Stay for the feminism but leave for the weird misogyny.
I really wanted to like this episode. Many individual parts (okay mainly Ben) were funny or entertaining but the ingredients never come together into a tasty dish. If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Instead of going plot-by-plot, I thought I’d look at the good and the bad. Since this is Parks and Rec, there was no ugly.
We finally got a plot focused on Donna. Donna has always been in the background being awesome, and revealing little bits about her personal life. The character wasn’t much more than a “person in the background” when the show began, so it was up to the actress, Retta, to fill in details, including a love of Twitter. With Rashida Jones leaving this season, it makes sense that Retta’s character would gain more exposure. Leslie will need a new friend, after all.
Donna has certainly been important before: She’s helped Ann with her love life, she helped Ben through his depression (and taught us all to treat our selves), and she live-tweeted movies. She’s helped Leslie through concerts, festivals, memorials, rallies, and speeches. But here we see a more human side, a woman who gets frustrated by her boss, even though she respects Leslie. Type A Leslie always runs at 110%, and that must be exhausting for those around her.
Leslie learns (for the millionth time?) that she can be annoying and, perhaps, overly-enthusiastic. But that drive also ensures the work gets done. Donna grumbles and calls her “bitch boss,” but also admires her and calls her “boss bitch.”
After Donna accidentally tweets something personal from the official Parks Department Twitter, Leslie finds herself embroiled in a scandal (she’s still dealing with the recall). Councilmen Jamm and Dexhart gleefully blow the tweet out of proportion.
Leslie explains a simple error was made, trying to protect Donna. She also calls out the hypocrisy on display: The tweet wasn’t all that salacious, given what Dexhart is currently being investigated for. (Dexhart is the councilman Leslie was accused of sleeping with back in “Christmas Scandal.”) And by the end of the episode, Donna and Leslie simply state they refuse to participate in the hearing because they have work to do.
Having the two women work through their disagreement, point out the sexism around them, and provide a united front was refreshing. Donna’s frustrations are legit (we all get annoyed with our jobs) and while of course Leslie feels upset, she finds a way to understand Donna’s point of view and apologize.
The business with city council often comes across as cartoonish (not just in this episode, but last season, too). The show itself, though, often functions as a kind of cartoon populated by really weird people. And honestly, we should all be so lucky as to deal with people like Jamm who are out to bully us and silence us, but at least are honest about it.
April was funny. Aubrey Plaza and the writers have been on fire lately.
I adore Ben, and appreciate that he is by turns serious (completing his own will, getting Ron to create a will) and silly (accountants are bad boys). Shows tend to place characters into single boxes. Ben seems like he should be the serious guy or the nerd guy, or maybe the serious nerd guy. But he also gets to be a silly guy (and a sexy guy!)
Ron wasn’t out of character per se. We’ve known since the beginning that he’s fiercely private and avoids government regulations whenever possible. Ben encourages him to create a new will to provide for his new family; it’s not love that convinces him to do it, but hatred (or fear?) of the government collecting his estate.
At first he refuses to divulge any financial information to the lawyer. Ben asks if contemplating his mortality is the problem, but Ron says its that he doesn’t want to raise spoiled children. This certainly fits in with Ron’s DIY ethos, yet in earlier seasons he’d paid for Andy’s college courses. Surely he’d want to at least provide a college fund for his children?
Or heck, if he doesn’t want to leave any money for his family, at least he’d want to make it clear his money would go to a specific charity or foundation so that the government wouldn’t get it. That seems fittingly Libertarian.
But Ron realizes Ben is right and so compromises by leaving a small amount to the children, and asks Ben and Leslie to be legal guardians, should anything happen to him and Diane.
Writing this out, this seems like a perfectly fine plot. We see another disruption to Ron’s life, and another adjustment he has to make. If he dies alone, it doesn’t really matter what happens to his estate. But now he must think of the children. Yet Ron refuses to admit any real anxiety or problems. Being afraid of spoiling his children seems illogical (not that this isn’t something parents worry about, but leaving your kids nothing when you die on purpose seems extreme, which Ben points out). Obviously he’d want his kids to be self-reliant, and so he’d teach them to be. But surely, as an adult man in his 40s (?), he’d understand that he needs to provide for his children in some way. That he can’t completely avoid the government, especially since Diane isn’t going to live in a cabin in the woods with him, for now. The whole scenario fit Ron-the-character-type but not Ron-the-rational-person.
I loved the Tom-April-Nadia plot until the last few seconds. As usual, Tom falls in love with the beautiful new character, Nadia (Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black), a doctor from Doctors Without Borders who wants to reserve a park. As usual, he tries to impress her in increasingly silly ways.
Nadia realizes just how weird Pawnee is and wants to escape as quickly as possible. She explains she won’t even be at the event in the park, she’s just setting up the reservation. Tom realizes he can delay her thanks to “bureaucratic incompetence.” I did laugh at this line, yet I’m tired of the trope of the man trying to delay the woman in order to push against her saying no. Nadia makes it clear she doesn’t want to be in Pawnee, but Tom ignores her.
Oh well, finally she leaves, and overall the whole plot is a fun diversion.
At the end of the episode, Tom visits Nadia at her work in order to plead his case. He asks April to lie, but instead she explains to Nadia that Tom is interested in her and that he delayed her on purpose. April goes on to say that Tom is sweet and cool.
Talking to April and ignoring Tom, Nadia says she couldn’t decide if Tom’s shenanigans were romantic or scary. She decides they are romantic and asks him out! Yea, everyone is happy!
Except for me. The trope where the guy prevails over the girl is getting old.
Ann was totally absent from this episode, which seemed really weird considering the situation Leslie was experiencing during the episode. You’d think she’d want to talk to her best friend. Chris was around to have Leslie’s back.
Andy wasn’t mentioned either, which also seemed odd. It’s weird that they couldn’t have April say, “Andy says, ‘Hi everyone'”?
So chaos and control continue to thrive in Pawnee: Leslie still deals with the chaos of the recall, but takes control by disengaging from her naysayers. Ron takes control of his estate as an adult should. Tom, well, he seems to be sowing a little chaos for now.
Notes and Quotes
- Tom’s ex-wife, Wendy, was also a doctor. And he dated Ann, a nurse. And Lucy left to study anthropology, which can certainly have a medical component. “Dark-haired health/medical worker” is an awfully specific type.
- As I was thinking about Councilman Dexhart’s previous appearances, I wrote in my notes, “The sex man.”
- The Recall Knope committee gives out talking dolls that say to recall Knope. Leslie prints up, “Don’t,” and, “?” stickers to place on “Recall Knope” signs (Recall Knope? Don’t)
- “Which we are calling Twitter Watergate until we can find a snappier headline for it.”
- “I mean, obviously accountants are a little more bad boy.”