Capitalizing on the success of her peace talks with Israel in “East Wing”, “Tehran” sees Selina take the show on the road, going on a whirlwind diplomatic tour of the Middle East that culminates in a surprise visit to Iran. Team Meyer is riding high, with the President’s approval soaring and her campaign’s data mining scandal under wraps, for now. The season’s approach to the Meyer presidency has been surprising, to say the least. Rather than repeating her ineffectual reign as Vice President, Selina is thriving as President, as energized and effective as she’s ever been. Each victory, however, has brought with it scandal and secrets; if she fails to secure her party’s nomination or loses the election, it won’t be because she’s unqualified or unsuited to the job. It’ll be because she’s much more concerned with maintaining her position than the morally dubious (at best) methods used by her team to make that happen.

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As the stakes have risen for Team Meyer, the characters of Veep have grown increasingly comfortable with cutthroat or ethically questionable behavior. “Tehran” highlights this with reporter Leon’s detention in Iran. Ben and Mike’s early episode cracks about Leon are so deadpan that when Gary asks, “Wait, did we have something to do with [Leon being detained]?” he almost sounds paranoid. By the time Leon is “friendered,” the question feels naïve and the episode’s handling of that progression is one of its biggest strengths. Though the full extent of Team Meyer’s culpability in Leon’s ordeal is never confirmed, they’re at least responsible for delaying his release and may have orchestrated the entire thing just to give Selina a photo op and a boost in the polls. That’s as grim as the series has been since Selina’s decision in “Hostages” to distract the press by bumping up a marine hostage rescue cost a soldier his leg. That the episode juxtaposes this with some of Ben and Mike’s goofiest material yet is an especially pointed move. Mike may be silly, scrambling for mini bottles of booze and deliriously happy over getting a two day weekend, but he’s also smugly self-satisfied at having helped imprison a journalist in a country he’s frantic to escape the moment he’s left behind by Air Force One.

While Selina, Ben, Mike, and Gary are away, the rest of Team Meyer should have things comparatively easy, holding down the fort and coordinating with the Vice President’s office. Instead, the back-channeling of Kent, Bill, and the rest of Selina’s advisors continues to shoot them in the foot, or as Amy eloquently puts it, “punch[es them] repeatedly in the tits.” The day starts out promisingly enough, with a simple photo vice presidential photo op. Phil Reeves has been fun as Vice President Doyle all season, but he shines here, stammering through a speech in desperate need of a Meyer-to-Doyle rewrite. Reeve’s expression as Doyle praises sports’ ability to, “help end homophobia” is delightful and Doyle’s flailing gives the Meyer crew a rare chance to sit back and enjoy the show, their snarky comments pointed at an outside target, rather than each other. Their comeuppance is almost instantaneous however, and it’s hard not to enjoy watching Kent and Bill scramble after the Vice President starts grumbling, considering their treatment of Jonah.

The phone call between Jonah, Kent, Bill, Catherine, and Sue is fantastic, a highly personal, traumatic revelation made absurdly hilarious through bad timing and Bill’s complete insensitivity. Details like Timothy Simons’ self-conscious smoothing of his bangs as Jonah prepares to go fully on the record with Teddy’s abuse give the moment a touch of pathos while Richard and Leon’s mother’s attempts to not hear the exchange add as much humor as they do awkwardness. The scene is beautifully timed and edited, with Richard’s trailing, “or tea?” and the hard cut to Sue particularly effective, and Jonah’s anger by the end, shouting about something he struggled to even speak of in “Data,” gives the audience room to laugh. Now Richard, Dan, Kent, Bill, Sue, and Leon’s mom know what’s happening to Jonah. A turn is likely coming for Teddy, though from which source is unclear (head to the comments with your predictions), or if not, this is just another looming scandal—high ranking members of the administration overlooking a colleague’s sexual misconduct—to add to the list of potential Team Meyer takedowns.

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Dan, meanwhile, is already back on his feet and entering the slimy world of lobbying. Considering his less than evolved conversation with his interviewer, it’s a good match. It will take a while for Dan to work his way up the food chain at his new job, but he’s off to a solid start and though Dan the Lobbyist is certainly no Ryantology, shaking up the dynamic of the cast can only be a good thing. Amy and Dan’s interactions are flirty and fun (even if Dan is oblivious) and anything that gives Amy a respite from the rest of the cast slowly driving her insane is a good thing. Unless she can assert her position in the administration more effectively and demand to be kept in the loop, a “Special Relationship”-style meltdown is coming for Amy and given the foreshocks seen here, it will be glorious.

Enjoyable as it is, much of “Tehran” functions as table-setting, moving characters into position for what is to come next. Selina’s ready to get knocked down a peg or two, Catherine’s engaged, Teddy’s groping of Jonah is out in the open, Dan’s already back in circulation, Amy’s on the brink, and a new player’s in town, the very funny Lennon Parham. Watching the pieces come together has been great. Seeing how they escalate and eventually implode should be even better.

Stray observations:

  • As someone who consistently works six-day weeks, Mike’s glee over a two day weekend is utterly appropriate.
  • Tired Ben is one of the best Bens. “I’m so tired I could sleep a horse. Or whatever that word thing is,” is good, but “We’re in a tee-total-itarian state” is even better.
  • There’s something political that Bill isn’t good at! Watching him make snide comments towards and generally be terrible with the press is great.
  • Brian Huskey, always so good on Childrens Hospital, is a welcome addition here. Hopefully Leon will be back later this season!
  • Of course Kent has a specific range of walking paces. The revelation of the episode is that his ambulatory weakness is backwards walking—Amy should put him through his paces more frequently! (I’m sorry.)
  • Speaking of Kent, Gary Cole delivers the hell out of the line of the episode, “He will be as involved as the rest of us in targeting happy parents after stealing cupcakes about their dead children.” Runner up is Anna Chlumsky with Amy’s desperate, “Go back in time and stop that from happening.”
  • While it makes for a much more interesting narrative than the alternative, it’s difficult to believe Selina would be as successful with international diplomacy as “Tehran” suggests, given her precarious hold on the office of the presidency.

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