This week we mainly follow the conflict between Pawnee’s two competing youth groups: the bleak, all boys survivalist group the Pawnee Rangers, led by Ron Swanson, and its all-girl antithesis the Pawnee Goddesses, created by Leslie Knope, who never met a gender role she couldn’t break. Like when he coached basketball last year, Ron becomes even more rigid when children are in his tutaliage. His single rule for his Rangers? Be a man. Other than that, he gives them a box and a piece of canvas and sets out to teach his boys the virtue of solitude, contemplation and surviving the wild.

To Ron this is fun.

Leslie, on the other hand, is a merit badge doling machine, handing out rewards to her girls for fly-est hair style and best pillow-fighter. Everyone excels in Leslie’s fun-club—everyone, that is, except Anne, whose attempts at crafts and baking ends with only with awkward disappointment (I love how unwittingly brutal Leslie can be at times, I don’t think Anne earns a single badge this episode and she probably wants one the most out of all of them).

It’s when the girls and boys share a campfire that the trouble starts, with the boys miserably eating cold beans from the can while the girls work on their s’more merit badges. Seeing the fun to be had with the Goddesses, Ron’s ranks start to crumble and Leslie gets a defector. It’s not too long before Ron’s entire party bails on the cold misery of the Pawnee Rangers—including his assistant, Brother Nature himself, Andy Dwyer—in favor of Leslie’s devilishly planned puppy party, which leaves Ron to sit alone by his campfire, getting a bitter lesson in solitude himself.

The thing I like about this story line is how it concentrates on how single-minded Leslie gets in competition. We already saw that she’s willing to end a fruitful relationship so she can win an election, but even a childish thing like who has the best club causes her to pull out all of the stops. She eventually gets what she wants, Ron bows out of their little contest, admitting that he doesn’t understand kids these days with their “fun” and that the Pawnee Goddesses have topped his Rangers—significant from a man who once prolongued his wedding ceremony by two hours just because he refused to follow the priest’s orders.

Leslie tries to make amends with Ron, inviting him over to impress everyone with his skills at catching fish with his hands (I wonder if that’s weirdo, now illegal, method of catching fish by shoving your fist down its gullet), but Ron packs up his pile of tarps and boxes and heads home. Not one to give up, Leslie puts out an ad in the paper looking for eager young survivalists, youths eager to sit in the cold by a fire in silence. Quietly delighted by the turnout of terse kids in his office, Ron smiles, promising his troupe of Swansons “This will be no fun at all.”

The one element of this whole plot I could have done without was Leslie debating whether or not she should let in the boys with her troupe of goddesses. The kids give elevated answers on gender equality and feminism in parleanace that’s too advanced for their little bodies. Creepily precocious tots don’t really do anything for me, never have, save for the Peanuts kids. The bit here reminds me of the art-class scenes from Wet Hot American Summer (in which Poehler co-stars) where a group of kids give sophisticated relationship advice to their recently divorced counseler. It’s not funny, it’s just kind of…. creepy and weird; and the bit sinks in Parks as well.

But that’s enough of that, because the B-plot with Ben, Tom and Donna was where things really lit up. Ben has really been a strong character this season. He played the big man by amicably ending things with Leslie, but ever since you can see how much it’s torn at him. Without Leslie, Ben doesn’t have much of a reason to stay in quaint, weird little Pawnee, and he’s starting to lash out at his co-workers. Donna is the first to pick up on it (“Did they cancel Game of Thrones?”), but it’s not until she and Tom see him sitting alone on a park bench eating soup that it really sinks in for both of them. In an effort to cheer him up, Donna and Tom drag him along for their annual festival of relaxation and retail therapy: Treat Yo Self Day. Want clothes? Treat yo self. Fragrances? Treat yo self. Mimosas? Treat yo self. Batman costume? Uh. Sure, treat yo self.

Being that Ben isn’t one for shopping malls and acupuncture, it isn’t until Tom and Donna allow Ben to be Ben when his emotions start to stir. As soon as he dons the elaborate dark knight costume he wants, he breaks down, and trust me, it’s really weird to see Batman cry. But after treating himself to a cry, as Tom puts it, Ben seems to come to terms with the idea that he doesn’t always have to wallow in productivity and misery, and that it’s okay for him to splurge every now and then—even if that splurge is completely ridiculous.

And that’s it for thi—oh damnit, the C-plot. Jerry has an extremely attractive daughter that Chris wants to date. But being the total weirdo that he is, Chris insists on filling Jerry in on every aspect of his courting her out of some weird form of respect. There isn’t much here so far, so I’ll leave it at that.

Stray notes and thoughts and such:

How awesome is Andy when he’s screaming Leslie’s Pawenee Goddess pledge?

“They would never cancel Game of Thrones! It’s a crossover hit! It’s not just for fantasy enthusiasts, they’re telling human stories in a fantasy world!” -- Oh Ben, you’re so much like me sometimes that I find it somewhat scary.

“I made a Gertrude Stein!”