A review of last night’s Veep season finale coming up just as soon as the baby plays chess against Death…
I have very mixed feelings about “Groundbreaking,” and the stories it sets up for next season.
On the one hand, this was a pretty wonderful episode of Veep, with the time-bent structure allowing us to not only see how many of the characters first met (Gary as the candy striper when Selina gave birth to Catherine, Jonah as a shy intern sucking up to Selina and Ben), but to witness the many moments in Selina’s life where she put her career above her personal life. She didn’t kick Andrew to the curb when she caught him cheating with a donor, because she needed money for a TV ad buy, for instance, and it took only a minute of holding baby Catherine to convince her that she wanted to run for Congress. All of that nicely set us up for the twist that Selina blew up her happy ending — a vagina-shaped presidential library at Yale, a happy globe-trotting relationship with Jaffar — in order to run for president again. In particular, the scene of her on the escalator crying after she dumped Jaffar because she can’t run with, as he puts it, “Muslim baggage,” was a great moment for both Selina and for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who should already be clearing a spot on the mantel for her latest Emmy.
On the other hand, I don’t particularly want to watch Selina on the campaign trail… again.
When I spoke with Veep showrunner David Mandel at the end of last season, he suggested there were potentially years worth of stories in Selina’s life as an ex-president. Instead, we got one season of it before pivoting back to what the show has always been (in a move Mandel says was planned from the start of this year), only now Selina is more deserving than ever of her ceaseless humiliations.
It’s a tricky thing, this show. Selina has always been awful, and incompetent, and so have most of her staffers (though their respective incompetence::awfulness ratios vary wildly, with, say, Mike and Dan at opposite corners of the graph). That’s part of what makes the comedy work: they invite all this misery upon themselves, and deserve it. But there’s some ephemeral line past which the characters, and the show, can become too unpleasant even as everyone is making fools of themselves, and it feels like this season, and the finale in particular, kept leaping across it. The moment outside the hospital where Selina both names Catherine and Marjorie’s baby for them, then throws Catherine under the bus as the one who was the patient at the mental hospital, was monstrous even by the standards of this particular mother/daughter relationship; great as JLD was in the escalator scene a few minutes later, I felt no real sympathy for Selina during it.
And even with some minor tweaks — Mike finally being fired after 16 years and replaced by Leon, Jonah mounting his own run for president, Amy being pregnant with Dan’s baby — the show has spent so much time following Selina out on the trail that it seems a case of, like the Silicon Valley finale that preceded it, a really funny show being terrified to embrace change. I didn’t love this season as much as previous ones, though that owed more to the aforementioned coarsening of the characters than to the new status quo, which was fun and novel and also far enough removed from real U.S. politics to feel like a respite. This is going back to what the show has been many times in the past, and with Sherman Tanz funding Jonah’s campaign — on a very Trump-esque platform of sticking it to those Washington insiders — on top of the Hillary parallels with Selina running again after a loss, it’ll be that much harder to avoid comparing it to our 2016 campaign.
This is such a funny show, with so many great actors and writers involved. (Marjorie finally expressing emotion when Jaffar tells her what gift he got the baby was a delightful payoff two years in the making.) But like Selina Meyer herself, I wish it wouldn’t keep going down the same self-destructive path again.
What did everybody else think of the finale, and season six as a whole? Are you excited Selina is getting back into politics again, or would you have preferred her to stay retired?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org