Diedrich Bader, Gary Cole (HBO)

“Testimony” picks up where “B/ill” left off, with the Meyer administration brought before Congress on allegations of fraud stemming from Gary’s verbal agreement to pay Dan and Amy to lobby against the Families First bill. Rather than follow the action behind the scenes, as the show so frequently does, this episode switches perspective and shooting style, mimicking C-SPAN footage and keeping the camera mostly static as staffers come up one by one to testify about the events of the season. This approach makes “Testimony” a rare beast, both standalone (a discrete, compartmentalized episode following the hearings) and serialized (a culmination of the entire season). Rather than propelling episodes forward, as it did in season three, following Selina’s campaign this season has bogged down the action, as one setback after another stymied the team. Putting all of that baggage aside and focusing on telling a contained story, while maintaining the subtext of Selina’s perilous position, works wonderfully to reenergize the season going into the finale.

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It’s fantastic to see the characters outside of their comfort zone, thrown at least initially by having to justify their actions over the season. There’s a palpable schadenfreude to the episode—watching Dan squirm as he fails to sell out the team is particularly amusing—and seeing scorn heaped upon the group, who have been morally dubious at best all season, is incredibly satisfying. Getting many of the season’s secrets out in the open is also a nice change of pace. There are still plenty of devastating ones lurking should the writers need them, from Amy’s betrayal of Dan in season three to whatever Labor Day is, but if a scandal was going to take down Selina, any of the ones brought to light here would do. Based on the tone of the end of the episode, that’s not where the finale is headed, and clearing the deck here, in the penultimate episode, leaves plenty of space for creator Armando Iannucci to get creative with his final episode as showrunner.

While the entire cast gives strong performances, one of the real pleasures of “Testimony” is its embracing of the character beat given to Bill in “Mommy Meyer.” Everyone’s favorite 1950s radio broadcaster (TM Tom Jones) has been presented overwhelmingly throughout the series as an unflappable force to be reckoned with. Then in “Mommy Meyer,” the confident façade cracked with the news of an intruder at the White House. This could easily have been a one-off outburst, a relatable and humorous out of character moment. Instead, Diedrich Bader and the writers run with it here, having Bill crack under duress once again, his speech pattern changing and becoming more manic as he realizes his powerlessness to prevent his scapegoating. His attempt to save himself by insulting the panel may not be his most memorable scene—his unfriendly friendly hello has that honor—but it’s a great final exchange and a creative direction to take the character, one that Bader makes the most of.

As for the rest of Team Meyer, each gets several moments to shine. The speed of Gary’s turnaround, from bragging about his access to admitting his insignificance, sets a new record for the character. Sue’s testimony is typically dry and having her slip up, however minutely, is a humanizing touch. Paired with its comedy, the writers find space in Kent’s testimony to let him praise Lee, a neat character beat and example of series memory, and the successful grouping of Amy, Dan, Jonah, and Richard from “B/ill” is just as fruitful here. The staffer most refreshingly in character, however, is Ben. After his confusing incompetence in the previous episode, it’s a relief that he’s back on point. Kevin Dunn is tremendous as Ben and it’s great to see him barking orders at the committee and posturing, despite having no power to halt or impede the proceedings.

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Tom James all but sits the episode out and much as it feels wrong to say, having a bit less Hugh Laurie helps the episode significantly. “Testimony” keeps its focus squarely on Selina’s core staff and too much time with James would be distracting. Selina, on the other hand, is much more present. The investigation could bring down her presidency and the episode doesn’t shy away from this. The conviction with which Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivers the episode’s opening speech is downright eerie—unlike certain members of her team, Selina can absolutely lie well—and her performance throughout maintains that gravitas while allowing her to be flustered by developments here and there. Selina’s relationship with Catherine has been a reliable subplot all season and the strength of their earlier scenes together allows the off screen, seemingly instantaneous, dissolution of Catherine’s engagement to be hilarious and utterly believable.

Not everything about the episode works. The seeming lack of consequences for so many of the staffers, despite their surprising level of honesty, feels false and the successful scapegoating of Bill is unsatisfyingly tidy, but it’s hard to get caught up in these issues when the rest of the episode is so consistently funny. It will be nice to get back to the show’s usual approach and aesthetic in the finale but “Testimony” is a refreshing and welcome change of pace for the series, giving the team at Veep the chance to flex new comedic muscles and demonstrate how talented, and versatile, they are.

Stray observations:

  • Each of the committee members running the hearing is great. Team Meyer is overdue a stern talking to and all four actors do a great job playing this without letting it get boring or repetitive.
  • Due to the context of the episode, the writers don’t let the characters speak at their usual clip. They do manage a taste of this, though, with Dan’s list of nicknames for Jonah. My favorite: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidickcheese.”
  • The costume department outdid themselves with Amy’s frumpy hearing dress. That high-necked polka dotted number is a thing to behold.
  • As ever, this episode has a lot of excellent background work from the cast. One of my favorites is Matt Walsh’s incessant blinking as Selina speaks to the press at the start of the episode.
  • There are too many fantastic lines to list them all—I look forward to reading everyone’s favorites in the comments—but the one that I’ll single out here is Mrs. Brewer’s delightfully deadpan, “You’re not telling me the difference, you’re just turning nouns into verbs.”
  • Welcome back, Lee! It’s wonderful to have you back, particularly as you’re used here, undermining Dan’s attempts to be slimy.
  • Catherine is clearly on something this week and some have pointed to Selina’s energy in “Tehran” as evidence of drug use. Could Labor Day have to do with drugs?

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