Season finales are always a bit of a mixed bag. Some shows will leave you with happy endings and dreams come true, but more likely, you leave your beloved characters on massive cliffhangers or terrible tragedy. Still reeling from the latest season’s round of finales? Let’s revisit a couple of season closers that changed the shape of a character and show forever, and did it all while making us laugh until our sides hurt.
This week is an outstanding week in television history, because today and tomorrow mark the sixth and fifth anniversaries of Parks and Recreation’s second and third season finale episodes, which show the budding relationship of one of our greatest television couples of all time. While Leslie and Ben are now widely regarded as #relationshipgoals, it took a lot to get them from “Freddy Spaghetti” to “Li’l Sebastian.”
As the opening credits roll for the last episode of Season 2, the audience is in no position to like stick-in-the-mud Ben Wyatt. A newcomer to the show, this tight-laced state auditor has ostensibly been sent to ruin Leslie’s life. Taking an axe to the Parks’ operating budget, he recommends that Leslie be fired, citing city-wide financial problems. He may just be doing his job, but also maybe Leslie’s right and he’s the actual worst. When he threatens the Freddy Spaghetti concert our girl’s been working so hard on, it’s hard not to hate him.
But then all of that changes! After an adorably heartfelt (not to mention persuasive) argument from Ron, Ben decides to keep Leslie on. When the concert seems to be falling apart later in the episode, Freddy Spaghetti shows up as if by magic, and the cynical auditor from the state government reveals that he paid for the concert out of his own pocket. He’s not a bad guy, he explains, just a guy with a job to do.
Just like that, the ice around viewers’ hearts is thawed. Maybe this guy doesn’t suck after all. At least, Leslie doesn’t seem to think so.
Ben and Leslie spend the next season slowly and awkwardly stumbling toward each other. Once viewed as Public Enemy Number One, Ben eventually reveals himself to be nerdy and goofy and even a little fun. Throughout the planning and execution of the Harvest Festival, the two get closer than ever and despite Chris’ rules, they finally end up kissing as the season draws to a close.
The last two episodes of the season, “The Bubble” and “Li’l Sebastian,” see the couple desperately trying to navigate their new relationship.
In “The Bubble,” all Leslie wants to do is hold on to the newness of the relationship. There is such a sweetness in her desire to keep reality from interfering with her happiness that her completely bonkers reaction to Ben meeting her mother almost makes sense. That her coaching leads both Knope women to fall for him is regrettable, but seeing Ben confront Marlene and defend his relationship with Leslie is well worth it. Suddenly, these two go from being Ben and Leslie to BEN AND LESLIE.
“Li’l Sebastian” sees this beautiful bubble pop. Ron finds out about the secret relationship after an accidental call from Ben, and during setup for Li’l Sebastian’s memorial, so does a maintenance worker. As more and more people find out, it seems certain that these two will be caught and that their relationship is doomed to failure. Despite all of this, they still stick by each other.
That’s what’s so great about Leslie and Ben. They’re always in each other’s corner. From the moment Ben saves the day with Freddy Spaghetti, to the ridiculous lies Leslie tells Ron in a futile attempt to keep their secret, they have each other’s backs.
Watching this glorious couple grow not just between these episodes, but over the course of the series, is one of my favorite parts of the show. Their love isn’t perfect – they have problems, they fight, they’re even separated for a while – but in the end, they’re perfect for one another.
So, happy 5th and 6th anniversaries to the episodes that gave us that exemplary model of all that a relationship should be! Now, let the rewatch begin!
How much do you love Ben and Leslie? Which is your favorite Parks and Rec finale? Tell us in the comments!