Parks and Recreation: "London" (Episodes 6.1 & 6.2)
While half of Parks and Recreation‘s cast spent “London” in the titular city, the episode wasn’t about everyone looking elsewhere for fulfillment. Instead, “London” was about its characters looking inward to regain their self-confidence and core beliefs. Last season ended with a speed bump for our favorite Pawneeans, where a few decisive actions cast doubt into their most deeply held beliefs. Most significantly, there was the effort to impeach Leslie Knope, but there was also the attack on Tom’s successful clothing business and Diane’s pregnancy, which wouldn’t be worrisome except for Ron’s repeated avowals that he’d prefer if nothing ever changed. It was a series of cliffhangers that challenged the characters to really stand up for themselves rather than just letting events happen to them, and these new developments continually questioned whether the cast was really living the lives they wanted to live.
With the sort of breakneck speed that helps make Parks so good, “London” gave us immediate answers. The most surprising came in our first few minutes back, with Diane telling Ron about her pregnancy. Ron’s own philosophy has always been to avoid change, but this was always softened by the audience’s knowledge that he’s secretly a big softie. He immediately proposes to Diane—who he was planning to propose to anyhow, just on his canoe for typically convoluted reasons—and they head upstairs to get married. It’s the comedic equivalent of what Breaking Bad does so well, skipping past the sitcom padding and getting right to business.
Cut to a month later, Leslie is still threatened with impeachment and her method of regaining popularity is going nowhere. She has, of course, a massive plan. But the step she’s on during “London” is a wonderful metaphor for all her efforts as a city councilor, not to mention her work in the Parks Department before it: she helps people. But here, the only people who seem to appreciate her are her friends, and when April tells Leslie she’s won an award she secretly nominated her for, it’s no surprise that Leslie is ready to leave the city she loves so dearly and head to London.
Once Leslie accepts the award, she has a meltdown. All the other women who’ve won seem to be appreciated by their communities, and she can’t take Pawnee’s distaste for progress. Unfortunately, while she thought this would be an opportunity to vent, Jerry was having a party in her honor that livestreamed the acceptance and its accompanying “Pee-Pee Head Speech.”
Upon her return to Pawnee, it will be even tougher to regain the community’s trust, but the question being posed here is whether that’s really important. Leslie wants people to understand how their lives are being improved, but the point being circled around is that it doesn’t really matter. Leslie has always had certain vanity problems, it’s only that she’s so hardworking and kind-hearted that this is easy to look past. “You choose a thankless job, you can’t be upset when nobody thanks you,” is what Ron tells her, and by the end of the episode she’s starting to understand that this is the truth. After all, this is a city that seems more than content with Councilman Jamm, whose blatant corruption and distaste for any form of government that makes him do more work is his trademark. Should Leslie do what’s best for Pawnee, even when the city doesn’t want it? Parks answers with a resounding yes, though the question now is whether Leslie will be allowed to do it.
Off in London, Andy and Ben are searching for a wealthy donor for their charity, and Ben is startled to find the wealthy British man he was hoping to persuade prefers Andy to him. It turns out the Brit shares Andy’s childlike glee, and while he wants to do something good with his money, he doesn’t care enough to really research what that means. Andy convinces him that Sweetums’ charity is “great,” and he agrees to donate on the condition that Andy stay in London to help the transition. Andy’s growth here is smaller than other characters who were given a full storyline in the episode, but it’s about gaining confidence in himself as an adult. At this point he doesn’t believe he can do it, but April prods him in the way she did Leslie and he agrees to stay around and do his best, even if his best turns out to mean getting lost in Stonehenge.
Back in Pawnee, Tom sets out to find whoever it is cloning and destroying Tommy’s Closet, only to be startled by learning it’s Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa’s father, played by Henry Winkler. After meeting him, Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa finally make sense. He was funding the store as a sort of revenge for Tom cheating and corrupting his children, but even when confronted with the truth he decides he doesn’t care. After all, his knock-off store is already a success. Here it’s a matter of whether Tom is willing to fight for his store, even with the likelihood that he will fail. It’s similar to what Leslie faces, and like her he makes the choice to go on fighting.
Last, there’s the other storyline infected by Jerry’s unintentional meddling. Ann’s pregnancy is coming along, and she’s surprised to find that no one else really cares. Chris and Ann talk to Jerry, and are so grossed out by what he says that they lose their own excitement. It’s a slight storyline, especially compared with the sprawling narratives we have in the rest of the double-length episode, but it’s important nonetheless in showing us how much closer Ann and Chris have grown. At the end of the episode, they don’t care what anyone else thinks of them and their baby, especially Jerry, only that they’re personally happy about it.
Intercut with all of these was Ron Swanson’s British odyssey, which wasn’t so much a storyline as it was a way of beautifully summing up the philosophy being espoused throughout the entire episode. The reasons for Ron tagging along are silly, but then, so is all of the London trip—how often are sitcom excuses for remote episodes plausible?
Once Leslie sees how unhappy Ron is with the city, she sends him out to see to the rest of Britain. He sees the beautiful countryside and canoes and eventually ends up with solitude and Lagavulin. Short of having Diane and her children by his side, it’s obvious that this is a sort of perfection to him. Ron’s journey isn’t about this, though, it’s about finding a sort of inner, personal satisfaction that can’t be given to you by anyone else. And as always for Parks all it took was a push in the right direction from a friend. It’s true for all of these stories, which were about characters looking exteriorly for some sort of inner satisfaction that was impossible to get. I didn’t particularly care for Robert Burns’ poem (the first half of “O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair,” for anyone wondering), but that wasn’t important because Ron did. When the episode ends with Leslie thinking, for one of the first times in Parks history, about what she could do to make herself happier rather than how she could improve someone else’s life, it’s only fitting.