Julia Louis-Dreyfus (HBO)

Rather than continue on the campaign trail, “Mommy Meyer” puts Team Meyer back to work at the White House and in doing so, reenergizes a lagging season four. While this season has been consistently engaging, the momentum has slowed over the past few episodes, a far cry from the breakneck pace of season four highlight “East Wing.” There have been a lot of changes to Team Meyer but rather than set the characters into a whirlwind of motion, the staff shakeups have slowed them down, forcing them to regain their balance before moving forward. While Mike may be headed to an Amy-style break with the administration—or more likely, a Dan-style nervous breakdown—this episode gets the rest of the crew back on their feet, gaining ground in the campaign and pushing through Selina’s pet project, the Families First Meyer bill.

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For once, Mike is the star of the episode and Matt Walsh makes the most of it. Walsh is always great, giving his all even when relegated to the background and invariably game for whatever silliness the writers throw his way, and it’s nice to see him get a few character moments to really chew on. Bringing Kathy Najimy back as Wendy is a lovely surprise and she and Walsh continue to have a beautifully relaxed rapport –Mike may be exhausted and reaching the end of his rope, but he has by far the healthiest relationship of anyone on this show, even when he forgets his wife’s birthday. Getting a peek behind Mike’s façade humanizes him a bit, making his trials throughout the episode all the more potent, particularly when he reaches and manages to back away from his breaking point. Mike is a lot of fun as the court jester, but he’s even better as the melancholy clown, and “Mommy Meyer” all but gives him a sad trombone to accompany his walk up to the firing squad.

Team Meyer is finally back on track after the distractions of Doyle’s resignation and Amy’s mic drop, and the return of the Families First bill contributes to this immensely. Since it was first introduced, Selina’s interest in child care and in finding a way to help working mothers has felt incredibly genuine; it’s one of the few stances anyone’s held on this series that has. All season, the Families First initiative has been a quiet reminder that beneath her egotism, Selina would actually like to help people. Because of this, we’ve taken for granted that it’s a good bill, but this episode chips away at that notion, to great comedic effect. Whether it’s from the press, Tom James, or her former friends, Selina doesn’t respond well to questions over the popularity and potential efficacy of her bill. She can wave off objections from the press and James, but her friends’ doubts over the bill and dismissal of her competency in drafting it finally (and entertainingly) push Selina past the limits of her civility. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is fantastic throughout the dinner sequence, highlighting Selina’s least likable traits while giving a glimpse of the kinder, gentler person she may have been before she entered politics.

One of the episode’s more interesting touches is its subtextual toying with the notion of sexism in regards to the bill. Is the Families First bill maligned because it’s bad, or because people don’t like that the first female president is pushing for child care? Would the same legislation be dubbed the Daddy Doyle bill if it came from the vice president’s office? This seems unlikely, and when Selina’s friends start rhapsodizing about Tom James, the notion of him putting forward the bill is enticing to them. Is James that dreamy, or is Selina that off-putting, or are there larger issues underlying the discussion? Most likely, it’s a complicated combination of all three, and one that leaves Selina in the unenviable position of trying to defend against a societal bias she has little hope of curbing. So far, Selina’s gender has rarely come up in regards to the campaign. While the optimism of this is encouraging, it would be interesting to see the series tackle sexism in presidential campaigning head on.

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Despite his dreamboat status, Tom James has been an underwhelming presence so far this season. While Hugh Laurie has made James charming and affable, the past few episodes have been far more concerned with how James’ presence affects Selina than in taking a closer look at the man himself. Fortunately, that changes this week when James trips up by being a little too honest with the American people. Given his son, James’ sensitivity to the needs of veterans makes sense and his gaffe at the town hall event and support for legalizing drugs gives the character much-needed specificity. The glint in Laurie’s eye as James ferrets out information from Jonah and Richard is even more telling; this one reaction shot reveals more about the character than the previous two episodes combined. James is canny, determined, and a good judge of character. He immediately senses the scale of the secret he’s stumbled upon and the best way to bring it to light. Later, his angry, principled response when Mike spills the beans shows an underlying moral code, but his willingness to move past it paints him as a pragmatist. James’ comfort trading slut-shaming quips with Selina and the rest of the staff early in the episode—far from his most admirable moment—shows an ability to read and a willingness to match the tone of the room and his rousing speech at Friday night drinks shows his leadership. It may have taken three episodes, but Tom James finally feels like a character, rather than a bland comedic foil, and seeing what Laurie does with him moving forward should be a lot of fun.

With Team Meyer back up and running, the Families First bill headed to a vote, and more people than ever in on the cupcake scandal, season four is finally building momentum again. If it can maintain this energy, the pieces are in place for an entertaining and confident end to the season.

Stray observations:

  • Bill Ericsson is back this week, but he barely has anything to do. That doesn’t keep Diedrich Bader from getting a few of the episode’s best lines, however, including his panicked, “Why isn’t there an elevator to a secret bunker?”
  • Sufe Bradshaw has also been underserved this season, but Sue’s announcement of the Pittsburg shooting and her shushing of the Secret Service agents over the credits are delightful.
  • Brad Leland is back as Senator O’Brien! Hopefully we’ll see quite a bit more of him before the end of the season, as well as get a glimpse of the Vice Presidential debate with James and Senator Montez.
  • Amy’s glee at one-upping Dan is short-lived. He may be joyously in his element, but she’s already bored. Between the “sale bait,” Amy’s, “Oh, I know this—it’s candy!” and Peter Grosz’s delivery of, “Daddy,” this is the best the lobbying subplot has been.
  • Jonah may be working through his assault, but he’s still the same sexist, homophobic Jonah he’s always been. It’s notable that this episode foregrounds his terribleness, as if to highlight the ways in which he has not and likely will not change. Timothy Simons and Sam Richardson are still the season’s best pairing and adding Laurie to the mix instantly makes James more interesting. Laurie’s, “Every player needs to roll with a crew, Ben. That’s the truth from the street” is great and the rest of the staff’s reaction to Jonah and Richard’s inclusion at Friday night drinks is just about perfect.
  • The running gag of the intruder at the White House works well and gives Gary his best moment of the episode, when he barges into the Oval Office. The highlight of this subplot, however, is the Secret Service agents lifting up the tiny Louis-Dreyfus and blocking her entirely from sight.
  • Poor Catherine can’t even fantasize about eating the way she’d like to without a hilariously bitchy reaction from Gary, let alone enjoy a small dish of ice cream.
  • Mike has several of the episode’s best scenes, including the line reading of the night, which Walsh absolutely nails: Mike’s pitiful and self-aware realization that in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” he’s not the Emperor, “No, I’m the clothes.”

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