I want to begin this week by declaring my love for Leslie Knope, who in my humble opinion is the best female character on network television, as well as its leading feminist. Liz Lemon gets all the attention, and while I can relate to her love of cheesy blasters and men who look like Jon Hamm, Liz’s lack of growth as a character has been a problem for the last two seasons of 30 Rock. Homegirl is stunted. Not so for our Leslie, who’s evolved considerably since the days when the mere mention of Mark Brendanawicz’s name could turn her into a quivering bowl of Jell-O, or when clueless Leslie would blindly follow her mother’s terrible career advice.
She’s now a rising star in Pawnee politics, and for a while there, she even had a cute, smart boyfriend. Leslie has grown more confident and learned to keep her nervous, jittery behavior in check, but she’s still the same deeply earnest, perfectionistic, and deeply idealistic person she was all along. It’s a testament to Amy Poehler’s skills as an actress that Leslie’s change has been gradual yet so dramatic.
Watching "The Treaty," though, I wonder if the evolution might go too far. Put another way: Will success spoil Leslie Knope? The danger seems very real, or at least it does in "The Treaty." I may be pushing it (I am), but something about the episode reminds me of A Star is Born or Notting Hill, one of those cautionary Hollywood tales about a woman too famous for her beau.
It all begins when Leslie accepts an offer to attend a meeting of the Pawnee Model UN. Naturally, she invites Ben, who’s at least as excited about it as she is. (“I didn’t really do Model United Nations in high school. Oh wait, I super did.”) She’s Denmark; he’s Peru. At first, it's all going swimmingly. Ben, Leslie, and their teenage delegates are hammering out a solution to the global food crisis when trouble arrives. Leslie has to pose for a photo op, so she asks Ben to “press pause” and “tread water” in her absence (Note the abrupt shift into metaphor-speak.) I found myself wondering whether Leslie might get too big for her britches. Could she become the Sarah Palin of Pawnee, addicted to the limelight and hooked on fame? I’m being hyperbolic, sure, but I do hope the Parks And Recreation writers avoid this kind of character arc. Leslie’s too good—and way too earnest—to be a diva.
But back to the episode at hand. Like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the photo op is the fuse that ignites the powder keg of tension between Leslie and Ben. He’s less upset about her photo shoot than he is about her insistence on being friends but not dating. “You can’t just chop up the aspects of a relationship into discrete parts and select the ones you want, like a buffet,” he says, storming off. It was a raw, brutally honest reaction, with no punchlines anywhere, which meant a big joke was about to follow. (On a sitcom, it's essential to fill the comedy void if someone goes sincere for too long.)
Borrowing a line from Gladiator, Leslie declares war on Peru/Ben and gets increasingly bellicose from there. “The only thing I will be waving is your decapitated head on a stick in front of your weeping mother,” she screams, terrifying the delegates. No, it wasn’t Leslie’s finest moment and yes, she was acting psychotically, but whatever—it was a fantastic line. Eventually, after the security council expels Denmark and Peru from the delegation, Ben and Leslie reach an agreement: They’ll talk at work for five minutes every day. It’s a sad little compromise, but it will have to do for now.
While Leslie and Ben are solving the global food crisis/their relationship, Chris hatches an investigation into Millicent’s cooled affection for him. He sits down with Donna, Ann, and (ew) Jerry to discuss what could have gone wrong. Ann tells him that his “relentless cheeriness is confusing,” which is both funny and true, and she also vents about her hatred of jogging. “I know it keeps you healthy but, God, at what cost?” For her part, Donna just wants to hear about the sex. (Notice the look of disappointment that washes over her face when she hears the hot tub was broken. Classic.) The storyline doesn’t feel particularly fresh—by now we’ve seen the Chris-is-a-robot joke many times before—but there’s enough good stuff here to make it work. Rob Lowe is so fundamentally perfect for the part, and he plays it with such maniacal optimism that Chris always ends up funnier than a relatively one-note character has the right to be.
Rounding out the episode is Tom, who finally makes his less-than-triumphant return to the parks and rec department—otherwise known as “Tommy’s Place”—after the noble failure of 720 Entertainment. At first Tom is insistent that he’s focusing on his entrepreneurial pursuits (“I’m like a shark—don’t swim backwards”), and Ron asks him to help interview the candidates for his replacement. The most promising candidate is Courtney, who hasn’t worked since 1968 when he was fired for “making a pass at an ethnic woman.” Ron issues his verdict—“Looks like you’re ready to get back in the game”—as Courtney shuffles out of the office. Of course, the interviews are a sham because Ron knows that Tom is actually working the cologne counter at Macy’s, and he’s desperate to lure him back into the fold. Eventually, Tom agrees to return to the department—but only after Ron drags him back in by the ear. It’s a perfectly good supporting plot, if nothing earth-shattering, but the best part is that we’ve got Tom back.
- Something to add to the Ron Swanson fact file: He sands his toenails every three weeks, because his nails are too strong for clippers.
- Andy was really on a roll tonight, beaming with pride after trading away Finland’s military for 50 lions from Kenya, calling an Erlenmeyer flask a “science bottle,” suggesting that you can rearrange the letters in “Peru” to spell “Europe,” and requesting to be Germany in the UN because “they’ve never been the bad guys.”
- I loved Leslie’s angry French. “Madame Ambassador, pourquoi?”
- Relationship advice from Donna: “You gotta dangle the carrot, literally and metaphorically.”
- “Food schmood, this is war. It’s time for you to nut up, Switzerland.”
- “A fact is not an anecdote.”