The last scene in “Halloween Surprise” is amazing. How amazing? Good enough to transcend the sad trombone of an extended fart joke (and because we’re talking about pathetic ol’ Jerry, I mean “sad trombone” in every sense of the word, especially the butt-tooting kind). Good enough to gloss right over the brief forays into Ann and Chris territory that didn’t add much. Good enough to probably earn Amy Poehler an acting nomination at next year’s Emmys, and Mike Schur a writing nod. Good enough to have me wondering how in the hell NBC is going to fare once Parks And Recreation calls it quits, either by choice or by mandate.
Leslie’s marriage proposal couldn’t have gone down any other way. Ben is learning, slowly but surely, not to be as calculated and cold with his intentions, and instead let the messy logic of his heart take over. So, he leaves a promising job in Florida to head back to Pawnee, surprise Leslie in her dream apartment right before it’s snatched away, and get down on one knee. Leslie, meanwhile, is calcuated to a T, but never in an abrasive or unsettling way. It’s more like she’s writing the autobiography of her life in her head, every second she’s alive. And this is a moment that would probably get its own chapter. Most of us just plow through life, the good and the bad, and reflect later on how we wish we had more time to enjoy the things worth enjoying. Leslie Knope not only knows this, but takes all the necessary steps to ensure that’s not going to happen.
Then she doesn’t even let Ben finish his question. She says yes. And to make this ice cream sundae even sweeter, Ben finishes his question, to which Leslie is all like, “Oh yeah, duh.” A flippant remark with the best of intentions (and a very Amy Poehler-type silliness, at that).
Perfect. Just perfect.
But let’s talk about everything else, too, because there’s a lot to like about “Halloween Surprise” that’s not related to the proposal. There’s the journey of Ron Swanson from callous grizzly to vulnerable teddy bear, paying off for the confusion I had a few weeks ago as to why he wasn’t going full-on for Diane. See, Ron’s writing his own autobiography, but unlike Leslie’s, his is not one he expects to fly off the shelves and make its way into the New York Times bestseller’s list. His is a pelt-bound journal he keeps in his shed, most likely. So he’s planned out his life, and it’s a very private one.
But self control is a muscle that occasionally gives out, and we’ve seen him go nuts in the past for Tammys of all stripes. With Diane, there’s no release of tension or friction-related rubbing off of his mustache. There’s just a quiet, growing warmth, like a tea kettle set to simmer, but never boil. And because Ron Swanson puts up this calm veneer to hide his chaotic emotional state, the lack of volatility is probably terrifying.
Parks And Recreation has a foundation in what it means to be a woman in politics, and the strengths of anchoring a show around a female friendship. But there are plenty of times when the show discusses what it means to be a man. There’s no greater testosterone incarnate than Ron Swanson, a guy who eats “all the bacon and eggs” and chops wood like a champ. But there’s also nothing manlier than realizing you’ve made a huge mistake, and making yourself vulnerable to someone willing to hear you out. And if it means taking her daughters trick or treating a week late, and demanding tubes of cookie dough from unsuspecting Pawnee residents, well, that’s just a manhood bonus.
Tom can have his “Rent-A-Swag” clothing rental service. Andy can have his childhood notion of what it means to be a cop (“Tree, leaves, night, sky, hand, Andy’s hand”). Chris can have his newfound enlightenment and ability to comically face his fear of aging by putting gray stuff in his hair. Morris can have his Twitter outrage, aka the part Joe Mande was born to play. Jerry can have his simple family values and boner-killing flatulence. Ron Swanson can be the one who truly gets it. Plus, he makes a good table.
The remainder of the episode is more about the entire town of Pawnee than anything, demonstrating just how tuned into the rest of the country it is. This isn’t a place that exists simply in sitcom land. It’s the kind of place where ironically live tweeting Death Canoe 4: Murder At Blood Lake is a thing people do and people dress like McKayla Maroney for Halloween. Where dating auctions are legitimately promising, but legitimately creepy. When an aspiring Florida governor says the words “gator eats penis,” it’s not something that just sits out in the open; it’s immediately explained, and justified (I know that’s not Pawnee, but it might as well be). And sure, Perd Hapley’s book is called The Thing About Me Is, I’m Perd Hapley, but that’s not that ridiculous a name for a book, sold at a charity auction appropriately called, “Jerry’s Kids’ Dad.” Throughout the silliness, the writers have managed to keep things grounded. Pawnee might be akin to Springfield from The Simpsons, but its residents are akin to our lovably odd relatives, not wackadoodles like Krusty The Clown.
So when Ben gets on one knee and proposes to Leslie, it’s not the only two normal people finding each other, as it sometimes seems is the case with Jim and Pam on The Office. It’s two people simply loving one another. “Halloween Surprise” is deceptively beautiful and elegant, and holy geez, I’m going to watch that last scene again.