zombie_boogie: (parks | leslie + ben → how do you feel)
[personal profile] zombie_boogie

I was going to write about "Smallest Park" in my regular end-of-the-week TV recap last week, but a combination of my having not written about the show since "Pawnee Rangers" (damn you pneumonia!) and my having too many feelings that required proper pictorial illustration and far too much text led me to create a more substantial review/picspam. I know it's been five days since the episode aired and everyone has already written their reviews but whatever whatever I do what I want. THIS IS LONG AND RIDICULOUS AND I MAKE NO APOLOGIES.

This episode has been compared a lot to "Road Trip" for obvious reasons, but I think "Smallest Park" was a much stronger episode because the secondary plots were more emotionally resonant. Let's start with Tom and Jerry!

"I think that Comic Sans always screams fun, right?"

I was admittedly disappointed when Entertainment 720 went under, because I liked the idea of Tom having forward progress in his story (even if the company was ridiculous and unsustainable). Like Tom, I was worried that his return to city government would be a step backward for him. I am still somewhat concerned, but the last two episodes have left me hopeful that Tom will still be able to have a forward trajectory even though he's at his old position. This episode reminded me a bit of "Flu Season" in that we got to see that Tom actually can be competent at his job. Tom is a good networker, and he is creative, but he needs to reign himself in. He's like those brilliant contestants on Project Runway that Tim Gunn is always encouraging to self-edit. Like, Tom needs to realize that he doesn't need the rhinetones and the ruffles and the fringe. He needs to streamline his thought processes more often like he did with his presentation to Chris.

I also liked that this episode reminded us that even though Jerry is the butt monkey at the office, he's still very happy in his personal life. But damnit, Jerry, I think "weekends are for dreaming" might be the most depressing statement I've ever heard uttered on this program. Maybe ever. And ugh Jerry Comic Sans? Of course. I bet you also think Papyrus is "exotic" and "festive" or something.

Details That I Loved: The promotional poster for the rangers reality show had the picture of Tom with the tiny mug. Jerry's ID badge says "Gerry".

"My first day of college my father dropped me off at the steel mill. He didn't think I should go to college, but I hitched a ride, enrolled, and learned a lot. Hope Andy does too."

The Andy/April/Ron plot was fairly stellar, and it really would not have worked out as well without all three people involved. They needed both Ron and April as the angel and the devil on Andy's shoulders to give the narrative its kick. How much did I love that all three fell in love with women's studies? SO MUCH. Though I would totally study women's lasers. A guy joining a women's studies course is a well-worn trope in fiction, and it was refreshing to see this show not go the typical route of having him join to meet women, or having the class be treated as a joke. It's also interesting to me that in Andy's rambling spiel at the end he almost sort of hit on some actual feminist rhetoric. Most of what he had to say was ludicrous, but when he was talking about legalizing prostitution he was almost weirdly progressive. The rights of sex workers is a major issue with third-wave feminists, so Andy kind of stumbled his way into a legitimate talking point! Though his speech was so disjointed it was hard to tell.

I want to take a minute to return to Ron Swanson, because in really wonderful, subtle ways this episode reminded me that Ron Swanson is not a cookie cutter he-man character. A comment on the A.V. Club review for the episode said that it seemed out of character for Ron to be so supportive of Andy seeking an education, and for Ron to be interested in women's studies. I'm not sure what show they've been watching. I think Ron, as someone who prizes individual liberty, would absolutely value self-improvement through education (whether he would actually value institutionalized education is another thing, but I do think he'd support betterment through higher learning). And if "Woman of the Year" taught us anything it's that Ron Swanson is an awesome feminist (oh my god what is happening), and the show has demonstrated repeatedly that Ron Swanson appreciates a strong, self-possessed woman. Many reviewers have talked about the danger of Ron Swanson becoming a parody of himself, but I think episodes like this demonstrate how multi-faceted he is.

I liked this storyline a lot, but if I have one quibble it's that I really, really want April to have a storyline separate from Andy. I love them together, I think it's great that Andy is maybe going somewhere, and I've had more April/Andy-shaped feelings lately than I ever have before, but I'd really like for April to have some kind of narrative of her own.

