While it has remained one of television’s best comedies, Veep has had a somewhat uneven fourth season, starting strong before losing momentum in the middle of its run. Fortunately, the creativity and character-based approach that worked so well in “Testimony” continues here, making this one of the best episodes of the season. With “Election Night,” Veep delivers an emotional, intense finale that finds room for satisfying character beats alongside laugh out loud humor, providing resolution to many of the season’s arcs while leaving the fate of the Selina’s presidency enticingly open-ended.
Centering the finale around Selina’s election should rob it of its stakes. The series has already been renewed for a fifth season and if Selina loses, it’s not like she and her team can go work somewhere else. Plus the season has spent so little time on Selina’s opponent, Senator O’Brien (the always entertaining, but underused Brad Leland), that he feels like a complete nonentity. Intellectually, it’s clear—Selina has to win. Yet by focusing on the emotion of the night, on its import as the culmination of years of these characters’ lives, the episode manages to bypass the audiences’ brains and go straight for their hearts. From the first shot, “Election Night” puts the audience in Selina’s headspace, refocusing on her and giving Julia Louis-Dreyfus even more of a spotlight. Louis-Dreyfus rises to the occasion, as she always does, and takes Selina on a memorable rollercoaster of a night, switching between subtle reactions and broad comedic beats as the episode demands them. Her profanity-laced rants are great, but just as powerful are moments like Selina’s reaction to taking Virginia and securing a tie with O’Brien, or the catch in Louis-Dreyfus’ voice as Selina greets Amy and later, asks why she left.
The solution showrunner Armando Iannucci and the writers come up with to challenge the inevitability of Selina’s victory, having her and her opponent tie, is brilliant. Throughout the finale, every character reinforces a false dichotomy: Will it be Selina or O’Brien? An electoral tie in a presidential election has happened before, in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson defeated Aaron Burr, but it’s such a rarity that the notion of a tie never occurs to the characters. Many fans speculated that Hugh Laurie’s Tom James would somehow end up as the President to Selina’s Veep in season five, but given how far into the election process the season had gone, this seemed ridiculous. Not so now, and Iannucci and company deserve tremendous praise for finding and exploiting such a wonderful loophole.
The energy, excitement, and confusion surrounding the election results feed the finale, but just as important are the character beats sprinkled throughout, most notably Amy’s decision to return to Selina’s side to watch the results come in. Anna Chlumsky gets some nice comedic moments—I could listen to Amy belt out exit poll statistics to an irritated Sue all day—but it’s the twinge of regret and uncertainty in her voice as Amy responds to Selina that stands out. Amy’s gone through the wringer this season and bringing closure to her relationship with Selina, without negating the impact of her epic break from the administration, adds emotional heft and finality to the episode. At her most fragile moment, Selina rushes to Amy for support, both literally and figuratively, in a telling and truthful display of her true feelings for her former Chief of Staff. But this is Veep, so the drama is immediately undercut by Gary, who struggles with his true feelings as well, ready to
grab Selina’s ass counter Selina’s descent should she start to fall, a sterling bit of physical comedy from Tony Hale and Gary’s highlight of the evening.
The focus on Selina and the election leaves little time for most of the supporting cast, but everyone has at least one memorable moment. Matt Walsh’s frantic delivery of, “No, don’t! Stop the concession!” as Mike scrambles back to the hotel suite is delightfully over the top, a fun counter to Walsh’s tentative gestures as Mike tries to buy soda from the vending machine without shocking himself. Jonah’s attempt at standup comedy goes just about as well as anyone could have predicted—really, Jonah? The A-Team’s van?—but it’s nice to see that he’s regained his confidence, misplaced as it may be. Timothy Simons and Sam Richardson have been excellent all season and with any luck, Jonah and Richard will remain on balloon duty in season five, regardless of how the election goes. After the events of the hearing, Bill’s presence in the suite initially stretches credulity, but Diedrich Bader’s performance and lines like, “It’s the prison toilet situation that preys on one’s mind. Defecating in full view of another man is unthinkable” quiet any concerns. Contrasting the heightened Bill are Kent and Ben, who are their usual collected selves, Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn beautifully underplaying their frequently hilarious asides.
