Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)
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Veep took some big turns in “South Carolina,” breaking from the approach of the first half of the season and setting up the final push to the finale. Selina is no longer sparring with Sen. James or wooing billionaire donors, she’s committing election fraud and trying to stay two steps ahead of the allegations surrounding her ex-husband Andrew and the Meyer Fund. By stepping up the stakes of what Selina’s involved in, there’s less need for her to be stymied by foolish gaffes and her team’s incompetence. She’s up against bigger players, so she can be cannier while still being in over her head, and this smarter, more scheming version of Selina is far more interesting.

Right from the jump, “Super Tuesday” crackles with Veep’s trademark, and recently lacking, energy. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kevin Dunn, Gary Cole, and Tony Hale banter back and forth, bringing the audience up to speed on Selina’s surging poll numbers and precarious position in regards to Andrew. The first five minutes of the episode are filled with great lines, from Ben’s crack about being able to run for the House from prison to Selina’s insistence that Leon not use “WaPo” but, “call it the Washington Post, like a non-asshole,” to Selina’s creative instruction to Gary, about the remaining Chinese funds in the faith-based initiative fund: “Just give it to one of those gay-converting Baptist colleges to fund a statue of a gold-plated Jesus fucking a triceratops.” Wow is right, Gary. Not only is the tight pacing and character specificity so expertly deployed in “Iowa” back, the opening efficiently and entertainingly catches up the audience on everything they need to know.

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The episode only builds from there. As expected, Andy Daly is terrific as the newly threatening, but still unsettlingly cheery Keith Quinn—or is it Luther? Daly turns off Keith’s bubblier side to great effect when the episode calls for it, but his giggly delivery when describing the Chinese’s Facebook campaign in Texas is off-putting, to say the least. It would seem the Keith viewers saw in the first part of the season isn’t entirely a façade, but an aspect of his personality he can bring out as needed. The patient, certain demeanor Daly adopts for Keith’s final scene with Selina is just as effective, and the decision to let him be duped by Selina becoming emotionally distraught only adds more layers to this character. Season seven has under-delivered on several of its new and returning characters—Kemi and Michelle come immediately to mind—but Keith is right up there with Emily Pentergast’s Beth as the best additions of the season.

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While the writers continue to mine the Trump campaign for inspiration for Selina and Jonah, this episode connects them in a much more powerful way. Both Selina and Jonah are sent spinning with tragic news. Selina gets Andrew killed, throwing her for a loop and showing just how much it takes to expose her humanity. Jonah finds out that his wife Beth is not his former step-sister, but his half-sister; they share a father. As if that weren’t enough, it’s likely Beth is pregnant. This is Shakespearean tragedy foisted upon a malignant, narcissistic fool. It’s played for comedy, but not without heart, as many of Jonah’s best storylines have been. The episode treats Jonah’s mother Nancy with respect, and Nancy Lenehan’s resigned, weary performance is incredibly affecting as she explains why she kept Jonah’s father’s identity a secret, and her decision upon Jonah and Beth’s elopement. “I just decided not to think about it. ‘Cause that’s the best solution sometimes.” There is no good solution to Jonah’s discovery, and it’s hard to predict what comes next for Jonah and Beth.

Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)

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As for Selina, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is once again great reacting to hard, unexpected loss. Her scenes both with Ben and Kent and later Keith call to mind Louis-Dreyfus’ masterful performance in “Mother.” Selina gets over her shock much more quickly this time, however. Her genuine guilt and sorrow are tempered by news that the US Attorney and Washington Post are closing down their investigations into Andrew and the Meyer Fund. Louis-Dreyfus is always amazing, but she particularly shines when she can show off her range, stripping back the layers of Selina’s snark and self-involvement to explore something new.

The final and most intriguing corner of the episode is Richard’s quick ascendance in Iowa politics. The writers clearly have an end goal in mind for Richard, moving him out of both campaigns and catapulting him to regional, then national prominence. Wherever he’s headed, the journey has been delightful thus far and Richard stumbling into promotions through his honesty and good intentions is an effective counterbalance to Jonah and Selina’s desperate grasping for power. Dan’s inability to corrupt Richard, despite his best attempts, is utterly charming, but it’s hard to imagine a version of this show that ends with Richard or anyone else decent thriving in a position of authority without becoming tainted by that power. If anyone can do it, though, it’s Richard Splett. Only two episodes remain, and at this point, anything can happen. Maybe even a happy ending.

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Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)Stray observations

  • Very glad to have a new nickname for Jonah, Congressman Slender Man. Congressman Furlong’s disappointment at having been beaten to the punch with that one is a fun little moment.
  • A tip of the hat to David Pasquesi, who is as perfectly smarmy as ever, sending Andrew off in fine form. Pasquesi and Louis-Dreyfus are particularly strong together as Andrew and Selina scheme about who to pin Andrew’s crimes on. The conversation between Selina, Marjorie, and Andrew that culminates in Marjorie asking for Catherine’s hand is lovely, and one of the funniest of the episode.
  • That being said, this isn’t my first rodeo: No body, no confirmation of death. I will not be surprised if Andrew pops up later to testify against Selina, having entered witness protection.
  • Welcome back, Lennon Parham! Karen is a fun and completely ridiculous character, and I will happily take any little moment we can get with her.
  • I loved Ben and Kent each assuming the other was the Chinese mole.
  • The chyrons for the cable news clips are great. I particularly enjoyed, “Congressman Ryan deviates from prepared remarks,” for CNN.
  • Dutch Johnson does a lot with very little as Officer Youngblood. I hope we get to see Youngblood and Marjorie together, talking shop or even just connecting via reaction shots.
  • It’s hard to pick a favorite line or delivery this episode, but I’ll go with Amy’s description of Selina as a, “miserable, poultry-necked hag.” I have my issues with how the writers got Amy to here, but Anna Chlumsky nails that moment.

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