Brief spoilers for last night’s Parks and Recreation follow:
While it’s easy to see Parks and Recreation as Leslie Knope’s story–or, lately, as Leslie and Ben’s–the show began as Leslie and Ann’s. Way back in the first episode of Parks, in that short first season when it was finding its tone, it introduced Ann Perkins complaining about an open pit near her house, introducing the shovel-ready project that drove the show’s first episodes.
The pairing gave Leslie a friend and ally, of course, but it also introduced Parks’ idealistic, small-d democratic theme: that ordinary people and public servants of good will could find common ground–or a common hole in the ground–to help each other. It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t be fast, but contra Ron Swanson, good government could actually do little things that made people’s collective lives better.
Over the years, Parks grew bigger, broader, and funnier, but last night’s sweetly nostalgic “Ann and Chris” also returned to that small-scale optimism of Parks’ early episodes, with plenty of callbacks and plenty of cry time. Because the show has grown so much, of course, the farewell had a lot to look back on and a lot of stories to serve: Ann and April’s relationship (culminating in that sotto voce “I love you”), Chris’ friendships with the guys (and his Bumbleflex), and a whole history of connections and interrelations to check off the list. But I’m glad that “Ann and Chris” also said goodbye to the pit, marking the groundbreaking of the project and showing–in the way that Parks can be communitarian without being corny–that Leslie and Ann’s friendship did some good in the world beyond just themselves. By the end of the episode, I needed a zebrawood box for my tears.
The killer for me, however, was that final shot: Ann and Chris’ car disappearing into the horizon as the camera pulls back and we see–as far as I recall for the first time–the skyline of Pawnee. Which, speaking as a Midwest native, seemed a little New England idyllic and otherworldly to my eye, but maybe that was the point. The whole idea of Parks, I guess, is that a community of people coming together can make a town into something magical.
The image was so lovely, in fact, that I wonder if Mike Schur and company ever considered saving it as a final image for the series–which, having been all but picked up for a seventh season, now has a way to go. But this isn’t the first time that Parks has closed a major episode on a scene that felt like a great series-ender. Using it to send off two of the show’s stars, and to close one chapter in the show’s history, was I guess a gesture of faith. Like Ann and Chris heading for Ann Arbor, and the rest of the gang breaking for breakfast, uou just have to believe that there will be something else equally as great down the road.