘I have to read some baby books and figure out how to change diapers’ kind of way.”
• How did the writers settle on Diane and Ron as the pregnant couple? Were other options considered?
The story line was born out of discussions surrounding Ann’s (Rashida Jones) mission to have a baby. “We realized that there’s nothing really surprising about telling the story of a person who wants to get pregnant for 10 episodes and then at the end of the year they’re pregnant,” says Schur. “So it seemed funnier to have her go through her trials and tribulations and try all these different things and decide it’s going to be Chris and have them plan, and then have someone else get pregnant…. We explored all the different possibilities. We talked about it being Leslie (Amy Poehler), obviously — that would be the first idea. That’s something we want to do on the show someday but it is so disruptive to have the main character on your show get pregnant and have to be pregnant for an entire year. And Amy in real life has been pregnant for, like, 98 percent of the time when we were shooting the show, and I think if we told her she was going to have to pretend she was pregnant next year, she would murder me. So then we thought about Donna (Retta) just because it seemed funny and it would be mysterious about who the dad is. Then we talked about April and Andy, which seemed really fun. But at the end of the day we thought: We have this other relationship that’s been in the background of the entire season and having it be Ron would be really fun and unexpected…. It’s a big change for him and it furthers the arc of him having to make a little bit of room in his life for a woman that he cares about and her two kids, which was a big theme of the year for him. Once we decided that, it was just a question of setting everything up. We did an episode where Leslie suddenly saw Jerry’s life and was like, ‘Maybe I want more than just work in my life.’ We had Tom (Aziz Ansari) have this crazy relationship with Mona-Lisa (Jenny Slate) and that seemed like it could be a legitimate unplanned disaster that would befall them. So, slowly over the last five or six episodes, we set it up so that anyone seemed like a legitimate possibility. From there, it was just a case of trying to build the best mystery we possibly could with the most misleads and crazy left turns.”
• Will the Committee to Recall Leslie Knope get its wish when the show returns?
Schur promises that this recall movement will prove a “big part” of the beginning of season 6 and that her seat on the City Council will be in “real jeopardy.” The idea for this plot was hatched as the writers reflected on Leslie’s first (and colorful) year on the City Council, and talked about how the number of recalls at every level of government had increased over the last decade. “She was incredibly active, she was very aggressive in the way she pursued her agenda in everything from the soda tax to the comprehensive sex education,” explains Schur. “She butted heads with people a lot, not just citizens but also other City Council members. And that kind of person — even in a local government in a mildly sleepy town in Indiana — draws fire these days. So it was a very organic decision in that way to say that she probably attracted a lot of attention from people who wouldn’t like the fact that she was being this aggressive, and the fact is they would do something like recall her.”
• Will April attend veterinarian school in Bloomington next season?
Maybe. Or maybe not. But simply the act of taking initiative and applying to school was another milestone for April in her year of growth. “We’re going to have some decisions to make next year whether she goes right away, or if she defers, or she commutes or she moves to Bloomington,” says Schur. “We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do with that but we wanted to create an interesting dilemma for her that came out of her newfound desire to be more active in her life and not just kind of sit around and read magazines, bored all the time.” This much he will guarantee, though: “We won’t come back next year and have her be like, ‘Yeah, I decided not to go.’ It’ll play a role in some kind of larger story, or a set of decisions that she and Andy have to make together about their future.”
• Will retiree-turned-intern Jerry (Jim O’Heir) be a significant part of next season?
Plan on hearing plenty of Dammit, Jerry!‘s in future episodes. “We’ve got a few different ideas for how to handle the situation,” says Schur. “We haven’t picked one yet but Jim isn’t going anywhere. One way or the other his presence will be felt in a very significant and pretty constant way.”
• Will Pratt have a reduced role in season 6 given that he’ll be filming Guardians of the Galaxy?
FBI super agent Burt Macklin just might have to semi-re-retire after unretir—in short, viewers will see a little less of Pratt next season. “There are going to be some episodes in the first half of the year that he’s not in, but we’ve been working with the Marvel people as best we can to make everybody happy,” says Schur. “He’ll be in the beginning of the season and then he’ll disappear and then he’ll come back and then he’ll disappear. Hopefully we’ll be able to figure something out where no one will notice. But the reality is there will be at least a couple episodes next year where he doesn’t appear.”
• Who is the mystery man that made the offer to buy Rent-A-Swag and is now planning on opening a rival store?
Schur’s lips are sealed tighter than Ben’s hands around a Game of Thrones DVD set. “We have an idea of who the mystery buyer is, and will reveal that next season,” he responds. “It will be a big arc for Tom in Season 6.”
• Speaking of season 6, there is going to be one, right?
While there’s no official word from NBC, signs and buzz point to a return visit to Pawnee. “I’ve been cautiously optimistic for five straight years, that’s not going to change,” says Schur. “I fully believe that we will be back next year, but until they actually make that phone call, I never like to say it’s a sure thing.”