Details That I Loved: "Crash course". Chris Pratt's stupid face at all times. The banner above the community college reading "Achieving Standards Every Day". Andy fucking nuzzling Ron (Ron and Andy hugs remain the best thing). Ron-Women's Studies Professor OTP.

And now we come to the Leslie/Ben part of our program. BE PREPAAAAAAARED.

I have really nothing substantial to say about this scene except that I should have named this image dumbfacesthatIdonotevenlike.png. Who gave you permission to ruin my life? Also as a side note, it's been awhile since we've seen Ben in plaid. Whither art thou plaid? It seems like during the break-up he has been sticking with more neutral shirts. Maybe now that he and Leslie have reunited he can bust out his checks again (though he can keep the Boom Sadness hair).

Ben: After this project finishes, I’m going to focus on other departments and cut down my time with Parks and Rec.
Leslie: What?
Ben: Well, look, I mean, we tried hanging out together, we tried working together, and it just… bums me out.
Leslie: No, no, no, see, we’re just working out the kinks. You don’t need to decrease your time with me. In fact, you need to increase your time with me. You need to spend more time with me. That make sense? I think it does.
Ben: Leslie, no, listen to me. After the smallest park wraps up, I’m going to ask Chris to take over all Parks and Rec business, okay?
Leslie: Okay.
Ben: All right.
Leslie: Well, if you’ll excuse me, I need to ascertain the whereabouts of some oversized ceremonial scissors.
Ben: I— Those are my pens and pencils!

Since I haven't written about the show in awhile I have all of these pent-up feelings about how the Leslie/Ben pairing has progressed so far in season four, and lucky you dear reader I am going to foist some of them upon you now! I honestly feel like their arc has been just as well-written as it was in season three, if less happy-making as a fan. I think it's hard when you're in the middle of an arc to see the forest for the trees; characters do things that frustrate you at the time, and things you expected or wanted to happen may not occur. But looking back on the first handful of episodes of the season, I think the writers executed this arc the way that it needed to unfold. There may be scenes that I wish were in there, and I may have been frustrated with these characters' behaviour at times, but I can't truly be mad at the show since all of Leslie and Ben's actions stemmed from an authentic, in-character place. It's an admirable achievement that they managed to make both Leslie and Ben sympathetic (and still comical!) in turns despite some frankly awful behaviour on both sides. I get Ben pulling away (how can he not? It just hurts too much) and Leslie pushing to stay in his life (how can she not? It just hurts too much). I get why Leslie has approached this post-break-up era with an almost manic enthusiasm and deliberately oblivious state of denial, because that is what Leslie does. I get why Ben is surly and withdrawn, because that is what Ben does. I get why Leslie is trying to stay friends, because what is more important to Leslie than friendship? And I get why Ben would be hurt by that, because even though I don't believe that Leslie would actually be comfortable with "just friends" mode in the long run, it might seem that way from his perspective.

All of that rambling leads us to this scene, which a lot of people were somewhat understandably freaking out about when it was first released as a preview clip. This scene stung, it stung hard, but again: in-character. I know people were getting annoyed with the back-and-forth between them between "End of the World" and "Smallest Park", and I probably would have too had it lasted several more episodes, but once more I think it makes sense for the characters. Leslie is always going to be relentless and enthusiastic, and Ben, well, even though he wants to pull away to protect his own heart, he can't help but be pulled back in to Leslie's orbit. And of course Leslie would be petty and steal his office supplies. That's just how she rolls.

I also wanted to point out that I'm glad they were awful at times. Their break-up was about as amicable as a break-up could be, but I like that in the aftermath we got to see them as flawed and oh-so-painfully human. More importantly, I'm glad that they got to see each other at their worst. It was rather clever of the writers to have them get to know each other better while they are broken up. It means that now that they are back together it's with a deeper understanding of who they are as people. They aren't in the bubble anymore, they know it, and they're OK with that.

“As a mature, reasonable adult I understand that this will be the last project Ben and I will be working on together. So, please join us for the grand opening of Pawnee’s smallest park on November 12th, 2070.”

This is really just it's own Detail That I Loved talking point, because Leslie has a picture from the Model U.N. on her desk! And I continue to draw hearts and stars around the props department.

