Well, that was not what I was expecting. At all.
To the point where I briefly wondered if HBO had played us all for suckers and aired the Veep series finale without telling anyone in advance.
They haven't, by the way. Not only was the show renewed back in April, but I've confirmed with someone at HBO that the renewal (which came with similar orders for Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley) wasn't an elaborate ruse to keep people from realizing the show was about to end. Veep will be back next year, but with a huge difference:
Selina won't be the president anymore. Nor will she go back to being the vice-president. She will be an ex-POTUS, for however long the series runs past next season. I hope to talk with David Mandel about all of this very soon, but this was not a dream, not an imaginary story, not a stealth conclusion: this is where Veep is going next.
Last week's episode had already established that Selina wouldn't stay president, so I assumed – as I'm sure almost everyone did – that the reset to the original status quo was coming, only with Tom James as the new president. “Inauguration” kept telegraphing this idea from the jump, with Mike staking his professional reputation on the idea that Selina would never be VP again – which, because it was Mike, seemed to mean she was a lock to do exactly that.
Instead, things went in a surprising – and, for Selina, even more mortifying – direction, with Doyle going behind Selina and Tom's backs to mastermind a win for Laura Montez, which takes Selina out of a job altogether, and replaces her with yet another female president, who will even get credit for the Tibet deal Selina thought she had closed.
Selina having to live the next 4-8 years in the shadow of President Montez should provide a lot of fodder for this new phase of the series, even if it will probably look and feel very different from what we're used to. But good on Mandel and company for having the courage to realize their current iteration of the story had run its course. Change is usually so terrifying in television that creative teams will do anything and everything to prevent it(*), and Team Veep realized the show had already done Selina as frustrated VP, and would be going back to that for the same reason Homeland kept Nicholas Brody alive, Dexter kept Dexter active, etc. Been there, done that, JLD has several Emmys on her shelf for it. Let's see what else this show can do.
(*) I should note that this doesn't have to be a bad thing. Tonight's Silicon Valley took almost the exact opposite approach from this episode, and I enjoyed both immensely. It remains to be seen how good each show will be next season going in either a very new or very old direction.
The finale deftly balanced preparing us for the future – particularly in all the scenes in Jonah's office, surrounded by all the hot guys Richard hired for him (and it's a credit to the writers for understanding Jonah well enough to realize that he'd ultimately crave the approval of these bros more than the shot at having sex with female interns) – with saying goodbye to this phase of things. Gary's meltdown after Montez won the Senate vote was a comic marvel, and Selina getting drunk with Richard was a reminder of what a great combination those two are on the rare occasions when the show's been able to justify putting them together.
If this actually had been the series finale, I'd applaud Veep for having a great run and knowing when and how to wrap things up well. But I do want to see what Selina's life is like now that she's out of office, and at the moment remembered as the second-worst president ever (after James Buchanan, who helped cause the Civil War!) Some former presidents (Jimmy Carter comes to mind) become more beloved and respected for what they do in retirement than for anything they accomplished from the Oval Office; I'm not expecting that from Selina, but this new arrangement will simultaneously represent her at her least powerful and her most unfettered. She has no more elections to win, so can do and say whatever she wants. I imagine the writers and Louis-Dreyfus can have a whole lot of fun with that.
Some other thoughts:
* “A grassy knoll full of Jodie Foster fans” is among the harshest turns of phrase this show has ever featured that didn't involve copious amounts of profanity.
* I appreciate that the scene with Jonah in the emergency room didn't hammer home a reminder that he used to be the spokesman for early detection for testicular cancer. This show's viewers are smart enough to remember “Check 'em, don't neglect 'em” after so much time was devoted to his balls in season 4.
* Note the Danny Chung book cover on the wall as Kent and Ben run into each other at the publisher.
* Catherine finally looks glam right at a point where Selina no longer has ability to lord anything – not the presidency, and not the inheritance that Catherine got instead of her – over her daughter. Seems about right.
* Mike carrying a six-year-old around in a Bjorn was a great sight gag, though I hope the prop department rigged up some extra back support for Matt Walsh. Even a one-year-old can feel incredibly heavy in one of those things.
* If this is the last we see of Tom James, him complimenting Selina's shoes – and her calling him on it – offered a nice bit of closure.
* I'm not sure which interpretation of the Eagle's reappearance is funnier: that Selina really should have won the Nevada recount, but nobody noticed because he's senile; or that he's oblivious about everything (including the POTUS to whom he's speaking) and will just keep hanging around the White House because he's the Eagle.
* For that matter, I kind of hope that Sue is the one holdover from the Meyer administration, not just because the Eagle suggested she's been around the White House for decades, but because a large part of the fun of Sue is how little we know about her life outside that office. We can follow Ben and his latest soon-to-be-ex-wife to Disney World, but I don't want to see Sue getting a regular job if if can be avoided.
What did everybody else think? Would you rather Selina had become Tom James' VP? That this had been the end of the show? Or are you excited to see Selina enter her My Fellow Americans stage of life early?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com