Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)
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Selina Meyer has done many terrible things in her quest for power. She’s doxxed sick patients and used hacked medical files to target grieving parents with her mailers. She’s railroaded and scammed, lied and manipulated. She’s gotten people deported and hurt, and of course, she’s been a terrible mother and now grandmother. Perhaps fittingly, the penultimate episode of the series, “Oslo,” sees Selina make arguably her most destructive choice yet. While in Oslo to accept a Summit Peace Award from the World Summit of Nobel Laureates—which Selina is rounding up to a Nobel Peace Prize—for her part in freeing Tibet from Chinese rule, Selina strikes up a deal with President Lu of China. If he’ll support her in the upcoming election, instead of backing current president Laura Montez, China can have Tibet back. As president, she’ll protest and condemn his actions publicly, but will take no meaningful action against it. It’s enough of a carrot to get Lu back on Team Selina, and it signals just how far she’s come.

The series began with Selina as a smart, canny, and driven politician stuck in the mostly ceremonial role of vice president, sidelined and itching to do more. She wanted to implement popular progressive policies: clean jobs, universal childcare, support for low-income families. Selina’s always been happy to negotiate and blur the lines to promote her agendas and herself, and even when she had the best of intentions, her pet projects wound up warped and twisted by the political process. Now, seven seasons later, all pretense is gone, any high-minded ideals are out the window. Her journey has culminated in Selina happily trading the country of Tibet for her personal gain.

For the first time in a while, however, Selina is forced to immediately marinate in the consequences of her backroom dealing. She walks from her handshake with Lu to accept her award and is put face-to-face with a group of Tibetan Lamas, her heavily goosed speech underscoring the danger they’d be in if Tibet were controlled by the Chinese. A lot happens in “Oslo,” most of it overly broad, but the heart of the episode is in these two moments: Selina’s conversation with Lu, when she reveals just how desperate and craven she is, and her speech to the World Summit of Nobel Laureates, when she must look into the faces of people she has just happily condemned. Last episode, Selina could protest that Keith misread her intentions with Andrew, and that she didn’t intend for him to be killed. She can make no such claim here, and watching her process that is compelling, dark TV.

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These dramatic, weighty moments are played expertly by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but they gain extra impact from their placement at the end of a rather silly and broad episode. Selina’s trip to Olso and desire to meet with President Lu gives the writers an excellent excuse to bring back fan-favorite Minna Häkkinen. Sally Phillips is a true delight as Minna, one of the very few genuinely well-intentioned characters on Veep. Phillips does a wonderful job balancing Minna’s fascination with Selina with her commitment to her principles, side-stepping the inherent contradictions presented by these dueling impulses. She’s completely believable as a woman who would report Selina to Interpol, then cheerfully offer her asylum a scene later. In another season, the writers could easily have milked a whole episode out of Selina’s time at the Finnish embassy, but with the finale looming, viewers must settle for a mere glimpse of Selina and Minna’s Odd Couple reboot.

Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)

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The crunch of this season’s reduced episode order is felt in the hurried back-and-forth of Selina’s storyline, as she goes from award honoree to war criminal to asylum-seeker to escapee and fugitive to honoree once again at break-neck speed. Adopting an almost screwball pacing for this arc is an entertaining choice and it works as a commentary on the current ever-churning news cycle, as scandals break and are all but forgotten a moment later. It’s less effective with Jonah’s storyline. Still thrown by the revelation that Lloyd is his biological father (as well as his wife’s), Jonah is refusing to take his phone calls. Undeterred, Lloyd barges in to visit Jonah while he’s sick with chicken pox to clear the air and apologize for keeping him in the dark. This is all it takes for Jonah to come around, reconciling with Lloyd and calling him Dad. It’s too quick and too convenient, but with only one episode left, it had to happen this episode. Timothy Simons is once again terrific in “Oslo,” holding onto everything that makes Jonah the terrible person he’s always been and destructive politician he’s become while seeding in some sweetness and relatable hurt. Jonah’s horrible, but he’s also human. When Lloyd unexpectedly dies, having caught chicken pox from Jonah, Jonah delivers a suitably immature eulogy, hiding from his pain by lashing out. Simons nails the moment, another great example of how Simons and the writers have kept Jonah interesting and watchable all these seasons.

Continuing his meteoric rise in Iowa politics is Richard, who ends the episode as the governor of Iowa, and a super-delegate likely to play a decisive role in the finale. He takes over for Michael McKean’s governor, who’s also infected by Jonah when he goes to visit the congressman, hoping for a spot in his administration should Jonah somehow get elected. McKean slips into the world of Veep seamlessly, perfectly matching the tone of the show and energizing every scene he’s in. It’s wonderful that showrunner David Mandel found a role for McKean before the finale, but it’s a shame he wasn’t cast sooner. Imagine McKean sparring with Louis-Dreyfus or the other main players—it’s the most tantalizing unexplored comedic road of the season.

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Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)

Veep has already delivered one near-perfect finale in season five’s, “Inauguration,” a quiet, subdued anticlimax. It’s hard to imagine the writers taking the same approach in season seven, but at this point, anything is possible. Though threads like Richard’s position as governor of Iowa and Selina’s surge, then setback in the polls are clearly setting up the finale, the exact road forward remains unclear. Mandel and the writers have left themselves several satisfying options, and after the show’s long run, it will be interesting to see what note they decide to end on.

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Stray observations

  • Elsewhere, this episode: Catherine and Marjorie get married in Europe, Beth isn’t pregnant (phew!), but does go into rehab, Jonah pivots from ranting against vaccines to ranting against immigrants, Andrew’s alive and hanging out in Oslo, Mike gets a CBS News makeover when they buy McLinTALK, Amy gets shot down by Dan yet again, Gary fingers some sandwiches, and Uncle Jeff drops by to laugh at Lloyd’s funeral. All of it is funny, all of it works.
  • It is not lost on me that this episode features war crimes, foreign election interference and money laundering, drug abuse, and Lloyd telling Jonah it’s okay to feel so angry he could shoot up a supermarket, and that it’s still one of the show’s sillier episodes. But that’s Veep for you.
  • Jonah’s complete lack of empathy after having spread chicken pox to his anti-vax supporters across several states is hilarious, and spot on for the character.
  • Gary doesn’t have much to do this episode, but Tony Hale is great in his few moments, particularly with Catherine and Marjorie. Sarah Sutherland and Clea DuVall are similarly strong, and Catherine and Marjorie are the characters I’m most invested in somehow escaping all of the show’s insanity to ride off into the Veep sunset happily ever after.
  • I can’t begin to pick a favorite line. There are far too many. A few contenders: Selina’s, “As the former president of the United States, truth and justice can gargle by balls,” Minna’s, “My last three lovers are complaining that my naughty talk is both incessant and soporific,” and McKean’s character calling Dan, “Manhattan date-rape mystery.”

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