I’ve never run for office (unless you count my failed attempt at becoming sixth-grade class treasurer, when I was beat out by the infinitely more popular Kim Merrill). But I would imagine that election day feels roughly like how it’s portrayed in “Win, Lose, Or Draw”: A frenzy of blurry moments. There’s little time for genuine human emotion, and when you’re delivering your victory speech, it’s not you who’s doing it, it’s this like robot person who has assumed your form—after all the stress of the day, there’s no time to really acknowledge your victory or act like a person. You’re an amalgamation of all the decisions and sacrifices you and everyone around you has made. Three months from now, you finally go, “Holy shit, I’m a city councilman!”
It’s not surprising that Leslie cries only once, alone in the voting booth. Out there she’s Leslie Knope, candidate for Pawnee City Council. In here, she’s Leslie Knope, fulfilling her lifelong dream of voting for herself—on a ballot! There’s another punctuated, elusive moment of silence later in the episode, right before Leslie is to deliver her victory speech. She turns to Ben and says that one day, when she’s much more calm, she’d love to read what Ben wrote as her concession. He doesn’t miss a beat. “I never wrote it.” She tilts her head lovingly in his direction, they share a quick kiss, and she’s thrust onto the stage, her speech starting in voiceover even before she steadies herself in the podium.
There’s lots of momentum in “Win, Lose, Or Draw,” which certainly mirrors the experience Leslie is having. It can feel a bit too chaotic at times, but that chaos is driven by what Ben says: There’s no doubt in anyone’s minds that Leslie could lose this election. So even though the day—and consequently the episode—is a whirlwind, it’s a whirlwind with an end in sight, expertly helmed and penned by showrunner Michael Schur.
The details of the election are pretty cut-and-dry. We start with the election commission laying out the ground rules for Ben, Leslie, and Jennifer Barkley: Votes are tallied, in the event of a tie, the man wins and the woman is thrown in jail, blah blah blah we all know how elections work. Then throughout the day, we check in with Perd Hapley to see how things are going, and Leslie’s sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always in the race. It ends by a narrow 21-vote margin, with amateur go-kart champion Bobby Newport walking away as the winner. But because it’s so close, Ben knows that he can demand a recount, and despite Barkley’s nagging (she just wants to go home), the commission decides to hold it. Two hours later, there’s still a 21-vote margin, only Leslie’s the victor. She delivers her speech and slides her photo onto the wall alongside the hundreds of white old men who came before her.
It’s all very cut-and-dry. There’s no big scandal that happens; the facts are straight and the plot moves along briskly. Like Ben, I’d pretty much known that a Knope victory was an inevitability (despite hearing that Schur wrote and shot two different endings to leave his options open). “Win, Lose, Or Draw” wasn’t about the election itself. As Leslie says at the end of her speech—tacking it on off-the-cuff—this victory should be celebrated by all those who brought Leslie to this moment, and the episode gives all the show’s characters a little sendoff into the season break.
Because everyone’s featured—yes, even Jean-Ralphio!—there’s little time to dwell on individual stories before the characters are whisked to the election party, held in a room Jermaine Jackson once visited. Tom is focused on throwing the most dope-ass gala as he tries to make last night’s dream of reconciling with Ann (and high-fiving Blue Ivy Carter) a reality. April is trying to handle things at the parks department office, and accidentally deletes all the files on all the computers. Andy tries gamely to help her out, first by reassuring her she made the right choice hiding under the table, second by trying to fix the computer the way he fixes his Xbox, slamming it to the ground. He then makes a list with April involving dream jobs and new locations to visit once they’re inevitably fired and have to move, change their names, burn their fingertips with acid, swap faces, etc. Then, Donna swoops in to save the day in typical Donna fashion: in three seconds. Ron and Ann are there mostly for moral support, and Jerry is there to forget to vote and feel guilty the entire day.
Meanwhile, Leslie and Ben have some business to deal with that has nothing to do with the election. Barkley, in a moment while she wasn’t humping Chris’ brains out, approached Ben with an offer to run a real congressional campaign. It’s in Washington D.C. for six months, and it starts in two days. Everything about season four of Parks led to this episode, yet suddenly the characters have to start talking about what’s happening next. Given all we’ve been through this season, it’s downright cruel.
The reality of any life-altering moment, the kind of thing you remember forever, is that life doesn’t actually stop while you experience said moment. The world continues to turn, and in the case of “Win, Lose, Or Draw,” important decisions need to be made about the future of Leslie and Ben’s relationship. Naturally, they handle it like champs. As much as Leslie wants to enjoy her victory with Ben and develop some sense of normalcy, she can’t let him give up on something that would significantly improve his professional life. She wishes him well, and gives him a miniature figurine of the Washington Monument—one of dozens in her office. It’s a little piece of her obsessive personality, a little piece of what Ben loves so much. And I’d like to think it’s a little piece of what we all love so much about this show.
- Perfect ending: Everyone angry at Jerry.
- Ron lists a whole bunch of things about himself in this episode. Some of my favorites: “I’ve had the same haircut since 1978.” “I have one bowl.” “I still get my milk delivered by horse.”
- Tom picked the wrong week to start a juice cleanse.
- Newport's concession speech: “I’ve never been more relieved in my life.”
- Ben should never drink whiskey, if only for that terrifying face he makes when he does.