Sufe Bradshaw, so often relegated to the background with only a cutting line or two per episode, is finally featured this week and the rare glimpse of Sue when she’s off the clock has been worth the wait. It’s nice to see a genuine, snark-free exchange from Sue and the late episode nod to her and Kent’s torrid off screen affair is also greatly appreciated; if only those two crazy kids could work things out. Which brings us to Catherine and her doomed engagement. Of course Catherine chose a fiancé who doesn’t express emotions—with a mother like Selina, how could she understand anything else? That the scene with Selina and Catherine actually comes off as sweet, at least initially, is one of the most finale’s most impressive feats. Louis-Dreyfus manages to make Selina’s concern for her daughter feel genuine despite the ways the audience has seen Selina manipulate and control Catherine all season, building a warm rapport with Sarah Sutherland before Selina’s empathy stores dwindle and she needs to get out of there.
The tonal shift between the more introspective and thoughtful start of this scene and its comedic, sarcastic conclusion is mirrored in another of the finale’s highlights, Selina’s talk with Tom. This is the best Hugh Laurie has been all season, showing Tom’s likability in his conversation with Selina, but balancing the blandly good Tom James persona with political savvy and cunning later in the episode. And of course it’s impossible not to appreciate his jabs at Karen. Stupid, annoying, noncommittal Karen. Welcome back, Lennon Parham! Now please leave—you’re too good at being infuriating. Just as entertainingly obnoxious is Neil Casey as statistics guru Matty Curtis. Keeping Dan out of the suite and on CNN adds a personal touch to the results and Dan’s power struggle with Matty and glee at his eventual defeat gives another note of victory to the end of the episode. Whereas Amy has struggled after leaving Team Meyer, Dan has flourished and Reid Scott has made the most of the triumphant return of sleazy Dan.
This is Veep firing on all cylinders, each character serviced and contributing to the larger whole with a clear narrative providing plenty of fodder for them to play with. The comedy is informed by character and runs the gamut from subtle reactions in the background to goofy physicality to profanity and rage-fueled takedowns. Throw in the clever twist of the electoral tie and the energy that comes with the uncertainty of the ending and you have a fantastic episode and an even better finale. It’s sad to see Iannucci leave the series, but “Election Night” is a fitting and formidable swan song for him as showrunner, and a great end to another entertaining season of Veep.
- It’s interesting to see Selina, who’s worn one stunning gown after another all season, dressed in brown lace here. Putting her in a more subdued color works well in the quieter scenes, particularly the opening, and Louis-Dreyfus looks fantastic as ever, but it still feels odd to see a presidential candidate speak to a crowd on such a momentous evening wearing brown.
- When Tom asks to speak to Selina privately and makes his play to be Treasury Secretary, their confrontation happens in a bedroom with clothes strewn everywhere, a far cry from their first conversation in “Convention”—the romance really is over.
- Selina’s phone call to O’Brien is great, as are everyone’s reactions throughout. The wave of excitement as Mike passes on the good news is infectious and it’s worth rewatching the scene a few times to catch all the fantastic performances in the background.
- All of the reactions to the tie, from the moment it presents itself as a possibility until the staff is walking down to the stage wondering, “Why make the total of electoral votes an even number?” feel like a delightful blend of audience surrogacy and the outsider perspective of the non-American elements of the Veep creative team.
- It’s been wonderful covering Veep this season; thanks for reading along! To conclude this season’s coverage, the line of the episode. It’s hard to pick just one, as there are so many worthy contenders, but Louis-Dreyfus’ stellar delivery had to make this the winner: “No, I’ll tell you what’s unprecedented. A tie is unprecedented. So’s becoming the first Lady President. So’s that jackoff becoming president through the back door. Okay? The rule book’s been torn up now and America’s wiping its nasty ass with it.”