Julia Louis-Dreyfus (HBO)

When Selina agreed in “Justice” to attend Gary’s fortieth birthday party back home in Alabama, the idea was a tantalizing one: a full episode centered on Gary and his background, with Selina stranded among Walshes and unable to escape. Whether the writers would follow through on that idea and actually show the party remained to be seen, however. Thankfully, the writers didn’t make viewers wait long, and four episodes later, “Judge” delivers on the promise of an interesting and appropriately complicated background for Gary. Unfortunately, the episode also falls prey to one of the season’s biggest weaknesses. It’s overstuffed, and because of that, fails to take full advantage of the tools at its disposal, delivering an entertaining, but ultimately somewhat disappointing episode.

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Much of “Judge” centers on Selina and her team’s journey down to White City, Alabama, to Gary’s home. The casting of Jean Smart as Gary’s mother and Stephen Root as his father is tremendous—kudos, once again, to Veep’s terrific casting department—and both dive into their roles, ready to have fun. Smart keeps Gary’s mother sweet and accommodating, contrasting Root’s demanding and abusive father and removing any doubts as to why Gary is the way he is, and why he’s stayed with Selina all of these years. However, while what we get with both characters appropriately broad and silly, while still fitting with what we know of Gary, there isn’t enough of it. The rest of the season’s plots continue to churn forward. Amy is sent off to babysit Mike as he attempts to recover his precious diary of the Meyer presidency. Dan continues to struggle at CBS This Morning without Jane McCabe, and Jonah manages to continue to fail upwards thanks to his quest to end Daylight Savings Time, until he doesn’t. Individually, these are strong subplots. As a whole, they distract from the far more interesting dynamics at play at the Walsh residence.

From Gary’s mother’s belief that Selina and Gary are romantically involved to the creepy wonder of Ghost Baby Bruce and his potentially haunted crib, the episode’s best moments are the surprises that come with meeting Gary’s family and uncovering dirt. There’s warmth and history in the mentions of Judge’s laundry list of ex-lovers (“new Bobby” being a particular favorite) and appropriate detail in Gary’s managing of the comingling of his two worlds. Then Ambassador Al Jaffar returns out of the blue to connect Selina to Toby Huss’s southern millionaire and opportunities for greater exploration of the Walsh family. Like Smart and Root, Huss is a very welcome addition to the ensemble and Usman Ally continues to be a good fit with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. But now the episode has to try to serve Jean Smart, Stephen Root, Usman Ally, Toby Huss, Brian Huskey (as returning reporter Leon West), Margaret Colin as Jane McCabe, and Andrea Savage, as well as the very large ensemble cast of the series. It’s not surprising they struggle to do so.

Where the writers absolutely succeed is in their balancing of comedic and dramatic beats. “Judge” gives Tony Hale some of his most nuanced material of the season, playing with but never getting bogged down in the layers of betrayal and hurt he spends the episode processing. His early excitement at Selina’s presence is infectious, and the look on Hale’s face as Selina co-opts his memory to win over the crowd she’s invited to his party is just as pained as one would expect. Selina and Gary’s relationship has been overly familiar and, at least from Gary’s side of things, tense for much of the season. Theoretically the sting of Selina’s betrayal could force the conversation they need to have. It’s not to be, though; off of the prompt from his mother to leave hard truths unsaid, Gary is happy to forgive Selina and return to the status quo over ribs.

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In an episode filled with funny asides, strong guest turns, and a handful of surprisingly poignant, quiet moments, it may seem picky to want more. No one element stands out as a misstep or wasted scene. Yet “Judge” is a solid entry when it should be a season highlight, and Smart and Root’s performances are entertaining, when they should be unforgettable. Placed earlier in the season, the entirety of the episode could focus on the Walshes and Selina’s long and tangled codependency with Gary, giving the most important relationship on the series its due. However, with only two episodes left in the season and significant developments for both Selina and Jonah on their way, the plot must be fed. Hopefully this is not the last trip Veep will take to White City, and Selina and her team will return when they have a bit more time to soak in the environment.

Stray observations

  • As a violinist, allow me to co-sign Leon’s horror at Ellen sitting in a closet eating cello rosin. On the other hand, I must commend Mike and Wendy for starting her on the cello. Hopefully it’ll mellow her out a bit.
  • Fingers crossed the running gag of women checking on other women who are talking to Jonah will recur through the rest of the series.
  • Of course Jonah’s still saying “Savings,” despite Kent’s presumably numerous reminders. And of course Richard is a jug band expert. Never change, gentlemen!
  • Ben getting fired feels entirely arbitrary, so it seems likely this is plot motivated. It will be interesting to see how he’ll come back.
  • It’s been a while since the line and delivery of the episode was a crude throwaway. That streak ends here, as I have to give that distinction to Louis-Dreyfus for her wonderful read of, “If I had a crib for every baby who died inside me I could open up a Pottery Barn Kids.”

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