Julia Louis-Dreyfus (HBO)

Veep may be Selina Meyer’s story, but over the past few seasons, Jonah Ryan has risen through the ensemble to become arguably the show’s second lead. As real world politics have grown increasingly absurd, the notion of the incompetent and odious Jonah not only surviving, but thriving in D.C. has become depressingly believable, and his elevation in the House has been season six’s most consistent and funniest thread. Now in “Blurb,” Jonah’s journey from constantly belittled joke to House power player is complete, with Shawnee Tanz pulling his strings and Jonah happily oblivious to the damage he’s causing with his snit fit over Selina’s snub. Ben, Kent, and Uncle Jeff (Peter MacNicol) have truly created a monster, and his first casualty is Selina’s unveiling.

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Veep has walked a careful line with Jonah this season, and part of why his storyline has worked so well is the combination of vulnerability and bravado Timothy Simons layers into his performance. Jonah may be an idiot, he may be easily manipulated and far too hungry for validation, and he definitely has a dangerous amount of power, but he lacks the cunning that drives much of the cast. There’s a reason Jonah is friends with Richard. Both are guileless, and while Richard is a much, much better person than Jonah, Simons and the writers find ways to let an inner sweetness shine through Jonah’s toxic posturing. While Selina, Gary, Dan, and Amy have only gotten more controlling over the seasons, Jonah is the same awkward, insecure guy he was in season one, and it’s hard to stay too angry at him for the disastrous choices he’s making by listening to Shawnee when Simons makes Jonah so earnestly happy to have a girlfriend.

From Jonah’s attempts to order SpaghettiOs in Georgia to his puppy dog enthusiasm after hooking up with Shawnee to his halting self-consciousness over whether his orchiectomy has made him a less desirable partner, Veep has found space to make Jonah a more rounded, relatable character and that work pays off here. Shutting down the government because of an immature personal vendetta is despicable, but Jonah is so brazen in his actions and so clearly mentally out of his league it’s hard to blame him. What did they think would happen when they got this numbskull elected? Yes, he should know better, and yes, he should listen to his very smart aides, and yes, people’s lives and livelihoods lay in the balance. However, after a season of verbal abuse from House Minority Leader Furlong, it’s hard not to enjoy the shocked look on Furlong’s face when Jonah defies him, or to appreciate that Selina’s snubbing of Jonah costs Gary his Jackie crystal. Roger Ebert famously called cinema an empathy machine, allowing audiences to experience worlds far removed from their own, to immerse themselves in someone else’s life and hopefully, understand them a bit more. Veep may not be aiming for anything quite so lofty with Jonah, but in the current divided political climate, even being able to laugh as Jonah imperils the good of the country for his ego feels like a win.

“Blurb” finds moments of empathy for more than Jonah. Gary struggles through his memories of watching Selina and Tom have sex, to great comedic effect. Ben is so depressed working for Jonah that he can barely lift himself from Jonah’s couch. Even President Montez gets a few moments to shine. After the frosty interactions between Selina and Montez in the past, Montez’s intended glowing introduction for her at the unveiling is a lovely surprise. It’s nice to see her in action, and the prospect of Montez being a far more successful and less petty president than Selina has a lot of comedic potential. However, the characters given the most depth this episode are Selina and Tom.

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After that interview with Dan, it would have been easy to move Tom into a villainous role. Instead, the writers go for something more nuanced and much more interesting. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Hugh Laurie have tremendous chemistry and work just as well as foes and as courteous friends. They continue their dance, rotating through honesty, respect, hate, desire, and scorn in quick, but potent succession, and if Veep had a history of setting up will-they/won’t-they couples, their scene together at the White House would be a sure sign that someone on the writing staff sees them as the show’s finale pairing. Selina only recently discovered in “Chicklet” that her father was not who he seemed and Tom James is the one romantic partner of Selina’s to not fit into the same sweet-talking con man role her father and Andrew personify. It makes sense that she’s drawn back to him now. Selina’s confessions of her inner monologue at key parts of their intersecting careers feels risky, and Selina’s correct to read resentment and portent in the phrases Tom lets linger in the air. The genuine emotion between the pair makes their screaming and Selina’s taunting of Tom all the more entertaining, and gives the episode the kind of stakes that have been missing since Selina lost the presidency.

Between the culmination of the season’s excellent work with Jonah’s storyline, a return to high-(emotional) stakes storytelling for Selina, the return of Laurie as Tom James, and interesting personal character beats for many in the cast, “Blurb” is the strongest episode of the season yet. The energy and unpredictability of previous seasons is back, the more prominent physical comedy of season six is paired with memorable dialogue and visual gags, and as ever, the entire cast is on their A-game. When Veep is firing on all cylinders, it’s a thing to behold, and to laugh along with. This is Veep at full steam, and now that the (in-universe) country is in crisis, hopefully it will stay that way.

Stray observations

  • Congratulations to Veep on being picked up for season seven!
  • Everyone should have someone in their life who can give them a pep talk as sweet and heartfelt as Gary’s to Selina.
  • I love that Selina’s portrait artist trolled her so very hard with the painting. Now they definitely need to bring back June Diane Raphael so she and Louis-Dreyfus can go toe-to-toe.
  • How many episodes before Stevie is begging Jane to come back to CBS This Morning?
  • I didn’t know I needed to see Jonah at religious studies class, learning about Judaism and converting to the faith, but clearly we all do, because this was great.
  • Speaking of religious humor, I rarely comment on the racist and otherwise offensive humor that pops up frequently in Veep. I don’t find the jokes clever or funny, and the characters that are given these lines tend to be those who would likely see no problem in telling offensive, demeaning jokes. Mike’s story about someone who transitioned twice feels different. Given the difficulty trans people face in getting swaths of the cis population to believe they even exist, this feels like a strange punch down towards a marginalized group.
  • One of my absolute favorite elements of Jonah’s arc this season is the decision to give him a Paul Ryan-style widow’s peak.
  • There are a lot of contenders for line of the episode, but Jonah’s exasperated, unaware, “Of course she’s alright. Why are women always checking in on one another when I am talking to them?” takes the cake for me.

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