This Veep review contains spoilers.
Veep: Season 7 Episode 1
Veep season 7 episode 1, “Iowa,” establishes the kind of campaign Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) will be running on her fight back to the top spot in Washington. The former president and probable presidential hopeful is flying in to meet the people who will put her in the oval office. Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan Eagan (Reid Scott) have them all assembled on the tarmac at the Cedar Rapids airport. Selina deplanes to empty space at Cedar Falls. Nothing taxis in to Cedar Rapids. The big moment is blown because of the overabundance of cedars in Iowa, the state which chooses who runs. The screw-up defines the season, the staff, its boss and somehow the American way. The team hit the road promising a “New. Selina. Now” and got back the same old Selina, late and underprepared. Like any first impression, it cannot be unmade, you cannot have a second first impression.
Veteran political strategist Kent Davison (Gary Cole) says Selina has made quite an impression on Sheila. She’s not his girlfriend. Sheila is his predictive computer model for elective results. It stands for strategic, hypermetric, electoral, interactive, logistical, algorithms, and it’s still more interesting than Kent’s past few relationships. The model found Selina is ahead in the polls even though she hasn’t announced her candidacy. This was probably a major bonding moment between the strategist and Sheila. They have a lot in common. Google thinks Kent is a bot and sends all his outgoing emails straight to spam. Cole plays Davison as a picture of political restraint at all time, except when someone mispronounces a state or flubs some inconsequential grammatical protocol.
Meyer is touring Iowa to prepare for the caucuses, and her staff is setting up the Selina Meyer for President Exploratory Committee Headquarters in Des Moines. At their first meeting, Amy brings up a complaint about how the staff felt the former president passed blame, suppressed criticism and created a hostile environment. Selina asks what asshole thought of that. Selena is also more honest about her constituency. Does she really want to represent all Americans? This is a not-so-subtle reference to the deplorables of more recent political history.
Ben Cafferty’s (Kevin Dunn) run as campaign manager is also history. Selina hired the highly recommended Keith Quinn. But when Quinn shows up, he’s not the person she thought he was, so she keeps him otherwise occupied while Ben runs the campaign from behind the scenes. Former Washington Post reporter Leon West (Brian Huskey) is now Selina’s press secretary, Mike McLintock’s (Matt Walsh) old job. Leon got the post in exchange for burying a story. Mike is now writing online news with a ten-story daily quota.
Veep is still very cynical. Selina hears about a shooting she asks which would be the better shooter for her at the polls, a white guy or a Muslim. The staff decides it’s a better for her if it turns out to be a white guy. We can almost Kent actually run the numbers. Selina is later confronted by someone asking for more than thoughts and prayers in the aftermath of a gun tragedy. Selina says her heart goes out to the families of the victims, but she’s got nothing. She repackages thoughts and prayers into mindfulness and meditations. Kent prays to the rational equivalent of Jesus.
Selina has no idea what to say about why she wants to be president and asks around. Amy has the best suggestion: to nuke America. Bag handler Gary (Tony Hale) says he would want to be president just to give the job to her. We get the best insight into Selina’s motivations when she dictates to Gary exactly why she should be president: Because she is the woman who took a dump on the glass ceiling, she shaved her muff in the Senate Boys Club. When she was vice president, they kept her chained to a radiator in the White House basement so it is “her goddamn time.” It turns out sounding like she’s reciting from a balcony in Munich, which Gary exclaims “just like Evita.”
There is something deep and twisted about Selina’s relationship with Gary, but I don’t know what it is. There are so many to choose from. He’s all over her, finishing her sentences the way he wants to them to turn out. Feeding her names of politicians along with fun facts even Kent wouldn’t find amusing. Tony Hale does get off some masterful asides, like suggesting child services would be a good place to start to fix Selina’s daughter’s parenting problems.
Catherine Meyer (Sarah Sutherland) is now married to Selina’s former secret service body double Marjorie (Clea DuVall). She had an emotional meltdown when Selina first said she was going to run for president again and has had post-partum depression ever since. You can tell by her new haircut, but also by the way Catherine exits almost every scene fighting back tears. She’s not the only one with parental issues. We learned at the close of season 6 Dan is the father of Selina’s longtime adviser Amy’s baby.
