Leslie Knope left our televisions forever last night. She rode figuratively into the sunset with Parks & Recreation, ending its seven season run, and a little bit of us went with her—the exact parts of us that utilized and relished our lives watching religiously for the past six years. Those years are gone and I can say this with confidence: that time was far better spent than the six years we spent watching Lost.
(Note: Spoilers ahead, naturally.)
The television landscape for women is vastly different than it was when Parks began, when generally the strongest feminist characters on the networks were Amy Poehler's Knope and Tina Fey's Liz Lemon (and sometimes, during breaks from supply-closet sex, the leads from Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice). Now, though television is still an imperfect landscape of gender, race, and class, there has been a small but steady influx of complex, strong-willed women lead characters on the networks. Just in the past season, we've been blessed with How to Get Away With Murder's Annalise Keating, Empire's Cookie Lyon, Fresh Off the Boat's Jessica Huang, Jane the Virgin's Jane Villanueva, Agent Carter's Peggy Carter, Black-ish's Rainbow Johnson, and Cristela's Cristela Hernandez—characters who, for the most part, singlehandedly drive their respective shows. So while it's sad to see Knope go, it's also encouraging to know she's not leaving us with a barren boob tube, and that even in less than a decade, we've seen an increment of cultural change.
Nonetheless, Parks' finale episode was a perfect example of why we'll miss Leslie Knope: the storyline centered on the characters' final time together before they all left Pawnee and went their separate ways, and in doing so jumped forward several more years, to show us what our beloved characters were doing in the future, a la Parenthood or Six Feet Under. Parks' epilogue, at least, had less death (barring 100-year-old Jerry/Garry Gergich, and Jean-Ralphio, who obviously faked his own demise for insurance dough).
Fast-forwarding the sequence is a pretty effective device for a series finale. It's probably the easiest way to leave viewers with a sense of satisfaction that we've seen the storyline through, that destiny has been fulfilled, and that we're not going to have to spend the rest of our lives writing fanfic to come up with a better ending.
More crucially, though, Parks' future has the majority of the women characters are at the center of the storylines, and they are all very seriously running shit. Their husbands are capable as well, but it's clearer than ever that with Knope as the locus, this show's been about powerful women, all along. And with all this self-actualization, the script is neatly, cleanly flipped: it's Ben who puts his own dreams by the wayside in order for Leslie to manifest her career. It's April who's got cold feet about having children ("demons") while Andy succumbs to the procreation impulse of his biological clock. It's Donna who ultimately provides for Joe after swagging out their life with her high-end job (and it's Donna who, as ever, is far, far cooler than the nice nerd she married).
Even Ron Swanson's future is made better by Knope. In the future, Ron is restless and dissatisfied and, for once, does not know what to do with his future. Knope, ever the knight, arranges for him to run the national park she spent the whole season fighting for, so that he may "walk around the land alone… work outside, and talk to bears." In the end, Leslie Knope is no longer just the hinge of the show but its entire moral backbone, as she finally grows into her role of becoming the kind of leader who can run an entire country. It's never explicitly stated, but greatly implied, that she ends up with the presidency. (Also, don't think we didn't notice that Hillary Clintonian hair-switch for Leslie in the future years.)
The show credits ran to The Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line," a bittersweet, ramblin-ass outro if there ever was one; the episode was dedicated to show producer and writer Harris Wittels, who passed last week at the age of 30. The song goes:
Well it's all right, if you live the life you please
Well it's all right, even if the sun don't shine
Well it's all right, we're going to the end of the line
Throughout the episode, Leslie Knope hammers home the concept of work—in particular, the idea everyone should work hard, and that public service is "work worth doing." It was a sweet meta-theme, as the characters choked up more than usual, as though they knew their own work on this show was worth it, too. "I thank you for this honor," Knope says, a few minutes out. "Now, go find your team, and get to work." If Parks & Recreation has taught us anything, edifying little sitcom that it's been, it's that nothing is more satisfying than a job well done—except for doing that job with a great group of people. Goodbye, President Knope. You did good.
Image via NBC