This article contains discussion of the Veep series finale, “Veep.”
Daenerys Targaryen is not the only powerful woman who made a rash decision to burn everything down on HBO last night: Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), her chances at returning to the Oval Office seemingly blown, summoned a destructive ire that rained death upon her political opponents and either alienated or incarcerated the most loyal members of her inner circle. And unlike the penultimate episode of Game Of Thrones, it was funny on purpose. The morning after Veep’s series finale, showrunner David Mandel spoke to The A.V. Club about that perfect programming coincidence, getting Tom Hanks’ permission to preempt President Meyer’s funeral with the actor’s death, and American democracy’s last hope: Richard Splett.
The A.V. Club: It must be an interesting mix of emotions to move on from this show: You have the fond feelings for the people that you’d worked with, yet you’re all moving on from these toxic characters and this toxic world of politics.
David Mandel: The toxicity never bothered me, because the toxicity always led to such great comedy. Don’t get me wrong: I was very aware how horrible these people were, and I do think that the final episode speaks to how horrible so many of them are. I’m not unaware of it, but the toxicity allowed myself and the writers to push the boundaries and explore really foul and wonderful comedy.
AVC: Is everyone’s life improved when they escape Selina’s orbit?
DM: I think so. Marjorie and Catherine—but Catherine specifically. I think her postpartum depression broke in the cab to the airport after the convention. I think Kent found his true self. I think most of these people did. And I think the people like Amy who were still in some sort of close proximity to Selina—I’m not going to say they’re radically unhappy, but are perhaps aren’t as happy as the others. Amy could’ve left, but kept thinking that Selina would call her back to the Oval Office.
AVC: You could really sense Amy’s desperation from Anna Chlumsky in that scene outside the Oval Office door.
DM: There was another scene with Amy and Jonah over at the vice president’s office—we pulled that old set out of the mothballs [Laughs.], but we just ended up not needing two vice president scenes. We did a new version of “Did the president call?” except it was Amy asking the receptionist “Did the president call for me.”
AVC: What can you tell us about bringing Sufe Bradshaw back in for that scene with Sue?
DM: It was one of those things that we always wanted to happen, even before she got ill. We had thought we’d see her in President Montez’s office—the idea that she was the only one who survived the culling, if you will, and was still at that desk because she was the competent one. Sue would’ve now been the gatekeeper keeping Selina out.
When we first started talking about Selina going back to the White House, one of the first things I said was “Sue’s there.” I said it as wishful thinking. And then somebody else said, “Oh, I saw her,” and we reached out. She’s been through the wringer, but boy, oh boy, I think she was thrilled to be back. We were thrilled to have her back. It’s just about the perfect Sue scene: That rhythm of “I don’t,” “I want,” “I can’t,” then staring Jonah down until he storms out like a petulant child. I think we all missed her, but the opportunity to have her come back, hit a home run, and tip her cap was really nice.
AVC: The finale hinges on a couple of questions in the script. The first Selina asks Ben in the hospital, “How could I do this without you?” The second Tom asks of Selina, “What the fuck are you?” They both bookend the moment that’s been described elsewhere as leading “Selina to put on her Darth Vader mask for good.”
DM: It’s also a little bit Michael Corleone and Don Corleone’s bed. Not that she was an innocent civilian who then decides to join the mafia. Even for Selina Meyer, there was a sense that there were places you don’t go. What I love about the Ben scene is it’s this very beautiful scene in some ways: It’s this father figure that she clearly has perhaps needed and wanted and is all the sudden realizing, in his illness, how special he is in her life. That’s something we’ve played with in the past three years, going back to season six when he’s the one that tells her “You can’t run.” This is something Julia and I talked about a whole lot: At the beginning of the episode, having [Ben] walking in and seeing her with her dress unzipped. There’s an intimacy to that. You wouldn’t want Kent coming in there.
[In the hospital] it’s this beautiful, emotional scene that really is saying, “Okay, go unleash hell.” And I love that. And the build from there is watching Selina gear up and tear into Tom’s Amy [Rhea Seehorn as Michelle], and tear into Tom himself—and really destroy him in a way he was never able to destroy her. He knocked her down a lot of times, but she always got up. She destroys him, and you are cheering for her. Except she keeps going, and the audience are like, “Oh my god.” So even though he says, “What the fuck are you?” the audience I don’t think are thinking about that. Because you’re so happy it’s happening to Tom James. It’s when she does the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing that what I hope would happen is that “What the fuck are you?” starts to resonate, so that when she does what she does to Gary, everyone is thinking, “What the fuck are you?”
AVC: How do you feel about Selina having that moment the same night Daenerys Targaryen decided to level King’s Landing?
DM: There’s so many weird Veep coincidences—I don’t know if “coincidence” is the right word, but these things where we do something on the show and it happens in real life, or it happens the same week. The fact that the finale aired on Mother’s Day, and Selina’s the worst mother on Earth. I know people have been constantly making these jokes about “Who’s going to get the Iron Throne,” but I guess it’s just fitting that they both had their moments of destroying as much as they could. [Laughs.]
AVC: You had Jonah on this season-long crusade about “Muslim math,” and just last week there was that poll circulating in which a majority of the respondents were against Arabic numerals being taught in American schools.
DM: It’s sort of hilarious, and horrible, and sad. At the end of the day, Selina Meyer is president because dumb people are voting her in. These [politicians] are horrible, but they don’t elect themselves. And perhaps that is one of the messages of the show: You get who you deserve.
