‘Parks and Recreation’ Recap: The Treaty

Leslie and BenS4E7: One of the most beautiful things about Parks and Recreation is that it has a cast of ten very rich, very three-dimensional major characters (plus one Jean-Ralphio), all of whom we have come to care deeply about. With this strength, though, comes an inherent weakness: because we care about each and every one of these characters, and we only have twenty-two minutes a week to spend with the lot of them, we are inevitably going to feel like someone that we cherish is getting short-changed. Sometimes this comes in the form of diminished screen time—this isn’t so much of an issue this week, as we get stories involving everyone in the Parks & Rec department. Sometimes, it means interesting arcs being cut short, sacrificed to make room for larger stories—this is a present flaw in this week’s episode. And sometimes, since we’re always so pumped to see these characters do what they do best, we simply get a little disappointed when we see them used incorrectly.

“Friends drive you to the airport and help you move. All boyfriends do is…love you and marry you.” – Leslie

Leslie is headlining a Model U.N. event for Pawnee high school students who are passionate about the club. The only person as excited as Leslie for the afternoon is Ben, who “super-did” Model U.N. in high school. Last week laid some pretty serious groundwork for the discomfort/frustration Leslie and Ben have around each other due to lingering romantic feelings, and this week tends further to that storyline. Naturally, Leslie’s campaign managers feel that this event would make a good photo-op, et al—Ben does not deal well with this. Feeling abandoned by Leslie after they had begun the day in such a fun/dorky celebration of their mutual interest, he develops an immediate hostility toward her once her attention shifts elsewhere. His reaction might seem inconsistent with his extremely supportive act of ending their relationship so that Leslie could pursue her dream guilt-free, or his passive-aggressive bottle-up-your-problems theory as expressed in the Halloween episode, but at second thought, that doesn’t necessarily suggest error: people are inconsistent, especially when overcome by strong (negative) emotions. He wasn’t acting like the gentle Ben (yep, going there) we know, because he can’t help but feel jealous, sad, a little bitter even, at seeing Leslie dote over the “love for which she left Ben”: politics.

The fight escalates and encompasses the entire Model U.N., provoking Leslie and Ben to declare war on one another and form alliances against each other. After the French ambassador calls the duo out for their behavior, Leslie and Ben recognize how they’ve been acting and come to a reconciliation. They acknowledge how difficult it will be to stay friends, but they vow to try. It’s sweet, and real, because the problem is clearly not over—but it’s being worked on.

“Tom Haverfords don’t grow on trees.” – Ron

“If they did, I would sell ‘em—Tommy Trees!” – Tom

Tom is amazing. Ron is amazing. Tom + Ron = amazing. In fact, were it not for the pretty obvious conclusion impending the whole way through, this week’s Tom/Ron storyline would be amazing. It is funny, even if both characters are a bit out of their elements—that’s a testament to the show, that we can love and feel familiar with characters even when they’re acting out of the norm (because it’s rooted in the way we really understand them to be). And as much as I love Tom as a Parks & Rec employee, I was really hoping his “trying to make it big” storyline wasn’t going to get thrown out. I want to see Tom pursue his dream further. Maybe he’ll have ups, probably a lot of downs. But the character has established since Day 1 how he wanted something more (not more substantial, just more expensive) than his P&R* life. I can only hope that this is not the end of his extra-Park ambitions, as they are integral to the Tom character. But I can optimistically say that I feel as though as long as Jean-Ralphio is hovering around, Tom will always have a scheme in the works.

“I am sorry that I added five years to your life.” – Chris

I’m not really sure what’s going on with Chris lately—or Anne, for that matter. Perhaps they are using the two in a more confrontational forum to break Anne out of the void that she’s been in since their breakup. But where the idea came for Chris to date Jerry’s daughter is beyond me—I’m none too fond of the “She’s hot despite the fact that her father is Jerry” jokes, or Chris’ overt openness with Jerry about their love-life. It all just seems a little one-note, and flat on top of that. So the storyline surrounding Chris/Anne/Jerry/Donna (characters I’m all perfectly fond of ordinarily) this week, in which Chris commandeers the other three to get perspectives on why Jerry’s daughter isn’t calling him back, doesn’t work for me. The payoff is Anne coming into her own and calling Chris out on his self-absorbed nature, but then admitting that their relationship in turn made her come out stronger. I suppose we’ll have to see what exactly they decide to do with Chris/Anne/Jerry/Jerry’s daughter in episodes to come. But if it’s more of the same, I’m hoping that this storyline is dropped promptly. Anne deserves to interact with other characters—her Ron stories this season have been subtly phenomenal—and I’d like to see her come into her own independent of Chris.

This week’s episode of Parks has a lot of what makes us love the show. We are enamored and charmed by Leslie, even Leslie at her worst (because Leslie at her worst is always for really sweet, eye-welling reasons). It has Tom being suave, Andy being goofy, and Ron taking pride in things that no man should (and pulling it off in a way that makes all men think, “Maybe that is something I should take more pride in”). But, as expressed above, it’s easy to feel like characters we love so much aren’t always getting the stories they deserve. “The Treaty” is a little thinner than your usual Parks. But, it’s still very much a Parks, and still very much a great, funny, warm episode of television.

*Or, if you prefer, Tommy’s Place.