Dan assumed Amy had an abortion. Chlumsky is amazingly taut in every scene, whether she’s adjusting herself on a hotel bed to look more appealing to Dan, or taking the blame for every wrong move on the pre-campaign trail. But her high point of the episode may be the scene where she tells Dan she doesn’t want their kid to have his last name, Eagan, because if it’s a girl, she likes the name Meghan, which would make her name sound like a vegan who gets ass fucked on the Major Deegan, which is always congested, Jesus, Mary and Jamba juice.
Between being pregnant and bearing the load of Selina’s mistakes, Amy has a few scenes where she looks like the woman Star Trek‘s Captain Pike left behind on Talos IV, but without the Talosians’ illusion of beauty. “Dan is not tipping his pen in that ink stain,” Selina remarks after Gary wonders whether Amy and Dan are hooking up.
Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) has had an unlikely political career since finding unprecedented fame as the poster boy for sexual harassment and testicular health. Jonah is campaigning in his home state of New Hampshire. Not because he is trailing horribly in Iowa, but because they already know he can’t even get a 7-ate-9 joke right because he has dyslexia for numbers. He failed algebra because of it by the father of Jonah’s “smoking hot new wife.” She also happens to be his step sister because Jonah’s mother was married to her father when Jonah was 11. This isn’t the sort of thing that comes up when vetting candidates, like asking whether he moisturizes with Minotaur semen.
The documentary-style filming of Veep allows deep character studies in a matter of seconds. When Teddy Sykes (Patton Oswalt) and Bill Ericsson (Diedrich Bader), hear Jonah clarify his relationship with his new bride, they don’t have to look at each other to come to the same horrible conclusions. This comes moments after they agreed with Richard Splett’s (Sam Richardson) assessment that Jonah is as humanized as a dog with sunglasses. Richard is working for both the Meyer and Ryan campaigns and still laughs inappropriately.
We catch major and minor disappointments constantly with Jonah. At one point his step-son asks for some of his goldfish snack and we see Erickson in the beginning of a grin. Here, his look says, is validation his boss, who he wants to put in public office, is a person, like other people. But no, the anticipation on his face dies when Jonah says “get your own.” The promise doesn’t just die. Each nerve ending is executed like the penultimate scene in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. The moment humanizes Ericsson, who was the fall guy for Selina’s mailing list scandal. It almost does the same for Teddy by mere association. Sykes was the man who harassed Jonah two seasons ago. He’s been chemically castrated. But even putting sunglasses on that would still come short of humanizing him.
The team tries to make Jonah remotely palatable by putting him on TV with his mother, and wife, the woman he married in a “normal, not weird or disgusting” ceremony. Jonah thinks this proves he’s clearly no more of a pervert than Woody Allen. Jonah’s numbers actually go up in the polls.
Selina decides to make the announcement she’s running for president at the site where she made her first announcement, Susan B. Anthony’s birthplace. This is after she passes on doing it at the Statue of Liberty, which would have given Selina an ugly woman to stand next to while she does it. The staff’s incompetence comes up again after it comes out Selina never paid the workers to set up her first announcement. A mass shooting at a mall in Phoenix gives her the excuse not to make the announcement, but Selina pulls a winning appearance out of thin air by co-opting the very complaint the worker made about hoity-toity politicians riding the backs of the people. Louis-Dreyfus even steals the local accent when expressing the “disregard” shown for them.
Veep season 6 ended with Selina starting her “feeling” tour, where she could be with the real folks out there to “feel their feelings and hear their speakings.” Season 7 opens with an enthusiastic exhaustion. At the end of the episode Selina finally recognizes Keith Quinn, the man she thought she hired as campaign manager. He’s representing her new opponent, her former vice president and sometime lover, Tom James (Hugh Laurie). Underdog Jonah may wind up being the odds on favorite to win the election because the American voter gets what they deserve. Veep remains as consistently surprising as it has ever been.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.