Parks and Recreation’ returns tonight with two all-new episodes, taking Leslie and April to Washington in the first, and skillfully tackling feminism in the second. But overall, both episodes are essentially about the same thing: giving someone the room to forge their own path and accepting them for whatever they choose. We’re definitely on a roll in the final season—it’s just too bad that NBC won’t spread these episodes out more to let us take our time to enjoy the farewell.

Last week, NBC gave us one episode of ‘Parks and Rec,’ but this week it’s back to the two-a-week format—and while that’s typically been a sore spot for me, tonight’s episodes pair so beautifully together, united by not just their humor, but their heart. In “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington,” Leslie drags April along on a visit to meet with several of her government peers (including Madeleine Albright, Barbara Boxer, and John McCain) to lobby for their support. But April’s finally reached a breaking point and can’t stand to continue working in a job she isn’t sure she wants, so the trip becomes a series of awkward interactions with a tenacious (as always) Leslie trying to push her idea of a five-year plan on April, while April struggles to avoid telling Leslie the truth.

Meanwhile, back in Pawnee, Andy, Ron, and Ben team up to find April the perfect job, which gives us an awesome reprisal of Barney and the accounting firm nerds who love Ben’s math puns a little too much. Like ‘The Simpsons,’ Pawnee has such a rich fabric of supporting characters, so it’s great that we’re getting a last visit with so many of them in the final season.

And as it’s the final season, we’re also building to some neat conclusions, and so what if a lot of it is fan service? ‘Parks and Rec’ is doing a fine job of delivering this final season, and I doubt that we’d want these specific happy endings so much if it wasn’t for the way these characters have been written and how well we know and love them. Of course Leslie will take a promotion in D.C., and of course she and Ben will split their time between D.C. and Pawnee, and of course we want April to pursue something she cares about—hell, we just want April to care about something besides Andy and Champion. This is the trajectory of the series and these characters. We want these things because they want them.

Much of the first episode is devoted to April trying to find a job she cares about and Leslie coming to respect that April has to make her own choices and forge her own path—not do what someone else thinks is best for her. This segues perfectly into “Pie-Mary,” as Leslie and Ben are put on the offensive when Leslie doesn’t want to participate in the Pie-Mary, a bake-off for the politicians’ wives. Obviously, the concept doesn’t sit right with Leslie, a fiercely independent woman who doesn’t spend all day in the kitchen and feels as though something like a Pie-Mary is stupid and reductive.

The episode all leads up to a protest at the Pie-Mary, where Ben has made his own pie to compete (OK, yes, it’s a calzone, duh) in place of Leslie. As is inevitable in the political arena, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Leslie wants to compete to please their more conservative constituents, and even though it’s a stupid pie contest, it still rouses the anger of the local feminists. And by the episode’s climax, it’s got all the major gender idealist groups in the town involved—yes, even MRAs and women against feminists.

But it boils down to this, much like tonight’s first episode: you have to do what’s best for you and respect others for doing the same. Some women want to be in the kitchen and at home. Some women want to work. Some women want both. Some women want neither. And all of these choices are OK because it’s not right to reduce a woman down to one ideal or another. Leslie and Ben’s speeches to Pawnee cleverly but directly address sexism that is still unfortunately so prevalent, and I especially love when Ben calls out journalists for not asking him about his kids or how he manages to “have it all.” Only women are ever asked these dumb questions, like how they juggle work and family, or why they look different or changed their appearance.

The second episode also brings some of the more emotional moments this season, almost like a tear-filled appetizer of the crying shower to come. Jerry/Gary and Donna, two often under-appreciated characters on the series, got their very own sub-plot taking not just Donna, but all of us down memory lane as Jerry/Gary loses his keys in the gutter…again. And April and Ron get a lovely sequence of moments, as April struggles to find Ron’s spare house key that she hid from herself, which gives Ron the best scavenger hunt of his life (and he loves puzzles so much!). By episode’s end, Donna and Jerry/Gary bond over the one thing they do have in common: the parks department and all the memories there. April and Ron bond over something they have in common (besides respect for Ron): they both loved the same old tree so much that they buried valuable things underneath it.

I’m going to miss these goofballs.

Additional Thoughts: 

  • Andy would like you to call him Apple Sauce, Barbecue Sauce, or Count Chocula.
  • “Creativity is for people with glasses who like to lie.” A. Ron’s talking about Tammy Two, or B. He’s talking about me.
  • Speaking of visits from favorite supporting characters, tonight’s second episode gives us a visit from Harris. I love that dude.
  • Highway to the calzone zone!
  • Yes, having April and Andy move to D.C. is another one of those neat ways to wrap up the end of the series nicely, but I won’t lie: I take comfort in knowing that when Leslie and Ben are in D.C. half of the time, they’ll have a piece of Pawnee there with them. Also, let’s take a moment to fantasize about future Ben and Andy adventures we’ll never get to see.
  • ‘50 Shaved Old Gays.’
  • “The Feminist Mesquite.”