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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Veep ramps back up with crises, real and imagined

Tony Hale, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (HBO)
Tony Hale, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (HBO)
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In “Thanksgiving,” Veep introduced the idea of Jonah Ryan running for Congress and already, it’s paying comedic dividends. There are several ways the writers could have gone with this new arc, making Jonah surprisingly adept at campaigning or insecure and tentative in his new role. Instead, he’s the same defensive, loud-mouthed asshole he’s always been, and it’s delightful. Jonah is entirely out of his depth and unprepared for what a campaign requires, but he’s not going to let that fact, or the advice of his team, stop him from reaching out to his constituents. Jonah kicks off his political career by turning a focus group into a fiasco in record time, berating the participants, and his inability to control his temper is not his only liability: only one episode into the storyline, it appears Jonah’s uncle Jeff may not know New Hampshire voters as well as he thinks he does. It’s a great start to what should be a glourious train wreck.

When Dan signs on as Jonah’s campaign manager, this initially feels like a convenient way to keep him involved in the action of the season and to play the abusive Dan and Jonah off of each other. However the return of Bill Ericsson as Jonah’s opponent’s campaign manager raises the stakes. Now rather than a simple run-off with potential implications for Selina’s battle in Congress, Jonah’s campaign is personal, with Bill seeking revenge on Selina and Ben. Dan is out of his league going up against Bill and seeing how he rises to this challenge should be very interesting. The strategy Jonah stumbles upon of lambasting Selina in the press—Jonah’s temper working in his favor for once—puts Bill in an entertaining position: Does he have his candidate validate Jonah’s anti-Meyer stance or publically support Selina? Watching Bill and Dan maneuver around each other, with the added fun of Richard as Jonah’s director of communications, promises several episodes of backstabbing, manipulation, and creative profanity, three areas in which Veep excels. Yes, Bill’s return strains credibility, but this is more than outweighed by the fun of watching the terrific Diedrich Bader revel in Bill’s hatred of Team Meyer.

While Jonah kicks off his campaign, back at the White House the rest of Selina’s staff are in crisis mode, planning a federal bailout of two major banks. After the comparative vacation of “Thanksgiving,” it’s nice to see Selina and her team back in action, tackling a significant matter of state. Selina’s election has dominated the season thus far and though it’s given the show plenty of material to work with, it’s also isolated the characters a bit, presenting the election as the be-all and end-all of their political lives. Those watching know there are much worse things that can happen than Selina losing the election: For example, Selina winning the election by tanking the entire United States economy.

Selina spends the episode debating whether to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for self-serving reasons. It’s an entertaining rock and hard place for her to be stuck between, and a new quandary for the character. There have been very few sticking points for Selina over the course of the series. Every now and again she’ll have an actual agenda she’s trying to push—season four’s Families First initiative, for example—but most of the time, Selina’s self-interest trumps all. Gary may unintentionally set her straight before she follows through on it, but her willingness to jeopardize the election for Charlie is huge. Hopefully these two can work something out, if only so we can get a few more episodes with John Slattery. If not, it’s been a blast Charlie, and Gary’s gonna miss you something fierce.

A different series would have been satisfied with two subplots as strong as Selina’s decision between the banks and Jonah’s fledgling campaign. Veep, however, goes the extra mile and gives viewers the gift that is Cuntgate. “Cunt” is a loaded, powerful word, particularly in the United States. It’s about as potent a word as there is outside of hate speech (and there are those that would argue it qualifies as such). Plenty of comedies have been comfortable throwing around the C-word, including Veep, but elevating it to sub-plot status within an episode is something else entirely. The reactions from Selina and her staff to the Politico article are fantastic, each of Selina’s team certain they’re the one who’s been overheard calling the president a cunt, and Selina furious at having been referred to as such by an underling.

“C**tgate” delights in the controversy around this word, using it to highlight the disconnect between Selina, her staff, and the rest of the country. Each of Selina’s team feigns outrage, posturing for the president and the others in the room, their stiff awkwardness only melting away when they come clean to each other over their frequent use of the word. Even Selina eventually eases up, at least some of her vitriolic response fueled by her sense of how she’s expected to react. While she’s undoubtedly angry that this description of her is in the public record, and she does spark the –gate talk by having three underlings fired, it’s hard for Selina to be too badly insulted by a word she’s comfortable using to describe the Queen of England.


This subplot is a natural extension of Amy’s remark earlier in the season about the shocking language used in the Meyer White House, as well as a continuation of season five’s commentary on the unique challenges that come with being the first female president. There is no word that, when directed at men, is equivalent to the word cunt, when directed at women. Taking advantage of this to explore Selina’s singular experience and her views on gender and respect is brilliant, particularly in an episode that forces her to choose between the economic stability of the country and her political future, all because the American people are unable to see her as the president first and a woman in a relationship second. For those of us who enjoy a well-timed comedic delivery of the C-word (and no, Gary, that’s not “crone”), its entertainment value throughout this episode is a tasty cherry on top of an already strong installment.

Stray observations

  • Catherine has realized why her relationships keep failing: She’s never dated her mom before. Making Catherine and Marjorie a couple is hilarious, and hopefully neither Catherine nor Selina will realize why Catherine’s so attracted to her mother’s body double.
  • Several of Mike’s runners this season have been a bit underwhelming, so it’s great to have his Groupons pay off with his discovery that Tom James is in cahoots with Sidney Purcell and Speaker of the House Jim Marwood. With Dan focused on Jonah’s campaign, it will come down to Mike and Amy to put the pieces together. Tom’s arc this season gets more interesting with each new tidbit; hopefully the writers have something big in store for the reveal.
  • Leon, the always entertaining Brian Huskey, needling Mike about the –gate status of the Politico controversy is my favorite exchange of the episode, particularly how much Leon enjoys watching Mike squirm. An honorable mention goes to Peter MacNicol’s guffawing laugh at Jeff’s own joke, and Jonah’s take on it a few minutes later, and to Diedrich Bader’s fantastic delivery of, “Tell the president no hard feelings. Oh wait, that’s right, I do have hard feelings. I’m consumed by them.”
  • Jonah’s campaign ad is everything I could have hoped for, as is that focus group. With any luck, this isn’t the only ad we’ll see.
  • Poor Richard: No Rush, Tom Petty, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, or Enya. What’s a man to drop balloons to, if not Enya?
  • Oh, Candi Caruso. You’re never getting a job from the Meyer team. Consider yourself fortunate.
  • Kent and Ben running through the halls of the White House felt forced, but they were on point throughout the rest of the episode. “Not literally” and “whom”? Never change, Kent.