Timothy Simons (HBO)

In a rather impressive display of shooting the remnants of her career in the foot (figuratively, unlike Jonah’s hilarious, literal mishap in “Camp David”), Selina returns to global politics in “Qatar” and manages to not only sacrifice any goodwill she may have earned for herself in “Georgia,” but also burn bridges throughout the international community. When pressed on her speech, the choice Selina should make is obvious, and one she absolutely should be able to identify. Given her background, experience, and intellect, she should be able to project where each choice will lead and make the right call, sacrificing uncertain immediate glory for a stronger international reputation and more long-term opportunities. Alas, Selina’s ego and her need for validation are insatiable, and as soon as she sees a route to reclaiming credit for the China-Tibet negotiation that won Montez the Nobel Peace Prize, the rest of the episode’s action is inevitable.

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There’s a certain pleasure to watching Selina follow her wounded pride down the only path she can take, setting herself up for a humiliating speech, the failure of her scheme, and the rejection of her latest fling, Ambassador Al Jaffar. However in season six, the beats of this are familiar. This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time Selina’s quest for approval has prompted foolish, destructive choices. Unlike the more straightforwardly comedic “Georgia,” which foregrounds the ensemble and mines international politics for the season’s funniest moments yet, “Qatar” is all dramatic irony, isolating Selina from her team and giving her a taste of intrigue and power only to rip it away. There’s an emphasis on cringe humor, particularly during Selina’s visits with the human rights activist. Entertaining as this is, it’s hard not miss the crackling energy the series usually derives from quick, clever dialogue and lively exchanges.

While Selina takes one step forward and two back, both Dan and Jonah maneuver significant wins this episode. There’s a lot of table-setting with these subplots, and the writers and cast take pains to camouflage the episode’s plot machinations with enough specific character touches to make them feel organic, or at least believable. Jonah’s rise in the House has been meteoric, but given the support of Sherman Tanz and the careful puppeteering guidance of Shawnee, it’s easy to buy Jonah’s former bullies lining up to join his conservative, Freedom Caucus-style voting bloc. Shawnee and Jonah make quite the pair; Mary Holland has been a strong addition to the ensemble as Shawnee and Timothy Simons has completely embraced Jonah’s giddy, naive enjoyment of finally having a girlfriend. Jonah is oblivious to the fall awaiting him the moment Shawnee sees a better opportunity, or the moment he defies her, and the prospect of that turn gets more delicious with each episode.

After a season of insecurity, Dan’s position at CBS This Morning is finally cemented with his ousting of Jane. Dan is a capable manipulator, but the immediate, dramatic fallout from his whispers of sexual misconduct in the workplace don’t quite track. This may be a commentary on gender politics in the news media, that even powerful women can’t get away with the behavior so frequently swept under the rug for men, or a sign of how precarious Jane’s status is, justifying her earlier paranoia that the network would not stay loyal to an aging newswoman. It could also speak to Stevie’s behind the scenes power. No matter the true cause for Jane’s immediate termination, Dan should be far from confident in his new role. It’s no coincidence that he compliments Brie’s appearance in the same episode Jane is fired for making sexually inappropriate statements. As with Jonah, it’s only a matter of time before Dan winds up back on the defensive. They’re fun counterparts, one seemingly in control of his position and the other blissfully unaware, and both one simple mistake away from losing everything they’ve gained this season.

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“Qatar” sees the return of guest stars Dan Bakkedahl as House Minority Leader Furlong, Tzi Ma as President Lu, and Usman Ally as Ambassador Al Jaffar, and these characters get some of the episode’s best scenes. The dinner at Congressman Furlong’s house is precisely as satisfying as one would expect and Beth Littleford is wonderful as Furlong’s sweet, profanity-averse wife. Selina shines in her negotiations with Ambassador Al Jaffar and President Lu, and it’s refreshing to be reminded of how canny and politically savvy Selina can be. Unfortunately, this leaves very little time for Amy, Gary, and Richard. One of the side effects of having an ensemble this talented is that it’s hard not to miss them when they’re benched in favor of guest stars, regardless of how terrific those guest stars may be. The cast member most glaringly underserved at this point is Anna Chlumsky. Much of the ensemble has gotten standout material in season six, at least for an episode or two, but Amy has yet to get her due; hopefully the writers will spotlight her soon.

It’s been a rough season for Selina. She’s flamed out in her charity work, she’s damaged her national reputation as both a president and a feminist icon (through her pardon of Sherman Tanz and handling of Andrew’s affair), she’s had her only fond memories of her childhood utterly trashed, and now she’s lost the final shreds of her international reputation. “Qatar” may have taken Selina to her lowest point yet, but it also shows the potential she still has, if she can put her ego aside. With little left to lose and Selina’s idea of a terrible future looming, that of a retired Meemaw, it’s time for her to start making strides again and move towards a more interesting and less predictable next chapter.

Stray observations

  • If this is the last we see of Jane McCabe for a while, Margaret Colin will certainly be missed. She’s been excellent all season, balancing Jane’s over the top diva behavior with enough professionalism and charisma to make her status as a long-time host or journalist believable. She’s also the best sparring partner both Dan and Reid Scott have faced off against all series.
  • While some likely enjoy Gary’s growing familiarity with Selina, his increased handsiness this season is starting to feel overplayed. It may make sense, given the events of “Justice,” but the escalation feels like it needs to be heading somewhere tangible, to a breaking point, and I’m leery of too big a shift in the Selina and Gary dynamic.
  • Props to the costume department for dressing one of the child extras in a JON*H RYAN shirt.
  • Mike’s sunburn is a great visual gag. As someone who also burns very, very easily, I identify with his desperation to find sunscreen that will actually protect his skin, regardless of how sickly it makes him look. Fortunately, I’ve never accidentally coated myself with coconut oil.
  • I wholeheartedly second Shawnee on Ben and Kent’s ship name of Bent.
  • It’s not a specific line, but my favorite exchanges of the episode are Lu’s waxing and waning fluency with English, and Selina’s response each time.

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