Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Veep: “Data”

Anna Chlumsky (HBO)
Anna Chlumsky (HBO)
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Coming off of the hilarious “East Wing,” “Data” had a lot to live up to and while it may not top its predecessor, this is another strong episode in what has been a fantastic start to season four. Whereas “East Wing” split the cast and focused on disparate, one-on-one interactions, “Data” unifies the ensemble, tying nearly every scene back to the scandal surrounding a government data breach perpetrated by the Meyer campaign. Set over the course of Easter weekend, tension builds throughout the episode as the stakes continue to rise until Selina and her team are faced with a potentially administration-ending situation. It’s hard to believe an error of this magnitude could happen—why would Selina ever use an un-vetted anecdote?—and the episode’s early lampshading of this, via Ericsson, doesn’t do much to counter that skepticism. However the escalation of the problem from unfortunate misstatement to jail-able offense, along with its consequences, makes this an easy question to overlook. This episode ends once again with a dramatic and intense conversation, which is becoming a mini-trend for season four. Though it lacks the personal punch of the Selina and Gary fight in “East Wing,” the sober reactions of Selina, Amy, and Dan sell the severity of the scene and prepare the audience for what must happen next.

Reid Scott has been great on Veep and while Zak Orth is nowhere to be found here, implying that Selina’s firings do indeed stick, Dan’s sacking feels less permanent than Jim’s. Dan’s primary scene partner throughout this season has been Jonah and if we’re in for a Ryantology-style Dan Egan makeover, the next episode can’t arrive quickly enough. Scott is a blast throughout this episode, taking Dan from cat who ate the canary to desperate blackmailer to dejected loser. Dan’s utter glee at the prospect of firing Jonah is infectious, as is Selina’s enthusiastic approval, making his fall all the more entertaining. Looking back on the episode, it’s easy to pinpoint exactly when Dan decides to build up Jonah as a patsy: After encountering Jonah and Richard in the hallway, Dan begins to walk away only to stop and turn around, smiling and barely able keep an obnoxious grin off his face as he asks Jonah to be more involved in that evening’s festivities. It’s a subtle note from Scott that’s easy to miss the first time through, a prime example of the fine work this cast does and how well the series stands up to rewatching.

When it finally comes, there’s only one thing that can distract Dan from his long-awaited firing of Jonah, and that’s Teddy’s continued sexual harassment of Jonah. It’s surprising to see Teddy so brazenly grope Jonah in front of others only three episodes into the season and once again, the series handles this scene with sensitivity. Dan’s shocked and compassionate response to Jonah underscores one of the few lines he and the rest of the non-Teddy Veep characters refuse to cross, “Jesus, does he do that to you all the time?” It’s nice to be reminded that moral absolutes do exist for these characters and now that Dan knows this is happening, how he chooses to proceed will be telling. He’s clearly no saint, transitioning almost immediately back to firing Jonah (with relish) once the moment’s passed, but just how self-involved Dan chooses to be with this information should be interesting to discover.

Acting as a B-plot to the clear central thread of the Medileaks scandal is Catherine’s continued frustration over being the First Daughter. Bringing Catherine to the forefront this season has been a smart move, allowing for more domestic storylines and giving Selina, who’s a bit busy for dating at the moment, someone outside her administration to interact with. Season four highlight Diedrich Bader is mostly sidelined this episode, but making up for that is the delightful Sam Richardson, whose Richard continues to provide a refreshing counterpoint to his far more jaded superiors. Richard’s excitement for the fireworks and utter failure with Windows 8 are fun moments, but his best is Richardson’s, “Aww, shucks” reaction to Dan’s angry retort when Richard fails to not mention the campaign mailer. So far, Richard seems to have carved a place out for himself at the White House via sheer friendliness. It’s wonderful that this hasn’t been beaten out of him yet and if he can maintain his cheery demeanor throughout the season it will be an impressive achievement.

With Dan off the team and scrambling, Selina’s Families First bill losing support, and the campaign down to nano-donors, the Meyer White House is due a few wins. How Selina will restructure and where the season is headed next is anyone’s guess, but based on the progression thus far, from a botched State Of The Union address to a virulent, if brief, personal spat to campaign decisions with significant legal ramifications, it won’t be pretty. Incredibly entertaining, but not pretty.

Stray observations:

  • It’s great when Veep lets its characters have clear political or moral stances. This week, along with Dan’s reaction to Teddy’s assault of Jonah, we get Ben’s frustration with people’s lack of AIDS/HIV awareness, delivered beautifully by Kevin Dunn, “Well there’s a town with no gay pride parade or a goddamn library.”
  • Selina’s disdainful reaction to “The Expendabelles” is entirely appropriate and very welcome. It’s a shame Leigh falls into that category and gets the chop; Jessie Ennis has been a lot of fun in the role and hopefully Leigh will wind up working with Dan.
  • Dakin Matthews is great in his one scene as the fireworks salesman with a grudge against President Ford.
  • I’m not usually a fan of in-show hashtags, but I have to give them #EveryLittleThingSheDoesIsTragic.
  • Selina’s progression of food through the episode is delightful and all too recognizable to anyone trying, and failing, to eat healthy on stressful day: protein bar, fruit, cheese, scotch.
  • Foolish, foolish Dan, threatening Ben and by extension, the President. Ben’s response is fantastic, as is Kevin Dunn’s delivery, and Scott’s terrified reaction is totally justified.
  • This episode features less physical comedy than the previous two, but Matt Walsh’s ridiculously wide smile during the credits is a thing to behold.