"You see, Leslie here is a team of one, and that might be a very good team, but she kind of steamrolls the rest of her team — me — to do whatever she wants, regardless of how the rest of her team — me — feels. So, I don’t think we should work together anymore."

BEN CUTTING THE RIBBON WAS SO BRUTAL. In my head canon he thoroughly apologized for that, because even though I can understand his reaction to Leslie's steam rolling that was way harsh dude. What I really want to talk about, though, is Leslie because I've been reading some professional and fan reviews that have criticized her behaviour as being out-of-character and too over-the-top. First off, I am going to direct you to this stunning essay on Leslie Knope's characterization by [livejournal.com profile] calikalie. Just go read it right now because it's brilliant. Basically, Leslie has a history of behaving irrationally and competitively in both romantic and non-romantic situations, and has concocted many ridiculous plans in the past. It's the flip side to the passion and enthusiasm that are her most positive and lauded qualities. And it's not an aspect of her personality that magically appeared when she broke up with Ben, so I've never read her behaviour these past three episodes as "woman gets all irrational because of a man".

Also can I just take a moment to talk about how Chris is the worst? Because Chris is the fucking worst. For someone who prides himself on being compassionate (remember him selflessly comforting that random woman on the fourth floor in "The Bubble"?), he is stunningly insensitive in this scene. He may be unaware of Leslie and Ben's romantic history, but he knows they're friends and a great professional team so it's disheartening to see him be so flippant about the breakdown of their relationship.

Details That I Loved: This actually goes back to the public forum scene, but I love the fact that not only does the show bring back the same Pawnee citizens over and over again, but that Leslie knows them by name.

"You’re a steamroller! You are a massive, enormous, runaway steamroller with no brakes, and a cement brick on the gas pedal! You made me watch all eight Harry Potter movies. I don’t even like Harry Potter!"

I'm so thrilled that Leslie and Ann had scenes together this week. I didn't want Ann to specifically tell Leslie what to do, because I think it's important that Leslie took those steps on her own, but I'm pleased they at least had a chance to talk about what's going on. I am even more pleased that their second discussion was not just about Leslie and Ben, but about their own relationship. Not only that, but their central conflict was something that's been an issue in their relationship forever (and was even the underlying issue between them in "The Fight"). It was great to see that addressed. So many shows add and drop relationship dynamics willy-nilly, but the relationships on Parks always feel organic.

Ann: Listen, I know she can be strong-willed and difficult. She once made me eat an entire cheesecake at a potluck so she didn’t look bad. But I really think she’s ready to listen.
Ben: You ate an entire cheesecake? Why didn’t you just throw it away?
Ann: Because with everything she’s done for me, I would eat ten cheesecakes for her. Also, P.S., it was delicious and amazing, like everything she does. Will you please just talk to her? For my sake? I don’t have unlimited texting, and when she can’t talk to you, she texts me.

I also love that we got a scene between Ben and Ann, especially since it was so reminiscent of their fantastic scene in "The Fight". [livejournal.com profile] rikyl brought up a good point that it's not entirely clear what Ann's motivations are in this scene. Is she trying to facilitate a reunion? Or is she just trying to smooth things over because she saw her friend was in distress (and she wants said friend to stop jamming up her phone)? I'm not quite sure. Regardless, it was a really nice moment and a great parallel to Ben trying to repair Leslie and Ann's friendship in "The Fight".

Details I Loved: Ben's face when he sees all of the text messages (though seriously Ann, you should probably get a different plan). Ann's revelation that Leslie bakes (I mean, we all know she loves sweets but I kind of assumed she was not very domestic? I like this detail!).

Leslie: There is another option. We could just say screw it, and do this thing for real.
Ben: What?
Leslie: I miss you like crazy. I think about you all the time. I want to be with you. So let’s just say screw it!
Ben: No, we would have to tell Chris—
Leslie: Yeah.
Ben: It could turn into a scandal—
Leslie: Yeah.
Ben: It could hurt your campaign—
Leslie: Yes.
Ben: I mean, how would you imagine we do this?
Leslie: I don’t know. But I… I know how I feel, and I want to be with you. But I’m done steamrolling people. This is how I feel. How do you feel?

