S4E9: Last week, Parks and Recreation made a very intelligent move: avoid the will-they-won’t-they antics of Office couple Pam and Jim and go straight for the romance. To be honest, I was worried Leslie and Ben were beginning to fall into this repetitive trope, but in the final moments of “Smallest Park,” the secret couple decided they’d own up to their relationship and stare career disaster in the face.
The result is “The Trial of Leslie Knope,” a season high, a Parks & Rec series standout and one of the gosh darn sweetest episodes of television I may ever see. Delightful.
“…look up at this wrinkled, hideous man and you’ll know I’m waiting for you.” – Ben
Unlike many of the frantic, multi-thread episodes of Parks & Rec’s fourth season, “The Trial of Leslie Knope” keeps things extremely contained and fast-paced—like a sitcom version of The Social Network. Chris takes Leslie to task in the wake of her and Ben’s romantic admission, gathering the council and opening up a full investigation into any possible illegal activity. This doesn’t thrill anyone—Chris included, whose herbalist applied a healthy amount of honey to his lips making his face feel like a spaceship .Decreases stress, apparently.
Leslie holds her own against the inquisitive Chris, thanks to the positive reinforcement of her co-workers (“Ann, I need you to text me every 30 seconds that everything’s going to be OK!”). But even knowing that Ben is waiting outside the court for her can’t help Leslie feel 100% secure.
“Ann! Ben and I hooked up last night! And I learned how to use iMovie!” – Leslie
The tides turn for Leslie when each of Chris’ witnesses fail to reveal any wrong-doings resulting from the secret relationship. Ann testifies that she received a lovely e-mail from Leslie the night Ben and her first kissed. Tom confirms that his brief relationship with Leslie was a prank, and that dating her would “be like dating my older sister’s elderly aunt.” Tammy 2 randomly appears—her cloven hooves smelling distinctly of sulfur—but even she has nothing Leslie can’t tear apart. 200 episodes of Law & Order pay off big time for the savvy Parks & Rec employee…that is, until a certain, previously-bribed janitor enters the scene.
What’s wonderful about tonight’s episode is how Leslie and Ben’s outcome is continually uncertain. That feels unusual in a sitcom, to feel tickled by the jokes while having your heart race in anticipation of the story’s conclusion. This is what sets Parks and Recreation above its contemporaries, that a reveal—Leslie’s realization that she did do something wrong—is something truly shocking.
“In 1856, city council banned all sexual positions except for missionary. Then two years later, they banned missionary.” – Ron
Leslie and the rest of the P&R gang scramble to find answers, digging through Pawnee law books for a loop hole that might save her from a seemingly inevitable fate. Yes, Leslie did bribe a government employee who caught her and Ben fraternizing at Lil’ Sebastian’s funeral and, yes, that’s exactly the kind of evidence Chris needs to bust her. Work is everything for Leslie, and so is Ben, thus making the race for an out that much more crucial. And hilarious.
But Leslie doesn’t have a solution for this problem and sees this as the end of the road for her political career. Worst of all, she feels like she’s let down her crew. But Tom, in true Tom fashion, reassures her: “Bribing someone to cover up a sexcapade? I’m proud to call you a friend.” Leslie swallows her pride and accepts her sentence: two weeks paid probation.
‘”That was beautiful. I’m literally crying and jumping. [Crying noise] [Crying noise] [Nose blow]” – Ethel Beavers quoting Chris
The momentous cap to the episode comes with yet another twist: Ben, who spent the whole episode off-screen, secretly met with Chris and took the blame for the entire incident, allowing Leslie’s career to go unharmed. Court Stenographer Ethel Beavers recounts the meeting to Leslie, and in true, weird Parks and Recreation fashion, we get to hear Ben say “I love you.”
Leslie races to her knight in checkered plaid armor with her own Ethel Beavers message: I love you too. While Ben’s occupational fate is up in the air, the uniting of Leslie and Ben marks one of P&R’s biggest successes. Finally the couple can be all mushy, lovey dovey out in the open. For a show that’s all about kindness and friendship and love, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Perfection.