The impending end of the world is a great time to begin living. To spawn alternate timelines where life goes on a little bit richer. To reset the status quo and start a new journey. Thinking that you’re going to die— even if that possibility is minute in the face of an evil cult prophecy— causes you to reevaluate things. Not to be more needlessly profound here, but this was most recently evidenced by the passing of Steve Jobs, whose bio I’m reading at the moment. This episode was likely written months before the Apple leader’s death, but it’s hard not to keep that in the back of your mind while watching Parks and Rec tonight.
Or maybe it is, because this episode—titled, appropriately enough, “End of the world”—was fantastic, a perfect blend of real story progression (for once) and some great situational comedy. The whole metaphysical theme of death and rebirth was brought on last night by the appearance of Herb Schaifer, an old cult leader, visiting to Leslie, who claims that the end of the world is tomorrow! Nooo! It’s the third time this season that Parks has gone to the newspaper story well for a plot point, and while the show’s at risk of being too timely for its own good, when the results work like they do tonight, I can’t complain.
Doomsday scenario one: The Cult of Zorp, the official religion of Pawnee back in the 70’s, is still kicking around. The remaining members of “Reasonabilism” sit in the park and fiddle while Rome burns. Or rather, they flute. Sensing a commercial opportunity from those who wish to part with their money before heaven*, Ron hangs out with the cult and serenades them to dollar signs. On the law and order side Leslie, Ben, and Chris head down to make sure that nothing gets out of hand. Turns out, the only thing they’ll have to face is their face being melted during the reckoning.
Doomsday scenario two: While at the park, the erstwhile reporter Shawna Malwae-Tweep is doing a story on the Reasonabilists, and after interviewing Leslie she proceeds to hit on her attractive coworker. No, not Chris…Ben. When the pair’s flirting seems to be a success, Leslie becomes insanely jealous. She asks Ann for advice, demises it, and tries to pry Shawna and Ben away with a Very Important Proposition. Leslie kidnaps Ben in her car, drives miles to a gas station, and before she can make it through her lie, Ben confronts her. It’s over. For good. (Fangirls, start your crying.)
Doomsday scenario three: The wheels started to come off the blinged-out bus last week, but this is the episode where Entertainment 720 does a 360 into the ground. Faced with bankruptcy and a measly payout of $5,000 each, Tom and Jean Ralphio (so good to have you back, buddy!) throw an End of the World* bash. After all, who cares? Bouncy slides, marching bands, four VIP sections abound. Not many people show up, but it’s still a near-perfect party in the eyes of the hosts. Still, something’s not quite right.
Doomsday scenario four: Also contemplating their misfortune in the face of possible extermination from Earth*, Andy thinks its time to spice up their life by whipping out his bucket list. And so, reluctantly, April helps Andy accomplish such fulfilling goals as “holding $1,000 in my hand” (in hundreds, then singles, then nickels), “making the most awesome grilled cheese sandwich ever”, “winning the lottery” (even if the prize is ten bucks), and one of the best sequences of the night: “become an action movie star”. Andy, clad in a bike helmet and confronted with the capture of his wife by the Russian mob—Jerry, really—busts through his sliding glass door while April’s sister films Burt Macklin, FBI: The Movie. But is any of this stuff really the best way to go out?
Which brings us to rebirth/redemption/the rekindling of spirits. A new day dawns, and the Zorpians are still on the lawn, $80 poorer from a flute purchase. Ben is at home, but Shawna never went home with him. Rather, Leslie comes up and apologizes for her actions, acknowledging the new relationship the two must move forward with. Here we see a twinkle of the old Leslie-Ben rapport, and maybe things won’t be so frosty from here on out. Meanwhile, Wendy shows up to Tom’s party, which brightens his situation and ends with a kiss (!) before she heads back to college.
Lastly, in the most touching and greatest resolution, April and Andy cross off everything feasible on his bucket list, but one thing remains. April jacks her dad’s good car and the pair go on a road trip. A quick scene cut later, they’re at the Grand Canyon at dawn, 30 hours away from good old Pawnee. They (and us) take in the beauty (subject to possible green screening) and seem to see the sun rising on their lives as well. Everything is sunshine and landscapes, but not before Andy spits out one question… “Where are all the President’s heads?”. Oh, Andy, this is why we love you and your crime-fighting alter ego. (Side note: Curious how they got to Arizona? NBC is posting some webisodes filling in the gaps.)
Scenes like that, and the prospect of finally having Leslie and Ben interact again, are why we really love this show. Come for the Zorp humor, and Jean Ralphio’s brilliantly over-the-top rhetoric, stay for the night because Pawnee has a renewed vigor. Now that the status quo has shifted slightly for almost all of our characters, I’m excited to explore the next chapter in the season. Plus, even though the world didn’t end last night, it just might on May 20th.
*Claims subject to insanity, or the rising of the sun by morning.