OKAY. OKAY OKAY OKAY. Let's see if I can talk about this scene as if I were a calm, rational human being who has completely normal reactions to things. Let us take a trip to Imaginationland and pretend that's the case. I will get to the specific mechanics of this scene below (because oh my god this scene you guys), but I think I need to first deal with the fact that this is a thing. A thing that happened. That they are doing this. Of course selfishly I'm glad they're back together, but I'm also glad from a storytelling stand point. I think it's a smart move to get them back together now fairly early in the season so the angst isn't dragged out all year and they can focus on other storylines. I'm also glad that this reunion isn't perfect. The scene was perfect, but things aren't neatly wrapped up in a bow and things are going to be messy. There is still room to develop this relationship in interesting ways. There will be consequences. Oh boy, there will be consequences. I totally get why a lot of people are nervous about them getting back together in term's of Leslie's career and her campaign, but I'm feeling good about where things are headed. Mostly I just have the utmost confidence in this team of writers. They know their characters and they love their characters, and I think if any show is going to have Leslie have it all it's this one. And from a purely logistical point of view, they still have half a season left to fill with plot so I highly doubt Leslie's campaign is in any real jeopardy. If I'm wrong I will burn Utica to the ground, but I don't think I'm wrong.

Of course that assuages my fears on a meta-textual level, but there still remains the slight niggling issue of Leslie's motivations in-text. Because Leslie doesn't know she's in the very capable hands of Mike Schur and company, and she's willing to take the risk anyway. My take on it is that a lot of the language Leslie used stemmed from the impulse of the moment. Her feelings are absolutely genuine and she really is committed to this, but I don't believe for one second that she meant that she is just going to drop her career and her campaign for Ben. Leslie isn't giving up her dreams to be with Ben; I think she has just expanded what "her dreams" encompasses, and it's not demeaning or a sign of weakness to want personal happiness and her career ambitions. I'll just quote [livejournal.com profile] calikalie because I think she hit the nail on the head:

I find the idea that it’s somehow more of a fulfilling life without romantic entanglements just as insulting as the idea that life isn’t worth living without a significant other. Both are inherently problematic. Why should Leslie be looked down upon for wanting to go after what she wants? Shouldn’t this kind of agency be something we actively want in a female character? Leslie has full autonomy in her life. There’s no one pulling her strings.

She's Leslie Fucking Knope, and damnit if she wants the guy and the job and the political office and all the waffles she can eat then she is going to go for it. GET IT GIRL. And this show is just as invested in her success as we are that I think she's going to get it.

BUT BACK TO KISSY-FACES AND KEYSMASHING. I love that it was Leslie to make the move, not just because it was nice to see Leslie be open and vulnerable about her feelings, but because it really needed to be her choice. Ben has made the first move in a lot of aspects of their relationship, and there were times when it seemed he might be ahead of her in terms of the depths of his feelings (I mean I always knew she had feelings, but Leslie is so passionate about everything that sometimes it's hard to get a read on her. I think this season has been more about her coming to terms with what those feelings mean than whether or not she has them). I have absolutely no doubt now that they are on the same page and are ready to face whatever may come together. There I go getting all sappy.

Details I Loved: Haha. Haha. Hahahahahahahaha. Let's just say I'm glad they don't have play counts on my video player. Like, good lord every frame of this scene is like a symphony of A+ face parts! Anyway. Coats! The way both of them look so exhausted in the beginning. The look of terrified hope in Ben's eyes when Leslie says there is another option. The way Leslie's voice cracks. The way Ben says "what" in total disbelief (and you can even see him shaking his head while Leslie is giving her speech, see I told you I've watched this too many times). The progression from "yeah" to "yes" as a kind of stamp of confidence and finality. Leslie's scared but hopeful little smile. The way Ben makes a beeline straight for her mouth. Her quick gasp of relief as he strides (not walks, strides) towards her. MOUTHS ON MOUTHS (AND THE FANDOM REJOICED. It's awesome the way they've blocked their kisses, actually, because while they were dating ~in secret~ their faces were obscured, but now that they're going to be out in the open the shot of their kiss was more open as well). Hands in hair! Thumbs on cheekbones! Ben's little squished nose against her cheek. The lovely, almost cinematic, final wide shot of them in the tiny park. The fact that I swear to god Leslie's foot popped like in the goddamn Princess Diaries.

© [livejournal.com profile] hauntes



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October 2012

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