5.21 – “Swing Vote”
“Swing Vote” shows the nasty side of local government politics by proving that even Leslie has to stoop low sometimes to push forward her agenda and the initiatives she believes in. It also shows the reverse side of the balancing act that Parks and Rec is always performing. The show plays with realism and a cartoonish, colorful town that it has cultivated over five seasons, and sometimes an episode falls too far in either direction. “Swing Vote” is an example of an instance in which it seems too cartoonish for much of the episode’s duration, so when it comes back to a real, heartfelt conclusion, it’s startling and a bit jarring.
When I say it shows the nasty side of government, I mean that Leslie is forced to cater to the needs of Councilman Jamm to convince him to vote for her agenda – saving a local miniature golf fun park by securing government-subsidized funding. We know by now that Leslie is a character of strong conviction, and that she is unwilling to give up on a project even in the face of overwhelming adversity. But she doesn’t just have to deal with Jamm, because Ron, who pretty much hates all government projects, stands in her way.
I’m not fully convinced that Ron would care enough to oppose the project. While he is a staunch libertarian and additionally opposes everything the government does in the name of individual rights, he also spends much of his time trying to avoid doing anything at all. Leslie wants to help everyone, and if the government enables her to do that, then she wants to try. Ron wants people to help themselves, and thinks the government should stay out of their way and have less influence.
I was okay with this storyline because I wanted to see him go head-to-head with Leslie for the value of comedy, even though I didn’t really think it made a ton of sense for Ron to do what he did. I felt the same way with his lecture about honesty and him calling out Leslie for intentionally letting Jamm win, but by that point, it seemed overly cartoonish. There are a lot of reasons why Ron Swanson is a great character, and why it’s a travesty that every year, Modern Family secures 46 Best Supporting Actor Emmy nominations and Nick Offerman a big ‘ol zero, but the most telling of these reasons is that the character is still fresh after five seasons.
Yet I didn’t think much of this storyline until the conclusion, because I didn’t feel like that balance was there. When Leslie realizes that most of her job is making deals and doing whatever it takes to get other people to do what she wants, she goes back to Ron and they make up and it’s heartfelt and funny and works really well. It’s a storyline that takes some time to ripen, and it’s not telegraphed, which means I didn’t realize where it was going until the end. A storyline like that is hard to deal with, because I really didn’t enjoy much of their miniature golf game (though I laughed at Leslie giving away Ron’s dragon and Chris being overly positive about the experience). But by the end of the episode, not only did I understand why the story was structured the way it was, but I also felt like Ron and Leslie had taken profound steps forward. It’s certainly a primer for the season finale, in which Leslie will have the opportunity to reflect on her first year as a city councilor.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.