Of all of the characters that we’ve seen roaming around the muraled corridors of Pawnee city hall, Chris Traeger is the one that we really know the least about. We know all about his health food kick, his obsession with exercise and being a stickler for the rules—we know all of that… but there’s still something naggingly mysterious about the man. Chris dragging Leslie in front of an ethics committee for her relationship with Ben is a chance to illustrate how little we’ve come to know Chris. The trial forces Chris away from being the affable eccentric we’re familiar with, even when he’s self-medicating with a couple of dozen herbal medicines and some bee pollen that make his mouth feel like a space ship, and we see that Chris has some pretty sharp claws as he hurls some serious ethical accusations at Leslie and Ben that includes fraud, bribery and deceit.
This week’s episode didn’t fool around with a B-plot or C-plot, which has been kind of the norm this season, and concentrated on the all-out Law and Order style showdown between Chris and Leslie. What’s impressive about that is that even though there wasn’t much room for the other characters this week, everyone managed at least one or two moments a piece—be it Ron’s refusal to allow Leslie to share his home address for the record (HMMMRNNGGG, BABABABA), or Donna going on the record as to how many hotel rooms she’s sexed up in the past (Donna is the resident sexed up hotel room expert, it seems). The way that this season has worked out so far, it’s not often that we see all of these characters in one place acting insane, and the image of all of them scrunched into the frame, flipping through antiquated law books to help Leslie is a tribute to how strong and cohesive this cast has become over the past four years.
In any case, Chris’s case against Leslie is mostly anecdotes from the show’s past like the one time she kissed Tom in the hall—which Tom easily explained away. Then things started to seem dire when Tammy 2 shows up (sending Ron for the hills, he smelled the sulfur coming from her cloven feet), but it’s revealed that her cold, hard evidence against Leslie is a fabrication before she can even finish taking them out of her purse.
Everything seems rosey for Leslie until Chris calls his last witness, public works employee George Williams. Who? You’re probably asking (I assume you asked that, because I didn’t know who he was either). For your answer, we have to time warp back to the end of Season 3 at the memorial service for Lil’ Sebastian (Ben giving Leslie a stuffed Lil Sebastian at the beginning of the episode was a clever way to remind the audience that the pair share a connection over that Miniature Horse without tipping their hand too much). Leslie and Ben sneaked a kiss while putting together the hurried Lil’ Sebastian memorial but were caught by a stage-hand: public works worker George Williams—who they then buy his silence with a $50 gift card to a spa.
This sends Leslie into a panicky quest to find a loophole that will save her, and she sends her crack research team (the entire Parks department) on a hunt through dusty old tomes to find an escape hatch. They find a lot of interesting bits on what’s legal in Pawnee—all sexual positions are illegal, women who laugh are to be considered witches, and it’s still not legal for black people to walk on the sidewalk--but nothing in there about bribing a city employee with a free illuminating facial.
Leslie’s guilt hits her pretty hard. It tarnishes her spotless self-image. After all, she’s Leslie Knope, she’s not the type of person who as a permanent record. She resigns herself into being a part of Pawnee's dark side—right up there with the Boone Bread Factory fire and shooting Chief Wamapo point blank with a cannon. Even though Ron comforts her into believing that even the best of us make mistakes, Leslie faces the fact that she may be minutes away from getting fired.
But then… she isn’t.
You see, Ben was largely absent during Leslie’s trail. He told her that he would be just on the other side of the wall, right behind the portrait of Marcus Everett Langley and his horribly mutilated face. Leslie looked to Old Stone Face (he was called that because of his steely demeanor and because his face was blown off at an explosion at the quarry) for support during the trial, but they later discover that Ben wasn’t behind the wall at all. In fact, he was with Chris during a break, handing in his resignation, which earned Leslie a lighter sentence: two weeks paid suspension.
The last part of this episode is really expertly handled with Ben’s resignation being retold through Ethel the stenographer. It’s a riot as the show intercuts between a flashback of the scene and Ethel reading Chris’s insane dialogue. Things then turn remarkably as Ben flatly declares his love for Leslie on the record--really, under threat of perjury.
Touched by Ben’s selflessness (though, not as touched as Chris, who cries like a baby in Ben’s arms), she too declares her love for Ben on the record, and then drags poor Ethel to his (or her?) house so the poor old woman can read it to him.
Over all this was a pretty great episode. It was focused and funny and managed to open up a character who has been kind of treading water this season (that’s you, Chris). And while Chris played the role of the bad guy in this episode, it was mostly out of duty to his job, not really malice towards Leslie. Still, Chris may be a nice guy and all, but cross him and geez… that guy will bury you.
The other stuff
I forgot to mention some Parks casting news (That’s not true, I remembered but decided to put it at the end and act like I forgot… which is kind of stupid, but it’s too late now). Louis CK will be making a return to Pawnee in the latter half of this season, which should make for some interesting love triangle action.
Andy is kind of like a Labrador Retriever puppy. Wants to please, only wroughts destruction.
Pioneer Hall’s murals return in this episode, one showing a woman being shipped off to sea on an iceberg the other a painting of both the good and bad sides of Pawnee: the good: Sweetums Candy showering the land with confection and the marriage between a Pawnee Indian and a white woman, and the bad: the aforementioned bread factory fire and the massacre that followed the marriage between a Pawnee Indian and a white woman
I like Ron’s ability to feel Tammy’s presence, as if he hears millions of voices suddenly crying out in terror and are suddenly silenced.