This week's two episodes served as triumphant exclamation points at the end of a strong season
And then we came to the end. Though NBC packaged the final two episodes of Parks and Recreation as a two-part finale, there's no more continuity between them than any other two consecutive episodes this season—but they are two standout episodes that serve as an ideal capper to a remarkably strong third season of the series.
The first of last night's episodes, "The Bubble," deals with the fallout from Ben and Leslie's kiss at the end of last week's "Road Trip." Ben and Leslie are in "the bubble"—that magical time, at the beginning of any relationship, when everything is "white wine, cuddling, and crazy amounts of History Channel documentaries."
Unfortunately for Leslie and Ben, the bubble has to pop sometime. Leslie is horrified to discover that Ben has a meeting with her mother, the legendarily ball-busting Marlene Griggs-Knope. Marlene—a Pawnee city employee herself—has requested four school buses, and Ben's immediate willingness to provide the funding leads Marlene to dismiss him as spineless.
We haven't seen Marlene since season 2's "Galentine's Day," and though the character has largely faded into the background, she's still clearly a major influence in Leslie's life. Leslie is so eager for her mother's approval that she coaches Ben on a list of Marlene's 100 favorite conversation topics. Unfortunately, Leslie's plan works a little too well; Marlene, impressed by Ben's newfound confidence (and his sudden, unexpected interest in both Andrew Carnegie and Calvin and Hobbes), makes a pass at him.
Meanwhile, the rest of the parks department is forced to deal with new manager Chris' eagerness to improve their performance and morale. Jerry is bumped up to a leadership role; Andy is given a temporary promotion; Tom is required to brave the nightmarish fourth floor archive room ("it's somehow both freezing and humid!"); April roams the office on a wheeled desk; and Ron—never one for public attention—is forced to occupy a circular desk in the center of the office.
In the end, both of the plotlines in "The Bubble" are resolved by compromise. When a frustrated Ben finally levels with Marlene about his relationship with Leslie, she laughs off her attraction to him, and the two quickly agree on a compromise (two buses, for those keeping track at home). And Ron—proving, once again, that he's a much better manager than he lets on—tells Chris that the new roles play to all of his employees' worst qualities. Chris agrees to scale back his "improvements" to the office if Ron will spend another week in the centrally-located swivel chair, and Ron unhappily accepts.
Though "The Bubble" is a fine example of Parks and Recreation at its funniest, the real treat was this week's second episode, "Li'l Sebastian," which serves as a triumphant exclamation point at the end of Parks and Recreation's third season. With a string of guest stars and near-constant references to prior episodes, "Li'l Sebastian" is a love letter to longtime Parks and Recreation fans.