Khan Noonian Singh, Star Trek’s genetically engineered conqueror, once observed that people say “social occasions are only warfare concealed.” Veep throws a “Congressional Ball” like it’s a shot across the bow. Everyone in Washington bares their fangs while holding out their hands in a wheeling dealing turn on the political dancefloor. This one half-hour episode has enough betrayal and double dealing as a whole season of House of Cards.
It’s time for the President’s annual holiday party for congressional members and their families and everyone is searching for their secret Santa, even if the White House officially celebrates all religions with equal reverence and disregard. At one point Meyer suggests putting up some pictures of the prophet Mohammed because “what’s the harm?” The national election ended in a tie and President Meyer is giving out as many pieces of Air Force One as local politicians can load in their minivans to keep her in the White House for another four years.
Everyone is Tiny Tim in a Beltway Christmas. The Bozeman, Montana, first responders were traumatized by the trauma that was suffered by the New York first responders and want to slip a 9/11 memorial under the skirt of the fat-assed Homeland Security Act. Most politicians who have been close to President Meyer, like Vice President Doyle, know that her promises mean nothing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still take her word as bond.
In a contentious race that almost compares with the current presidential election process, the heat is on for votes to break a congressional tie and everyone is feeling some burn.
The Hill’s Fifty Hottest Staffers list is out. Normally this would mean a month of horny Senate aides trying to look up Amy’s (Anna Chlumsky) skirt. This year she is spared because she is not on it. But Gary (Tony Hale) is. Kent always thought the basic methodology of the hot list criteria was unsound and this should be evidence enough. Chlumsky is a lot of fun, pretending it doesn’t matter while it’s eating at her enough to contemplate dumping a Carrie prom night blood-bucket on Gary.
In spite of all contradictory evidence, Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) is a congressional contender in the state of New Hampshire. He was positioned to take the seat of one of the oldest members of congress for the sole purpose of getting a House vote for Selina Meyer and he’s rising in the polls by attacking her. The entire platform that former Meyer campaign head Dan (Reid Scott), number 26 on the hot staff list, has the already too gawky candidate standing on is about knocking down the presidential support, including the dweeby glasses that cover Jonah’s too-big head. Ryan even claims Howard Dean’s battle-weary election killing scream. He owns that scream. This is a candidate who won’t back down. Not even from the heartbreak of Tom Petty.
Jonah’s uncle Jeff Kane (Peter MacNicol) and Ohio Congressman Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl) are in great form, as always, as the least censored politicians in any media. They each steal all their scenes even as they suck all the air out of the room. Veep is loaded with insanely lethal insults but these two characters bring the most delicious viciousness
Mother Mary dry-humping a pillow, Richard (Sam Richardson) is a natural politician. Not only is he able to prattle on with the most inane empty promises without a prompter, he is incapable of doing anything simply utilitarian, like hitting the record button on his cell phone camera. Not only that but, like so many historic politicians, he is perennially doomed to repeat his mistakes. It is still occasionally difficult to know whether he’s actually being clueless or being passively aggressive in an attempt to usurp the ticket. This is especially evident when Richard lobs in such great throwaways like gently scolding Jonah for bad-mouthing his second grade teacher, the widow who is running for her husband’s congressional seat.
Mike (Matt Walsh) drops the puck in his offside bid to get out of politically plausible deniability and into some less dangerous contact sport, like pocket pool. It works for Bill Erickson (Diedrich Bader) and Teddy Sykes (Patton Oswalt).
Gary is wonderfully in his element when he feeds the president the little details about her guests, especially when he whispers in her ear that Congressman Yager’s date is his prostitute and not his wife, nor his staffer. But Gary also surreptitiously and hilariously makes repeated attempts to slip an ugly purse into a photo op with the Arizona congressman who supports O’Brien. He equally great when he’s out of his element, like when confronted with the president’s baser traits. “Can I count on your vote or do I need to shove a box of White House M&Ms up your stretched out six-baby vag?” Selina says as she withdraws support from Okey Dokey Annie Oakely and even Gary gasps. Though he has bigger gasps to come.
Meyer is ruthlessly opportunistic. She tosses her daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) out of the closet and into the arms of the most powerful LGBT players on the Hill moments after being told, repeatedly, that she and Marjorie want to keep her personal life under the gaydar. Her naked ambition looks casually callous until Tom James (Hugh Laurie) unveils his own classic nude portrait of backhanded betrayal. Politics make for strange bedfellows and it’s even stranger when it’s on top of a table in a back room.
After much prayerful consideration, I have come to believe that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is an expert at setting off weapons of mass seduction. The barely veiled threat she gives Congressman Yager about his fictitious Slavic chief of staff is sheer terror bundled into the unhappiest of endings. But this is nothing to the dance-off standoff with her future vice president.
For most of the episode Meyer believes that Tom is sucking up to her rival, O’Brien, to get himself the Secretary to the Treasury position, but the tall drink of Xanax has higher ambitions than that. Laurie is almost inscrutably perfect in his duplicity and the veneer of public service. He is pressuring senators to abstain from the upcoming vote, where the president just needs 26 supporters to stay in office. But when the president stoops to conquer his abstinence goes out the window. Presumably, along with his pants and green shoes. It’s good to see the President come out on top.
The most telling line of the episode is when Gary asks what Tom could possibly want more than the office of vice president and Selina says “anything.” Well played, President Meyer.
“Congressional Ball” was written by Billy Kimball and directed by Maurice Marable.