‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “Halloween Surprise”
“Halloween Surprise” delivers on the promise of the title and then some, with several little surprises for everyone and a big, huge, giant one for Leslie in this week’s ‘Parks and Recreation.’
Jen Barkley (the always amazing Kathryn Hahn) is back because Ben’s current campaign has ended and she’s got an offer — a lawyer in Florida who became famous for a trial involving a penis and an alligator wants to run for governor of the sunshine state, and he wants Ben in charge of his campaign. It’s bad news for Leslie, though, who’s applied for a lease on a new house for her and Ben to share. Bummed out and annoyed at the Parks Department’s Halloween horror movie night (featuring the faux movie ‘Death Canoe 4: Murder at Blood Lake’), Ann gets Leslie in on a plan to scare Tom when he exits the men’s room, but they wind up scaring Jerry into having a heart — and fart — attack, which leads the ladies to spearhead a community auction/flea market to raise enough money to make up for their mistake.
Unable to control her situation with Ben, Leslie reaches out for the nearest object in her proximity that she can control, which just happens to be Ann, who she puts up on the auction block — resulting in one very handsome prospect, and one tattooed biker-looking fellow who wants to “get some Thai and a nitrous tank and see what happens.” It’s all an effectively funny way of giving us some insight into the psychology of Leslie Knope. She’s always been proactive and hard-working, and she’s able to overcome so many obstacles in her professional life; up until now, she’s even been able to handle Ben’s detour to DC, which she believed temporary. But when faced with the idea that the love of her life may be gone for even longer, she’s grasping for any semblance of control, and I think it’s a strikingly empathetic trait that the show portrays.
Even better is allowing Jerry, the perpetual punchline, to teach Leslie a little something about what it means to live. She’s so concerned with plans and making sure that everything is on schedule, and these are qualities you might expect from someone like Leslie, but these aren’t the things that are important. You can’t go around planning your life, as Jerry says, because it’s so unexpected all the time — what matters is being with the people you love, no matter what happens. Sometimes it’s just enough to have someone you really love in your life, and you can figure the rest out as you go along. I love when they give Jerry these really sweet moments after weeks of treating him like the sad clown because it reminds us that he’s got more depth, but it also allows us to see that the people he works with don’t really think of him as a punching bag.
Ann remains stagnant this week, only confirming Leslie’s assertions last week that she adapts to the personalities of the men she dates, by displaying a box for each ex-boyfriend, which contains the remnants of the lifestyles she briefly courted — flannel for Andy, exercise stuff for Chris, and a bunch of expensive crap she couldn’t afford for Tom. And speaking of Tom, it seems he’s got a new business plan — a spur of the moment idea that comes to him when a mom refuses to pay what he’s asking for a nice jacket for her son, so he offers to rent her the jacket on a weekly basis as part of his new “Rent-a-Swag” enterprise. Between this return to the entrepreneurial spirit and last weeks name-drop of Jean-Ralphio, I hope this means Ben Schwartz is making a comeback soon.
As for comebacks, April is back from DC and back to playing off of Andy in her natural element, but we’re still getting some wonderfully mature moments from her, like when she tries to help Ron repair his relationship with Diane after he ruins her daughters’ night of trick-or-treating. This is the second week in a row that the writers have put Ron up against something he doesn’t understand — last week it was Tom and modern technology, and this week it’s two rambunctious and demanding little girls. We’ve seen Ron around kids, but we’ve never seen him interact with two spastic little ladies. Unwilling to apologize to Diane for doing what he felt was pragmatic (one girl breaks the other’s tiara, so he breaks her tiara to make it fair so no one has one — seems logical to me), April gives him a little shove, and he takes the girls trick-or-treating a full week after Halloween to make it up to them and to show Diane that he can adapt to this new challenge.
But back to that huge surprise — Leslie goes back to the house she applied for only to be surprised by Ben, who’s come home early. He gets down on one knee and… well, we know where this is going. It’s such a powerful, heart-warming moment that avoids feeling too obvious or formulaic, even after decades of sitcom engagement tropes. The love between the two of them is so tangible that it’s hard not to start crying tears of joy and shouting “YES!” at your television — or maybe that’s just me. Of course Leslie says yes, but does this mean that Ben’s back for good, or is he marching off to Florida anyway? And will he take April away from Andy again?