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Veep's series finale is as conniving, callous, and cacklingly cruel as Selina herself

Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)
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Throughout its seven-season run, Veep has been one of the most consistent, most densely-packed comedies around, delivering blistering political satire, the most creative profanity on TV, and regular acting masterclasses from its talented ensemble. It’s raked in bucket-loads of nominations and awards so far, including six Emmys for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and after its well-received final season, it’s likely to earn several more. It’s also a show centered entirely on politics operating in a completely different political world than the one it premiered in. It’s hard to function as a comedic extreme of reality when reality keeps copying your notes, and pushing to match the current landscape has not always paid off. Thankfully, while the issues that have peppered season seven are present, the series finale manages to pull its disparate threads together and deliver a wholly satisfying, hilariously appropriate ending for one of TV’s funniest, and darkest, comedies.

The finale picks up at Selina’s party’s nominating convention, where the electors are split between Selina and Kemi, with Buddy and Jonah acting as spoilers and preventing either frontrunner from getting the votes needed to clinch the nomination. The first half of the episode takes Selina and her team through various ups and downs over course of the convention, as breaking news, backroom deals, and rekindled scandals change the voting dynamics. Just as the finale threatens to run off the road, with Jonah and Tom’s arcs frustratingly contrived and convenient, the episode takes a turn. Ben is struck down with a heart attack and it’s then, as Selina talks with the hospitalized Ben, that the finale’s motivations are made clear: Everything else has been buildup. We are about to witness Selina’s becoming (TM Hannibal). Only Veep could make foreign election interference, (accidental) assassination, and giving away Tibet mere steps along the primrose path.

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As Ben tells Selina, she knows exactly what she needs to do if she wants to win, and once she accepts that, the episode kicks into a new gear. This is pure Selina Meyer, power player, and gosh is Louis-Dreyfus fantastic in this mode. Selina pulls out all the stops, seemingly spouting off an impromptu wake-up call to fellow smart woman in politics Michelle, while actually manipulating her onto Team Selina. She trades away gay marriage to secure Buddy’s votes, to the horror of Catherine and Marjorie, and she chooses Jonah as her VP, a move so bold it smacks some sense into Amy and prompts blasphemy from Kent, “Fuck the numbers!” After a quick digression in the form of a twist—Jonah doesn’t want to be veep, but he’s doesn’t stand a chance against Selina and Uncle Jeff both shouting profanities at him and browbeating him into submission—the episode jumps ahead to a victorious Selina, first at the convention and then, six months later, in the White House.

There’s one bump in her journey, however. One moment she’s uncomfortable with. To have a shot at the general, she needs a fall guy for the Meyer Fund scandal, and this is the big finale play. To earn a payoff as significant as Selina somehow wrangling the nomination and the presidency once again, the writers needed to come up with a price, a sacrifice even Selina would hesitate before making. Clearly the line wasn’t Tibet, or gay marriage, or any other political platform. It wasn’t Andrew, it wasn’t Marjorie, who Selina and Andrew already tried to frame, and let’s be honest, it was never going to be Catherine. No, it had to be Gary. The core of the show, the one relationship Veep came back to time and again, the pairing that consistently delivered the series’ best moments, both comedic and dramatic. Selina couldn’t cause this much devastation and come out the other side with Gary, unscathed. So to secure a scandal-free path through the general, Selina frames Gary for the embezzlement and he’s whisked away by the FBI from backstage, moments after applying her Dubonnet lipstick. It’s heartbreaking—for Veep—and exactly the twist of the knife to save for the series finale.

Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)
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The episode jumps ahead six months to show Selina lonely and isolated in the White House, but still content with her choice, before cutting ahead once more to Selina’s funeral, 24 years later. It’s a smart setting for an epilogue, and it gives the writers the chance to say a fond farewell to most of the characters, while throwing in plenty of fun reveals of where everyone’s wound up. The hair and makeup teams went to town and most everyone looks great. There’s plenty of creativity and humor on display, and just the right touch of bitterness when the now ex-con Gary goes up to Selina’s casket. There are callbacks galore, along with sight gags, surprises, and the ultimate insult, venerated CBS anchorman Mike McLintock interrupting his coverage of Selina’s funeral to break the news that Tom Hanks has died, pivoting entirely to Hanks. It’s just the right note to end on, a final reminder of just how transitory Selina’s desperate bid for power and fame will ultimately be, outside of the pain she caused. The finale has a series of endings and none of them, after Selina’s read of Michelle, are triumphant. Selina gets what she wants, but in doing so dooms herself to a miserable, isolated existence. Her only achievement in office is one she undid herself, and both presidential successors from her party are more popular and beloved than she. The run-up to the somber, excellent season five finale gave Selina a moment of grace, as a group of citizens connected with Selina and told her how much she meant to them. Selina is nowhere near as lucky here. Her daughter toasts her death with margaritas and the episode invites the viewers to do the same.

This compelling, pitch-perfect ending goes a long way toward balancing the wackiness of the first half of the finale, as well as several questionable plot and character choices earlier in the season. Richard’s scattered political journey, Gary’s seemingly random need to do more on the campaign, Jonah’s obsession with algebra, glimpsing Andrew on the street in Oslo, these were each pieces of a puzzle showrunner David Mandel was building towards. The season may have suffered a bit for them, but with a finale this strong, those complaints feel like quibbles. “Veep” not only delivers the classic, horrifyingly obscene, deliciously inventive comedy fans tune in for, it commits to its tone and point of view while staying true to its characters and sending them off into their futures with care. It’s a great end to a great show, and one fans will be able to look back at fondly for a long time.

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Photo: Colleen Hayes (HBO)

Stray observations

  • It’s hard to overstate just how good Louis-Dreyfus is here, particularly once the episode turns. Her performance as Selina rips into Michelle is wondeful, especially on rewatch, once you know what she’s up to. Tony Hale is also excellent, filling his moment at the casket with nuanced, difficult emotions that in no way detract from or clash with the delightful comedy happening elsewhere during Selina’s funeral.
  • Each of the ensemble gets a memorable moment or two. They’re all great, but I have a few favorites. Kent’s insistence that he does have a favorite number, Euler’s number, pairs nicely with his eventual blow-up. Marjorie getting pushed past her limit when Selina trades away same-sex marriage is a blast, and I definitely chuckled at the reveal that both Kemi and Richard went on to serve two terms in office, and Richard got a Nobel Prize for brokering peace in the Middle East.
  • Amy’s heel turn never worked for me, despite her brief reversion to form here. Her new physicality still feels all wrong, but at least she gets to spar with Selina.
  • Speaking of Selina, her costuming is interesting. That floral dress feels like a very odd choice for her. Once it becomes clear that she’s off her game, this makes sense and her return from the hospital, focused on winning at all costs, sees her back in pants, this time in her power color of red. And of course when she does accept the nomination she’s in a red, body-con dress.
  • We finally see what it takes to break Kent, and it’s Jonah having any political power. That feels right.
  • SUE! Welcome back, Sufe Bradshaw, just in time. And don’t think we didn’t see you there in the final flash-forward, Andrew. Well played.
  • How to pick a final favorite line? There’s the wave of Jonah insults, Will’s final entries to his canon of horrific follow-ups to Congressman Furlong, and Selina’s thoughts on choosing Kemi as her vice president, but for the poignancy of the moment and in honor of Selina and Gary, I’ll go with Hale’s, “You’d hate the flowers, but I brought the Dubonnet.”
  • It has been an utter pleasure covering Veep for The A.V. Club these past five seasons. Thank you to everyone who read along, and thank you to the entire cast and crew for creating such a consistently entertaining, hilarious show.
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