AVC: So what does that say about Richard Splett’s meteoric rise? He’s someone who’s good at heart, but still naive.
DM: Dare I say, he’s my little sense of hope. As fucked as I think the system is, there is hope. But I’ll also point out, the reason for his naive falling into the governor’s office is because, were he to run the normal way, he’d get beaten up by the system or by people who don’t want to hear his non-sound bites and interesting ideas. And perhaps we need a better system that allows the Richards of the world to not have to be dog mayors, and then lieutenant governors, and then governors because the other governor goes blind from shingles.
AVC: What were some of the challenges of fitting the final campaign arc into a seven-episode season, as opposed to the show’s previously customary 10? And were there any upsides to the shortened episode order?
DM: With seven episodes, things didn’t get to sit as much as I would’ve liked them to. When I look back on it, I will be the first to say, “Wouldn’t it have been lovely if Jonah could’ve reconciled with his dad, and then had an episode or two with his dad as his dad, and then given him the chicken pox and killed him?” But there was no room for it. I don’t know how else to say that. There were things like that that I wish could’ve percolated a little bit.
The upside of the seven: Sometimes, it almost feels like with seven you could just sit down and watch all seven of them, and watch this thing that I do think works as a whole. This is going to sound silly, but there’s so many signposts to the finale throughout the other six episodes—things like Ben making a joke in episode six about dying. Little things that, believe me when I tell you, they’re there because I knew what the finale was. Seven is just enough where you can make that notion work, where you can digest it as one whole, whereas 10 episodes is just long enough to start like, “I’m going to watch the first five, and then the second five.”
AVC: Do you know Tom Hanks? Do you know how he received the joke?
DM: I do not know him, but I was with Julia when she emailed him—because we did have to ask for permission about the film clips. He had to approve them. And he wrote back and was a real fan. I believe he wrote her after watching the episode seven. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think he got a kick out of it.
AVC: Is that Andrew pushing his way past the former members of Team Meyer at the funeral?
DM: It is.
AVC: And it was him in Oslo, too?
DM: It was. [Laughs.]
And that’s another example, not to harp on it: I wish he could’ve been dead for a couple of more episodes before he was back. Again, it is what it is. I like to think he’s over in Europe, leading some kind of Whitey Bulger-esque existence. People think they spot him, but no one’s quite sure.
AVC: Were there any other blink-and-you’ll-miss-it things that people should go back and check for?
DM: I would hope that if people get an opportunity, they freeze on the wall on the Selina Meyer Library. There’s fun stuff with the list of donors, and also the quote from Selina that adorns the wall.
One of my other favorites: At the very end, I love when Furlong is getting the unanimous approval from the convention, he speeds through it, but the “nay”s are really, really loud. That always makes me laugh. And I’m a huge fan of the Selina Meyer film that plays at the convention: Just the idea that she would think that average Americans want to hear about a lady and her horse. Seeing her in the multiculti conference room, and then tapping little Richard on the shoulder is just Julia Louis-Dreyfus genius. It’s the least grandmotherly thing you’ve ever seen in your life.
AVC: What made “We Didn’t Start The Fire” your choice for her post-nomination celebration?
DM: In season five, when her mom died, there’s a moment where she’s screaming at her team about the recount in Nevada, and she yells at them, “I’m going to be president, blah blah blah, and Billy Joel’s going to play at my inauguration!” And Gary swoons at the mention. So there’s always this idea that she really loves Billy Joel, and that’s the song she picked.
AVC: What was it like filming the scene where Gary’s arrested, and what does letting Gary take the fall for the Meyer Fund scandal mean to Selina?
DM: In terms of shooting the scene, boy, that was tough. It was very hard for all of us to separate the scene we were doing from reality. It was sad going into the scene—to some extent, I had to be like, “No, you can’t be sad at the beginning of the scene! These characters don’t know what’s going on! I know this is incredibly sad, and I love you all, but Gary can’t know it!”
What I loved about it was, in the leadup to it all, just the intimacy between the two of them. Tim Simons actually pointed that out: The tooth-cleaning is such an intimate act, almost beyond coupledom. I don’t do that to my wife. The intimacy, and therefore the betrayal of it. And those looks between them where he’s sort of struggling and sees her and realizes this is her and then kind of stops and allows it to happen. She watches it, and then [she’s like] “I’m not going to watch this,” and then she turns to the crowd and goes “Nothing can stop me.” It’s on-point there.
As to why it had to happen: At the end of season six, she walks away from Jaffar, who may have been the love of her life. As we went into this season, the real question became “What else is she prepared to do?” And, really, there’s nothing worse that I can think of. And it hits you in a way that, no matter what issue we could’ve had her talking about it—be it gay marriage, or had we gone back to guns or opioid addiction—it’s still just her saying words. And I’m not trying to make light of any of those issues, I’m just simply saying that without that personal connection, there was no way to make it resonate. I just thought the perfect punishment for her would be to get the presidency, to get what she truly, always wanted. But, to get all biblical, it costs her her soul.
AVC: Do you think Gary ever forgave her?
DM: I think their relationship, as sick as it was, was a two-way street. The way Tony plays it when he shows up at the funeral, he’s pretty pissed, and yet he’s there, and he brings the lipstick. I think he is furious, and yet I joke that if the coffin opened and she said, “Gary, I need a tea,” he probably would’ve run off and gotten it.