The nature of sitcom characters is that they don’t really change, but Parks and Recreation's Ann Perkins especially didn’t really seem to change. So when we said goodbye to her on last night's episode we'll realize just how much we'll miss her.
Ann was always, in the words of Leslie Knope, a “perfect sunflower." She was the one quirk-free character in quirk-filled Pawnee, and that often seemed like one of the show's most glaring weak spots. "Parks needs to give Ann a little more character heft, a little something viewers can think of as so typical Ann," Vulture's Margaret Lyons wrote back in February 2012.
The farewell episode managed to capture why we love Ann and why Ann has always been somewhat dissatisfying. The overarching premise was that, upon Ann's departure from Pawnee, Leslie was going to break ground on the Pawnee Commons, the project that initially brought them together in the pilot. Mostly, however, the episode was constructed to call back to all of Ann (and Chris’!) best moments. So we had Chris finger pointing and dancing wildly, being both a physically perfect specimen and innately good-hearted as he gave each of the men highly meaningful goodbye gifts. As he hugged Donna, she grabbed his ass. “Can you blame me?” Donna asked. “No!” Chris said in his cheery Chris way.
Meanwhile, on the Ann side of things, the episode was sure to remind us that Ann has dated practically all of Pawnee (Ron, and Be, and Larry/Gerry excepted). She’s even dated Perd Hapley! So we got Andy, so in love with April that he barely remembered that his and Ann's relationship took up two whole seasons of the show. We also got Tom still turning his swagger on, envisioning a future wherein Ann seeks him out after Chris dies. (Obviously, Chris will never die.)
As funny as it was—Orin was there!—the fact that Ann was defined by her relationships was a bit depressing and only seemed to highlight one of the show's persistent problems with the character. But then things took a turn. Leslie, locked out of the Pawnee Commons lot, was about to admit defeat, when Ann stepped in and said: "If I have learned one thing from Leslie Knope it is that we do not take no for an answer. Anything is possible if we work hard enough." Ann was often the person talking Leslie down off a ledge when it came to city projects, but we know now that her best friend did in fact rub off on her. When their adversary Harold said, "You two are a couple of real pains in the ass, you know that?" Leslie responded: "Your tiny brain could not understand this, but that is the best compliment you could ever give the two women standing in front of you."
A Tumblr post from a while ago griped that an “irritating” part of Parks and Rec was that deep down, all the characters are sweethearts, even though, say, "Ron seems like a principled loner who just wants to be left alone and eat breakfast meat" and "April seems like a sullen misanthrope." For fans of the show, us very much included, everyone's innate sweetness is the show’s virtue, and Ann, of course, was the sweetheart of the sweethearts. She was the consummate straight woman, keeping (or trying to keep) the rest of the Pawneeans grounded. Her presence was necessary for the show's balance.
Perhaps the second most touching moment of the night—the first being when Ann and Leslie shared their farewell moment in the empty lot—was the goodbye between April and Ann. April—even though, yes, we know she is a sweetheart—has never been sweet to Ann, a woman she first considered her rival for Andy and then just decided it was fun to hate. But here, April admits, mumbling, that she loves Ann. Yes, Pawnee is filled with genuinely good people, with genuinely great friendships, and that's why this viewer was bawling as Ann and Chris drove off, presumably listening to the Sarah Mclachlan-laden mix Leslie made. We'll remember you, Chris and Ann.