Tony Hale, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Slattery (HBO)

Veep returned confidently this season under new showrunner David Mandel, its first two episodes packed full of quotable lines and memorable moments. Unfortunately, the season has its first blip with “The Eagle,” which despite featuring to two very strong sequences, struggles with its pacing. The episode’s two standout sequences rely on setup. Before Selina can accidentally tweet her intended direct message to Charlie, she needs a reason to be on Twitter in the first place, and Selina’s discovery of Bob’s unreliable-at-best grasp on the present can’t happen until after Selina has told him about the tweet. This leaves the top of the episode light on comedy, prioritizing plot and character beats later scenes will build upon over the show’s usual rapid-fire dialogue. Viewers are treated to a few entertaining exchanges beforehand—most notably, Amy and Dan’s—but it’s only when Selina starts tweeting, six minutes in, that things get moving. On another show, six minutes of setup is nothing. On Veep, it feels like ages.

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Once “The Eagle” kicks in, however, it delivers tremendously. The sequence built around Selina’s tweet is fantastic, from Mike’s panic upon reading Selina’s tweet to Selina’s misdirected fury toward Gary to Ben and Kent guiding Selina toward implicating Chinese hackers for the tweet. The energy of these scenes transitions smoothly, starting heightened and broad before becoming darkly cynical. Mike’s frantic scramble to get to Selina is a great bit of physical comedy from Matt Walsh, who also gets to be the lone voice of decency in the room as Selina chooses potential international conflict over honesty. His weary inflection as Mike implores her to come clean and his self-conscious reaction to her impression of him show Walsh’s range, and it’s great to see Mike actually be great at his job as he dances around actually blaming China for the tweet, instead relaying Selina’s “horrified” reaction. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is wonderful as well, taking Selina through a distinct arc in her reaction to the mistake. Her journey from utterly relatable, as she realizes what’s happened, to slimy and cruel, as she mocks Mike, is seamless. Selina is frequently horrible, but giving her a comparatively innocent mistake like this to deal with grounds her, and the episode makes the prospect of shifting the blame enticing enough that of course the self-centered Selina jumps at the opportunity to do so.

After this hilarious and intense sequence, the episode slows back down, returning to setup as more hints are dropped about Bob. The episode also takes some time out for an extraneous cameo by Congressman Furlong and his put-upon aide Will, as well as Will’s wife. Both Furlong and Will are reliable recurring players for Veep, but it’s very strange to have them pop up here for one standalone scene when that time could have been given to the sidelined regulars, particularly Sue, who barely appears in the episode. With so much threading through the episode, down to Mike’s mention of the Meyer Postal Commission at the beginning paying off with the missing ballots being discovered in the possession of a disgruntled former postal employee, this scene stands out and feels included solely to space out Amy’s interaction with Bob and Selina’s phone call to him later.

The path there may be a bit overlong, but once “The Eagle” takes the turn so many predicted after Bob’s Nevada/Nebraska mix-up in “Nev-AD-a,” the episode once again kicks into high gear. Rather than the pessimistic Veep of the tweet sequence, here viewers are treated to another of its favorite flavors, high-stakes insult throwing and disaster management. Keeping Jonah offscreen until late in the episode makes his appearance here all the more satisfying, as one after another Amy, Selina, and Dan tell him to shut up, and Richard continues to be a delight as he accidentally gets crucial information out of the O’Brien team. The surprise return of Lennon Parham as Karen Collins, and Amy’s reaction to her, is a lovely late-episode treat and the end of episode stinger that Selina’s threat of sanctions has cost Mike and Wendy their adoptive baby gives the episode the perfect darkly comedic tag.

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As for Bob, on the one hand having him deteriorate so quickly feels like a bit of a cheat, but on the other, the writers’ decision not to stretch out the Bob and Amy conflict before playing this card is a relief. Even so, the episode would have benefited from being a bit more consistent with the character’s mental state. How does a person unsure of the decade and unable to recognize the White House get from Nevada to the Oval Office without anyone knowing where he is? Despite this grumble, Martin Mull is great in the role, playing it absolutely straight, down to the episode’s final moments as Bob tries out the stapler on his desk and satisfied, puts it into his breast pocket. Keeping Bob safely tucked away in the basement lets the show trot him out as desired and retiring Bob to occasional cameo status feels appropriate. The Eagle has been fun, but with the Nevada recount likely to be determined by the newly discovered ballots, the characters on Meyer’s recount team should be back at the White House soon, and good as Mull is in the role, the last thing Veep needs is another high-level advisor to Selina.

“The Eagle” may be season five’s least consistently laugh-out-loud funny episode yet, but it’s also its most darkly cynical, an important aspect of the show. It’s hard to tell whether this indicates a new direction for the season or is a fluke, but either way, Selina’s decisions this episode promise plenty of intrigue and compromising cover-ups to come.

Stray observations

  • Amy and Dan’s conversations this episode are a blast. Anna Chlumsky’s laugh mid-“CVS” is great, as is Reid Scott’s delivery of Dan’s, “I’m not having a good year.”
  • Mike, Clea Duvall will mess you up. Listen to the nice Secret Service lady and back away from the door.
  • I love that Selina clears the room so she can talk to Bob, but doesn’t notice that Catherine hasn’t left, and is still filming. Perhaps Catherine picked up a trick or two from everyone’s favorite Milford man.
  • Gary’s gonna have a hard time if Selina and Charlie break up, isn’t he? He’s man-crushing hard.
  • Showing Selina in a CIA briefing is a nice way to remind the audience that she is actually running the country amidst the rest of the show’s shenanigans.
  • When Karen deplanes, the door going down leaves the slogan on the plane as “James for President.” Coincidence or foreshadowing (however brief his interim stint would be)?
  • Again, if you haven’t checked out Richard’s blog, Let’s Talk About Splett, which includes the selfie he requests this episode, get on that. It’s fantastic.
  • There are a lot of great Louis-Dreyfus moments—her intensity when Selina puts Ben in his place is particularly strong—but for line of the week I have to give some love to Gary Cole, who is hilarious throughout the episode as Kent. For a show as verbal as Veep to consistently find ways for this man of few words to stand out shows a lot of respect for the character. Music without rests eventually becomes noise. Often, Kent gives Veep its rests, and Cole always nails these moments. A prime example in “The Eagle” is his, “I do not know”s followed by his, “Absolutely,” about the missing ballots, and I also love his wonderfully delivered, “I suggest that we disavow the tweets. Phones are hacked all the time to steal pictures of celebrities’ penises and whatnot.”

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