[SPOILER ALERT: Exit this post immediately if you have not watched “One Last Ride,” the series finale of Parks and Recreation. You are in grave danger of being a Garry and ruining the end of the show for yourself.]
Parks and Recreation took a big swing—and fixed one, too—on Tuesday night, painting out a bright and distant future for all of our Pawnee characters by flashing ahead to assorted highlights from their diverging lives. While the one-hour finale was undoubtedly a satisfying adventure, one weensy little thing was left up in the air when the credits rolled: the final and possibly crowning professional achievement of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). In a speech at Indiana University, where she was receiving an honorary doctorate, our prospering protagonist said that she was excited about the “new, unknown challenge” that awaited her after serving two terms as Governor of Indiana. However, we were never explicitly shown where that road took her professionally.
There was a strong indication, of course, that she did go on to scale even greater political heights, realizing her long-stated goal of being the first female President of the United States At the funeral for Jerry/Garry, who died happy and surrounded by loved ones at the age of 100(!), Leslie and Ben were flanked by what appeared to be Secret Service agents, which certainly lends credence to the idea that she is serving or has served as our commander-in-chief. (Then again, former Vice Presidents and other select VIPs gets Secret Service as well. And technically, they could have been watching over another political player, husband Ben, played by Adam Scott. Rewatch the scene and notice how they lean over to him first to let the couple know that it’s time to go.)
If this scene got you doing all sorts of thinking and theorizing, that was the intention: Executive producer Michael Schur apparently took a cue from The Sopranos creator and King of the Ambiguous Ending David Chase. “I think David Chase had it right with things like this—I will just say that if I had wanted to make it more explicit, I would have,” Schur tells EW. “It was presented exactly the way we wanted to present it, and people can draw their own conclusions for what it means for Leslie and/or Ben. We were very explicit about a lot of things that happen to the characters, and I felt like there was room for a little ambiguity. I know what I think happened, but other people can imagine their own futures for those characters.”
For his part, Scott appreciated that the scene was shot with several shades of grey. “It’s so much more interesting than saying she’s… whatever,” he tells EW. “I could see her becoming President. Why not? We have Secret Service with us at Jerry’s funeral, but who knows why? I think it’s really, really cool that it was left a little vague.” (And, for what it’s worth, while discussing Ben’s decision to step aside so Leslie could run for governor, he also noted: “I think he’s going to have a really successful political career.”)
So, what does the woman of the hour think? Poehler—who wrote the finale with Schur—also advocated that they go a bit nebulous with Knope. “We didn’t really want to wrap it up in a bow because it isn’t quite our show,” she tells EW. She declines to divulge what she personally thinks happened to Leslie, for fear that it will overshadow whatever fate that fans may have assigned her. “I have an idea of what happens, but I would rather the audience have a minute to guess instead of me telling them,” she says. “There’s such a cool feeling of ownership about that character. So many people come up to me and talk about how much they like her and how Leslie speaks to them, so I’d like to hear how people would respond to the finale and what they would think, rather than me telling me them what I think or what they should think.”
Asked if she might be willing one day to reveal Leslie’s crowning career achievement to the highest bidder for charity—sort of like Carly Simon did in regard to the subject matter of “You’re So Vain”—Poehler responds: “Either way, the ending is about Mick Jagger.”