When Ellen Burstyn grabs Sebastian Stan’s face and gives him the business, telling her drug-addicted grandson that if he ever steals from her again, she will proverbially cut him, we see the mother of the woman who earlier calls the vice president of the United States “a pissy little shit.” Margaret, a former Copa girl with the hots for a heroin-addicted trumpet player had to raise her daughter on her own and it slapped the nonsense out of her, in turn preparing Elaine for the life she was to lead. There’s a connection between Burstyn’s Margaret Barrish and Sigourney Weaver’s Elaine that goes beyond simply the script telling us that at one point, Elaine hung out inside Margaret’s (presumably alcohol-filled) belly for nine months. Elaine is her mother’s daughter, even if they are working their witchy ways on different geopolitical scales.
The same can’t be said for Elaine’s relationship with her ex-husband, Bud. There love seems to have no origin, a case not helped by the complete lack of chemistry between Elaine and Bud. What ensnared her? Was it his megalomaniacal belief that he can save the world with charming negotiation tactics? His affinity for knowing many racial epithets for Italians? His ability to hustle reporters at Words With Friends? Their relationship continues to feel mismatched, even as Bud scores a victory for both himself and his ex-wife by successfully freeing the three Iranian journalists detained in the pilot by fortifying the legacy of the dying Iranian prez. But it’s important to know why they are together, if only because the second episode, “Second Time Around,” hinges on flashbacks explaining why she stayed, even as Bud's philandering was confirmed: “I married a nation,” Elaine says.
Weaver plays badass politico considerably better than she plays jilted, vulnerable FLOTUS. The flashbacks begin with Elaine’s accusation and end with Bud’s confession that he carried on a five-month affair with Elaine’s fired aide, Sarah Latham. “I. Did. Not. Have. Sex. With Sarah Latham,” Bud intones (no word yet on how he defines sex). Weaver is flat in these flashbacks, as if she doesn’t buy that a women we’ve heard is so smart and cunning would blindly believe her cheating husband’s denials either.
“You are the president of the United States,” Elaine says when Bud finally confesses
“But that doesn’t make me a saint,” Bud replies.
“But I thought it would make you a better man,” Elaine says.
Has a sense of unmitigated power ever put the kibosh on a libido of a man with an already-inflated sense of self? Patriotism can be blinding but Elaine’s outright naïveté makes her seem like a different character.
Weaver is not the only guilty party. The tone of “Second Time Around” feels deflated. The melodrama of the pilot may have induced eyerolls, but it counteracted the show's flaws. Fewer scenes of Stan with the perfect amount of blow on his upper lip makes the show less fun.
Weaver wakes up again as Elaine is tasked with persuading the president to send her Bud to Iran. Dylan Baker’s Veep Collier rears his slimey head for the first time in any meaningful way. Hurt that he wasn’t chosen as the diplomatic messenger, he “can’t confirm or deny” that negotiations are being held. Hiring Baker to simply play the innocuous idiot vice president is like hiring Kate Upton to model burkas. Baker excels at being sneakingly creepy. He could potentially make a much more fun adversary than the largely blank President Garcetti.
Elaine’s decision to send Bud to Iran tips Douglas off Elaine’s desire to run for president in the next election cycle. Of course, this would never happen, no matter how many Secret Service men think it’s a good idea. While Doug mentions valid reasons, like wasting the campaign war chest of the incumbent, what he’s really against is what a campaign cycle would do to their family, what with his relationship with Ann already on skids and TJ inhaling mountains of cocaine off the well-chiseled abs of the legion super-psyched to bone the former first kid. It’s these moments where “Political Animals” excels. Characters constantly comment on Elaine’s looks — the Turkish ambassador uses a dinner date with Elaine as leverage while the lives of three people hang in the balance — but it’s the subtle sexism that few shows nail as well as Political Animals. Elaine’s own son is willing to derail her career by leaking her presidential ambition to Susan because of what it would to do their family. Their fortitude as a family rests on Elaine, rather than Bud who can continue to be Bud with little consequence.
- Anne is becoming a problem. I chalked up her bulimia in the first episode to attention-getting soapiness, but she consistently complains about how Doug’s mother rules his life, as if she just started dating Doug. Not to mention that the reason Doug and Anne’s relationship is crumbling might be because they only seem to have important conversations while they’re having sex. In the first episode, it was doggie-style discussion, but in the second, Doug is going downtown. Next week, I expect there to be some talk of how many children they plan on having while Anne is rocking the reverse cowgirl.