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‘Parks and Recreation’ Series Finale Recap: “One Last Ride”

parks recreation finale

Parks and Recreation has been a show that, for the past seven seasons, I’ve loved unconditionally.

It didn’t really matter what the show did each episode, but every time that it aired (Tuesday or Thursday, or whenever I could find the time when I was binging it in those earlier seasons), I knew that I was in for a good time. I sat down, opened my laptop, and let myself be taken away into small town Indiana. And somehow, visiting Pawnee for twenty-two minutes at a time became the most glorious, exciting escape for me. Pawnee and the world of Parks and Recreation has never been a glamorous world. Parks and Recreation, for the most part, has focused on the actions of a local government, and one woman that pushed that government — and her town — to reach new heights whenever and wherever it seemed possible.

Parks and Recreation is that rare thing in television: a good-hearted comedy show. Even rarer: a good-hearted comedy show about politics. What made it such was the woman behind all of the stories — the woman that pushed and pried and worked harder than anyone around her could imagine, and not for any big goals, but for literally anything (broken swingsets included) that she deemed important. Leslie Knope was a thing rarer than the show that she was in: a kind warrior.

Leslie Knope cleaned up rivers, worked on rubbish trucks, petitioned for parks, and was always, always kind. Stubborn and steamrolling, yes. Occasionally ignorant of her friends’ feelings, yes. But never, ever uncaring.

Leslie Knope was a fighter that fought clean. She was old school in a way that meant working hard, never taking shortcuts, and outsmarting her opponents with sheer effort and determination. But her best strength was the faith that she had in everyone around her. Leslie Knope was a conductor of light. Even in the early days at the parks department, when she had little power or respect, she was like a light-bulb in Pawnee’s Parks department. If Parks and Recreation was a positive show (and it was, it really, miraculously always was), it only achieved that tone because of how Leslie reinforced that feeling in everyone around her.

So it made sense, in “One Last Ride,” that when Leslie touched everyone as they attempted to fix one last departmental problem (a broken swing that Ron fixed), we got flashes of all of their futures.

Honestly, I didn’t love the format of the finale, and of the other season finales that this show has had, there have been better episodes. But for what this season has done (reinvigorated the show and its characters, and shown us their futures and the wonderful consequences that Leslie and her team have brought to Pawnee), the time-jumping makes a lot of sense. It wasn’t perfect, and something smaller might have been more fitting for a show that always reveled in the smallest of tasks, but for the moments that we got out of “One Last Ride,” it was a worthy end to an enormously wonderful series.

Before Leslie and Ben leave for Washington (splitting their time between there and Pawnee, Leslie finally ready to make a move — of sorts — away from her hometown), she makes sure that her city and her friends (but most of all us as the viewers) are prepared enough to let her go. And from what we get to see, they are. Late into the 2000s, we see Andy and April having kids (after April is reassured that although she doesn’t have to be, she also could be a good mother and do it her own way); Donna setting up an NGO with her husband, Joe (Teach Yo Self!); Tom making a success out of his failures with a bestselling book, Lucy by his side as he does so; Garry living a long and happy life as Pawnee’s mayor, while Jean-Ralphio fakes his own death (of course he does) and Ron finally lands his perfect job.

parks recreation series finale

And it’s that last one — Ron going to Leslie for career advice after leaving the private sector — that provides what might just be the finale’s most touching moment. Ron Swanson has never been my favourite character (for so many people though, I know that he is), but as Leslie offers him his new job as the head Park Ranger for the National Park that he and Leslie fought for together, I don’t think that there could have been a better ending for Ron Swanson. He rows away from the shore, Willie Nelson’s “Buddy” playing as he does so (the very song that reunited Leslie and Ron only episodes earlier), and there’s an honest to god smile on his face. While Leslie’s spent her life trying to achieve change and progress in everything that she does, Ron’s goals have always been more low-key. Ron enjoys the more simple pleasures in life: breakfast foods, privacy, and the family that he formed in later seasons. But when he asks for Leslie’s help, together, they find something perfect for him.

And that’s just what this finale is. It doesn’t switch things up, or pull out any sort of hat trick. It’s an episode that, at its heart, just wants to reassure its audience that the raggedy team of government employees we all fell in love with over the years are all going to be okay. More than that, actually. The only sort of sadness featured is when Gary, at 100-years-old, passes away peacefully in his sleep. Parks and Rec has never tried to play it cool, or pretended to be smarter or darker than it is. And that might not seem like a lot, but for a show that has been running for this long, it really is.

“One Last Ride,” when I watched it, wasn’t the most powerful episode of Parks and Recreation that I’ve ever watched. It wasn’t even all that funny. But after I had watched it, after I had seen Ben sacrifice one last time for Leslie — something that we know she’ll do for him at some point, too, because they’re that kind of couple (just the best) — and had seen Leslie and Ann reunite, Leslie pushing her husband out of the way so that she could do so… It didn’t really matter what specifics I had seen in the episode. Because what you remember after watching shows aren’t specific events or jokes, but instead the feelings that you’re left with.

And at the end of “One Last Ride,” I was left with the kind of joy — tinged with a little sadness — that only Parks and Recreation could have given me. The episode itself wasn’t especially significant, but it never had to be. It just had to cap things off sweetly and succinctly, and it did that. It did that and more, giving us Jean-Ralphio’s confession of love for Leslie, April’s labour (complete with monster make-up), and the hint of a future presidency for Leslie Knope with Ben Wyatt right there by her side, just as we know he always will be. Parks and Recreation spent seven years with its heart on its sleeve, and even in its last moments, it never lost the sentiment that made it such a meaningful show.

Parks and Recreation was cemented as something special a very long time ago. “One Last Ride” was just a nice little addition to an already excellent collection of incredible and important episodes.

I’m going to miss this show so, so much. But thank you Parks and Recreation, for the 125 great episodes that you’ve given us.

I love you and I like you.

Notes

  • Nearly everyone was back, but there was no sign of Mark Brendanaquits 🙁
  • The now deceased Harris Wittels got a touching mention at the end of the episode from his fellow writers saying that they loved him.
  • It’s not said what kind of job Andy is up to in Washington, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s happy wherever April is, and I’m sure he found somewhere to perform his music — whether that be from the Johnny Karate collection, or Mouse Rat’s vast discography.
  • The Bidens were on! Both Joe and Jill! And it’s pretty obvious that, in the future, Leslie and Ben are just as much of a political power couple as them — if not more.
  • I almost expected a Li’l Sebastian resurrection of some sort, I will admit.
  • Ann named her daughter Leslie!
  • They ended with the Travelling Willburys, but for me, “Buddy” will be the lasting song I remember from Parks and Recreation‘s run.
  • If you need some more Parks, like, now, you can watch the cast reunite on last night’s Late Night with Seth Meyers.
  • “You ready, babe?” “Yes. I’m ready.”
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