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For a brief, Bubba Gump moment, Astrid is the best character on The Politician

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It finally feels like The Politician is getting into a rhythm. By this point in the season, all of the big plots are coming to something of a head—Payton and Astrid’s rivalry, Infinity’s cancer (or lack thereof), Payton’s breakup with Alice, and so on—the day before the election. And it seems like Payton, against some pretty heavy odds, is going to win.

The Hobart campaign manages to navigate around the leak of Infinity’s “buttmunch” tape, first by ditching Infinity from the ticket, then by replacing her with Skye Leighton, who wants off of Astrid’s sinking ship (and is having an affair with McAfee). This comes to a head in a confrontation between Infinity and Payton, set in a chapel that the school has for some reason. We haven’t spent quite enough time on Infinity and Payton’s relationship to feel sad about their partnership ending—she hasn’t been a part of any of the big campaign strategy meetings, for example—but this scene is some of Zoey Deutch’s best acting on the show so far. The Politician has been a bit coy with how much Infinity really knows about her “illness,” but Deutch does fantastic work communicating the stages of Infinity first denying, then rapidly accepting this new truth about her life. For the Jackson family, bargaining is always the last stage of grief: she asks Payton for money.

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“Gone Girl” uses this split to highlight some of the class issues that have been at the heart of The Politician so far. Dusty has been using Infinity to get a ton of free stuff, stuff that Infinity realizes she also enjoys—and that she’ll need to pay for if she wants to keep leading a life that resembles her old one. Unlike Payton, she can’t throw Rolls Royces and an entire gun store’s worth of weapons at her problems. (She also can’t pay off a cop to either arrest her political opponents or have her allies released, both of which happen to Payton over the course of the episode.)

Another thing Infinity doesn’t have the money to do: Pay off the taxpayers of Santa Barbara to make amends for faking her own disappearance. Who would have guessed that Astrid would be perhaps the show’s most compelling non-Payton character at this point in the season? To absolutely no one’s surprise, given the title of the episode, we quickly learn that Astrid has paid Ricardo to take her to New York, where they have a bunch of sex in a dirty hotel room and eat halal platters. At various moments in the episode, Astrid articulates her dissatisfaction with her life, her sense that she’s been trapped in a set of comfort-inducing power games. She often echoes River, which is ironic given Astrid’s initial commitment to faking authenticity in the interest of furthering her boyfriend’s political career. And she’s shockingly sympathetic.

Somehow, Lucy Boynton manages to play Astrid as simultaneously a bit repulsive—we know she can go back to her old life at any moment, and it’s straight-up hilarious when she describes herself as “a woman of the people”—and also as a teenager who is starting to understand the world around them. It doesn’t hurt that we spend more time with her horrendous family, including a scene of Astrid’s father complaining about how he met her mother when he hired her to be his date at a fundraiser for Ron Paul. When Astrid finally returns home, she walks into her room, only to discover it looks pristine—it’s as if she never left, and the machinery of her life never really required her to be there in the first place. “People like us don’t make changes,” her mother tells her. So this is basically it for Astrid, forever.

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Boynton runs away with this episode, but the real MVP might be Benjamin Barrett, who transforms Ricardo from a caricature into one of the more sympathetic characters on the show. For a while he’s perfectly content to hang out in New York with his hot new tourist gal pal who is totally blackmailing him for sex, but Ricardo eventually breaks down and demands they go back. It’s not just because he misses Infinity, though Barrett does deliver a look of pure, bug-eyed sadness and fear as Ricardo calls out Infinity’s name during sex. It’s not just because he’s made at Astrid for fetishizing Bubba Gump’s and taking the bus, though that’s part of it too. It’s the fact that he understands the grimly funny lesson of “Gone Girl,” and perhaps of the entire show: “Pretty rich girls like you never lose. They just don’t win sometimes.”

Pretty much everyone on this show will be able to bounce back from whatever happens in the election without much trouble, as long as they don’t make too much of a mess along the way. Payton is capable of acting on his compulsion, the way he feels that becoming president is the “only path,” because he’s a teenager—and because he has a too-soft mother, extremely cold girlfriend, and devious campaign staff willing to help him. Still, “Gone Girl” does suggest the way he might eventually get his comeuppance: Part of the reason Payton is in jail for so long is the compelling account of the waitress he was rude to the diner, along with the creeped-out Pierre, who has apparently been polled “like 25 times” and has no idea what these people are actually capable of. If all of the students at Saint Sebastian continue using everyone around them in order to acquire power, think about what might happen once they get it.

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Stray observations:

  • “Gone Girl” is written by Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy and directed by Helen Hunt. Hi, Helen Hunt!
  • Payton wrote a statement on the toilet paper in his cell. It was brilliant.
  • Dusty attempts to describe what gay people do as “munch butts and... celebrate Halloween.”
  • The Alice polygraph scene is a ton of fun—exactly what the elaborate guinea worm scheme from the last episode should have been.
  • Just before all of the candles at the vigil go out, Skye declares: “God bless this campaign!”
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