Today is Leslie Knope’s last day on City Council. She’s taken African dance lessons, watched every episode of Murphy Brown, temporarily adopted a cat, and left a few internet comments (probably quotes from Jack London), but Leslie is definitely not through with the stages of grief. So when Councilman Dexhart holds yet another press conference to admit yet another scandal, she takes it as a sign. Pawnee still needs her. She’s going to run for Dexhart’s seat.
But Pawnee might not be giving her the second chance she thinks it is. For one thing, remember when Dexhart had four-way sex in a cave in Brazil while pretending to build houses for the underprivileged? I don’t think Tex-Mexting (“which is where you send photos of your junk from the restroom of a Chili’s To Go”) is going to change anything. For another, Leslie would have to spend 51% of her time in Dexhart’s raccoon shantytown district. Ben’s not thrilled at that idea, which brings us to the most important problem of all: nobody else thinks Leslie should do this.
Not a single one of Leslie’s friends, who love and support her and put their lives on hold to get her elected, believes that she should run again. Except for Jerry, but what does he know. Everyone else sees the obvious: a campaign against Dexhart would be long and dirty. It might turn her into something she’s not, and she would almost definitely get hurt in the process. Leslie’s already put herself through this once. It’s time to move on.
This isn’t what Leslie wants to hear, so she shuts down her friends and determines to run without their help. She knows that nobody achieves anything alone, but Leslie is just so desperate not to let go of her dream. That’s where Ben comes in. He’s finally found the perfect “sorry you lost your dream job” gift—an hour of consultation with Jen Barkley. Ben Wyatt paid $1200 to make sure that there was a professional, respected, unbiased voice in Leslie’s life telling her that she’s meant for bigger things. I will be single at age 85 because of the standards set by a fictional man.
Jen hears Leslie’s frustration but reminds her that being the better person doesn’t guarantee victory. “Terrible people defeat great people all of the time.” (Happy 100th episode!) And even if Leslie did win the City Council seat, why would she want to, exactly? Why work so hard for people who don’t support her? Leslie says it’s her dream job, but Jen won’t accept that. Leslie can dream bigger.
“Look, you love this town. It’s being run by monsters and morons? Get a better job! Rise above their heads! Effect change at a higher level!..Pawnee has done you a favor. You’ve outgrown them. You’ve got talent, you’ve got name recognition, which means that you have a bright, wide open future with a thousand options. State Senate. Federal jobs. Even Congress. All of these are doable for you. And you can trust me. Because I don’t care enough about you to lie.”
I feel like this entire show makes sense to me in a way it didn’t five minutes ago. There’s always been this tension between Leslie’s big time dreams and her small town pride. She sees herself in the White House but can’t see any reason to leave Pawnee. She wants to sit in the big leather chairs in the important halls of this country, but her best self comes out when she’s knee-deep in dirty river water, or bent over a woman’s garden, or sitting patiently with the concerns of her fellow townspeople, or fighting to save a gazebo. The work Leslie does is up close and personal. The change she wants to effect is sweeping and governmental. And those finally aren’t in conflict anymore.
Because that gazebo still got torn down. That river is still a mess, and that lady didn’t even thank Leslie for spending all day in her garden. This doesn’t make Leslie’s efforts any less valuable, but it does lend some perspective. One person can only do so much in a town like this. Leslie’s been quietly changing the lives of Pawnee’s weirdos for years now, but if she wants to change the quality of life in Pawnee, she’s got to rise above it.
To quote Sage’s recap at Head Over Feels, “There are other ways to affect a community than from within.” Government work can affect the individual without being small scale. Leslie can go anywhere and do anything and still be helping her town. Her Pawnee loyalty doesn’t have to limit her.
It’s time for Leslie to take a step back and get a new perspective. That’s why she can’t hear her friends’ advice until it comes to her from Jen Barkley. That’s why she decides that rather than run for City Council, she’ll make out with Ben on his face and eat waffles and take a moment to think things through. And that’s why Ben takes her to Paris. (Ben. BEN.) She’s got time–a whole seventh season!–she’s got potential, and she’s got smart friends who love her and want to see her succeed. Leslie’s going to be just fine.
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