Last episode we focused on Leslie’s leap into the larger world, specifically accepting a new job in D.C. Now we’re right back in Pawnee, checking in on Ben’s attempt to join his wife in that wider world. Jen Barkley’s prepping them for a rigorous campaign trail, warning Leslie that her intelligence and competency as a human makes her a nightmare of a political wife. “It’s the smarties that freak people out,” she tells her.
While this sounds incredibly cynical, it’s proven true when the absence of Leslie from a local pie-baking contest, The Pie-Mary (“The last contest winner was June Hartwell’s buttermilk meringue. The last contest loser was all women.”), blows up into a referendum on her as a wife and mother. We’ve all heard the maxim “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” and that’s true even in 2017 Pawnee, because here we are relieving Hillary Clinton’s 1992 cookie baking nightmare. Leslie’s damned if she does—the Indiana Organization of Women plan to protest Ben if she does participate. And she’s damned if she doesn’t—the local news carnival focuses exclusively on her pastry-related crimes instead of Ben’s redevelopment plan.
The Wyatt camp’s solution to this dilemma is to let Ben enter the pie-baking contest, giving him a chance to flex his sweet calzone baking skills. (You know why the Knope-Wyatt marriage works? Because both Ben and Leslie accept the other’s weird fascinations even if they don’t understand them—that’s calzones and Little Sebastian, respectively.) This opens up a whole other can of worms, as the Male Men show up to protest the feminization of Ben Wyatt. “Men have had a very rough go of it for just recently,” Kipp Bunthart rants. The Men’s Rights movement is a ripe target, and personally, I think more fun could have been made—where, for example, were all the fedoras?—but it’s also a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.
The real point is to get at the impossible tightrope women in high-visibility positions are asked to walk. Leslie and Ben share the podium for an impromptu tag-team speech denouncing the public’s fascination with false controversy and ideal wives. “You’re ridiculous and Men’s Right’s is nothing,” she tells the MRA group, knocking them out in a sentence. She then proceeds to hit the real meat, all the ridiculous and inappropriate things people will ask her about her hair, her kids, the lack of time she spends with her kids. Amy Poehler is great at knocking these kinds of exasperated feminist moments out of the park—if you want to see her in true form, go back and watch season 2’s “Hunting Trip.” “If you want to bake a pie, that’s great. If you want to have a career, that’s great too,” she says. “Just don’t judge what someone else has decided to do.” This gets about 50-50 boos and cheers, which ain’t bad, all things considered. Regardless of what people think (and what Ben’s awkward phrasings may have implied), the two of them are in this campaign, this marriage as a duo who love each other and simultaneously respect each other as individuals.
While Knope goes on the feminist warpath, Ron, April, and Andy go on a significantly less superficial quest. They are searching for an old house key of Ron’s that April lost while she was his assistant. Let’s ignore the reason for this quest because it proves itself to be completely pointless (Ron asks for this key even though he knows he changes keys every 16 days). Let’s just enjoy the result of this silly request: a scavenger hunt, created by April when she was high after her wisdom teeth surgery.
Ron Swanson loves little in this world as much as he likes an intricate and complicated series of riddles. He, April and Andy dash all over City Hall, tracing April’s steps of years ago. Part of the pleasure of this is getting to see Ron Swanson, who over the run of Parks and Rec has become the caricature/pinnacle of stoic manhood, dashing about giddy as the proverbial schoolgirl. His giggles are charming, as his enthusiasm for solving the unsolvable. Even the gun-toting, whiskey-sipping, meat-devouring Swanson can find the eager child within himself.
While they are initially stymied in their search for the key, our hunters do discover that—whoaaaa—April had a monster crush on Andy. Ron and April share a whiskey, and Ron shares that he trusts and admires the sullen former intern he has mentored. The location of the key does come to them, and April shares her second heartfelt moment, letting Ron know how much he means to her. Leslie and Ron have, in many ways, been April’s surrogate parents, guiding her from an uncaring intern to motivated, competent adult. It’s heartstring-twanging to hear Our Lady of Irony and Apathy tell these two how important they’ve been in her life. (Now, let’s all stop being garbage people and go tell our parental figures how much we love and respect them.)
In the C-plot, Donna and Garry spend a charming afternoon and evening together after Garry drops his wedding ring, his keys, and then his backup wedding ring down a grate. Chris Pratt’s physical comedy gets a lot of very warranted praise on this show, but don’t sleep on Jim O’Heir and his talent for landing Garry’s schlemiel moments. The moment the backup ring falls exactly where you know it’s going to fall is perfect. This accident spawns hours of the pair reminiscing about the good old days in the Parks Department over takeout and bottles of wine. Donna continues her run of being awesome, showing up at his door with all of Garry’s lost property and officially declaring that they are buddies.
This episode is also a bit of a carousel to highlight some favorite Pawnee nutbars. Ultra-conservative couple Marcia and Marshall Langdon appear to denounce Leslie, per usual. Pawnee’s premiere porn star Brandi Maxxx appears to offer her thoroughly unwanted support of Leslie, per usual. The stoners formerly of the Animal Control squad (two of my favorites) are definitely not living in the basement of City Hall. Councilman Milton is definitely still ancient and racist, even if he’s gotten a new ‘do.
Notes and Jokes:
Life in 2017: No particular glimpses into the future this episode.