‘Parks and Recreation’ Surprise Ending: Did It Work?


Parks and Recreation

On Thursday night’s episode of Parks and Recreation, Halloween and heart attacks were the big sells. But a final scene on the ep offered a much bigger, more surprising, and (debatably) emotionally moving turn of events for our favorite characters (spoilers to all those who haven’t seen yet): Leslie and Ben got engaged.

Some of us loved this revelation. Some, however, felt differently. And since we’re the sort of people who care enough about this kind of thing to scream adamantly at one another about our points of view, we figured we’d enlighten you unto the conflicting viewpoints on the issue.

So here it is: our debate on whether last night’s presentation of Ben’s proposal to Leslie truly worked on an emotional level.

Why It Didn’t Work

Argument presented by Michael Arbeiter

On Thursday night, Pawnee, Indiana — nay, our entire nation, was faced with what should have been one of the most rewarding moments in television history: Ben Wyatt’s proposal to Leslie Barbara Knope. The inception of their engagement (something we all knew, if not hoped, would happen eventually) came about suddenly after we saw Ben grapple with the decision to extend his leave from Leslie and take a position running a gubernatorial campaign down in Florida. 

Unfortunately, the shock value of the episode’s conclusion served to rob the moment of its emotional durability. The jagged nature of this turn of events seemed instead to take the form of an exciting, unexpected plot twist, whereas a founded, more subtly emotional moment between the pair would have been far preferable. I am the sort of person who has cried openly during every single legitimately moving TV proposal, wedding, birth, death, and friendship reconciliation I have ever seen. But this didn’t do it for me.

I am wholly rooting for Leslie and Ben. I couldn’t be happier over the fact that they are, now, engaged. But the decision didn’t seem to come about organically. Was Ben just entrenched in the idea of missing Leslie? Upset over the prospect of delaying his return to her? These seem to be what charged the uncharacteristically spontaneous move from our number-crunching friend. The Ben we know and love — the one who loves Leslie and will, in fact, be a loving and encouraging husband to her — is the sort who, in his greatest form, would spend months mulling over the decision and perfecting the presentation of his question to her. The Ben we saw last night was some different Ben, a desperate Ben. It didn’t feel real, and neither did the moment.

As I said above, I want nothing more than to see Leslie and Ben live out their lives together in joyful harmony (seriously — my own life is so hopelessly empty that I am unhealthily invested in these fictional characters). But when Parks and Recreation forced these two into a sudden engagement for shock value, it wasn’t the relationship I knew. It wasn’t the Leslie and Ben we’ve all fallen in love with.

Why It Worked

Argument presented by Kelsea Stahler

My opponent would like you to believe that the surprise proposal was ill-timed and rushed, and that it robbed two of our most beloved characters of one of the most emotional moments in their lives. I’d like to take this opportunity to whole-heartedly refute this point. Ben’s surprise proposal to Leslie was not only moving, but incredibly satisfying, in that it felt real. It felt like something that might happen to your friends—it just so happens that something similar did happen to a friend of mine just a few days ago—instead of something concocted by a clever team of writers trained to elicit the highest possible emotional response. Instead of being swathed in prefatory context for this monumental engagement, we happened upon it and were given the chance to react exactly as Leslie did: with the complete and utter outpouring of love and emotion elicited by such a beautiful, unexpected gesture. 

Let us not forget the entire point of the episode, which was that Leslie, the straight-A student of Pawnee local government, was trying desperately to plan her future down to every last detail. As she learned from Ben’s newest job opportunity and Jerry’s sweet (and fully ignored) speech from his hospital bed, it’s impossible to live according to a plan. It’s a lesson Leslie would have a hard time learning. (Think about it: She’s just about the most stubborn person in the contiguous United States – which is one of the many reasons Ben loves her.) The only way to truly teach Leslie the meaning of the life lesson “just wait and see” is to hit her in the spot where her brain can’t compete: Her enormous heart.

So, sure, it would have been wonderful to see a production around Ben’s eventual proposal to our lady hero (not a single fan of the show had a doubt it would happen in the near future), but that’s not the point. Leslie needed to be blindsided by this outpouring of love. Councilor Knope needed to be floored by the fact that not only can Ben not live without her, but he’s been hanging onto a ring, waiting for the right moment to strike so he could make Leslie his forever. She needed to be stopped in her tracks by the one thing that can always get her to stop spinning and steam-rolling: love.

It’s only appropriate. Leslie was willing to squash her entire political campaign and, later, the job she loves more than anything in the world. For love. And love had to be thing that finally showed her that her life can’t be determined by a series of spreadsheets, to-do lists, and calendars. Love can only be lived in the moment, and that’s what Thursday’s surprise proposal proved.

Did It Work?

What do you think? Did it hit home or miss the mark? Sound off below and let us know!

[Photo Credit: NBC]


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