This Veep review contains spoilers.
Veep Season 7 Episode 3
Veep season 7 episode 3, “Pledge,” aims for higher ground, but gets fatigued on the way and winds up digging deeper into the black hole we call politics. Leading into the first debates, the party goes progressive and the presidential campaign gets progressively worse. The title refers to an impromptu election promise not to go negative we’re positive will only hobble a highly charged race.
The episode opens with Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) disparaging the “Kemistry” of her former protégé, and current rival, United States Senator from New York Kemi Talbot (Toks Olagundoye). Kent Davison (Gary Cole) begins explaining the sociopolitical significance of protest candidates, and she puts up a hand and says “off.” For a moment, it looks like the long-time logarithmic political advisor actually shuts down. It’s a tiny moment, but the comedy of Veep is a tapestry of tiny moments. It’s been established Kent is a bit of a bot, his outgoing emails go straight to spam. Selina is often on her last nerve with him, and if she had the chance to install an off-button on him, not only would she take it, but Kent would welcome it.
A few seconds later Selina hints that Amy Brookheimer’s (Anna Chlumsky) pregnancy is making her look fat, and press secretary Leon West (Brian Huskey) tells her he thinks she looks lovely. The way Amy jumps away from that short exchange looks like a vampire hissing at a cross, but it is so natural and realistic, all the horrors play out in a millisecond. This isn’t special effects doing it, but the power of the naturalistic documentary process. Everything looks real, even the most exaggerated comedy.
Every aside has significance. Sometimes more than what is actually being said straightforwardly. The speed and style of the joke delivery system of Veep is often described as rapid-fire. Den of Geek tries occasionally to calculate their rate, something Kent would endorse wholeheartedly. But it is the mini-jokes and the micro-jokes, the looks the characters give each other’s faces of hide behind their backs which define the style. Rolled eyes, sidelong glances, and full-body reactions sometime kill more than any spoken, written or mouthed word. They hold the comedy together because every moment looks like a mistake which was mistakenly caught on camera.
The Meyer for President Rally at the University of Iowa, leading up to the first debates, is sparsely attended. Dan Egan (Reid Scott) says this is great, and he’s probably right because her call and responses to the crowd haven’t quite been worked out yet. “It’s time to finish the unfinished business of four years ago” is just too many words for her supporters to memorize. Say it with me. Selina’s numbers in the state dropped, which she blames on Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) because the nation caught “Kemi Fever.” While someone sneezed on Meyers’ campaign, which is now bleeding out its asshole.
Selina’s campaign is hit with a scandal concerning a fund run by her ex-husband Andrew. She emphasizes “ex” constantly. She cannot say that word enough, because the subject comes up so often. Andrew sums up their relationship by matter-of-factly explaining he assumed Salina knew he was lying about the fund. Just like he thought she knew he was lying when he told her she wouldn’t get pregnant. He tells her not to worry about his theft now too. And he doesn’t even have to lie about that. After all, he’s not really the one who stole from the Meyer Fund because he signed her name most of the time. He promises to keep her name out of it. Every promise is broken on Veep, and every logical conclusion is dropped in favor of its most polar alternative.
Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) is the bipolar opposite of everything we think we’re looking for in a chief executive. Dangerously unskilled, some people say he’s not fit to be president. Most of those people work for him and are repeatedly reminded. Richard Splett (Sam Richardson), who is working on both Jonah and Selina’s campaigns and occasionally forgets to switch buttons, says Jonah is below five percent in the polls. This puts Ryan in the secondary debate. Richard finds what he thinks is good news for this, the Undercard candidates get their debates out of the way first and get home first. There is never good news on Veep. The event has stacked parking and they’ll be stuck there until the end. Richard tried to quit both campaigns, but wound up getting a raise from each candidate.
Jonah goes all out in his first attack ad for the upcoming debate. He says he’s taking off the gloves, while he actually puts them on, because it’s a better visual. Then he knocks out cutout pictures of his opponents. Senator, and former vice president, Tom James (Hugh Laurie) gets one on his square cardboard jaw for pledging to bring jobs back to America. Jonah punches out President Meyer for not being tough enough on crime to stop him from punching out President Meyer. He whacks Senator Talbot because it rhymes with tax.
Jonah doesn’t punch Kemi, though. He kicks the cardboard figure between the legs. It turns out Jonah’s handlers are not tough enough on their white male candidate to stop him from kicking a black female opponent in the vagina. No matter how many times they tell him it just doesn’t sit well with most focus groups. It’s part of a larger problem.
Teddy Sykes (Patton Oswalt) calls in a big favor, bringing in Des Moines’ Crawford Bloom Associates. They work with high profile clients to “put their best foot forward and not in their mouth.” They want to teach Jonah how to act less deplorable. Little things, like not using the word “retarded” or replacing it with “mentally retarded,” go a long way toward humanizing a public figure. They offer perspective training, helping him use empathy to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. Jonah thinks the idea is gay, not gay-gay, but gay as in retarded. The experts walk out, highly offended. They do this again when Jonah offers a real apology. Well, not a real one, but one Teddy wrote for him.
Patton Oswalt is amazing in this role. He is one of the worst characters displayed in the presidential rogue’s gallery, and yet, even he knows when his client has jumped off the edge. Every muscle on Oswalt’s face gets a workout, and if it’s not doing it on its own, he’s yanking at it. It’s like he doesn’t want his face to be part of any of this, and yet here he is, sentenced like Satan to hell with this political albatross taking down what’s left of the political ship.
Meyer’s self-importance is on full display when she is faced with plans for her some-day funeral. Because of her short tenure as president, the military set up their model based on President Ford, whoever he was. Selina sees more of a Princess Diana funeral thing happening, only classy. While she doesn’t finalize her plans, she and Gary begin making a list of people not invited to the funeral. But the Colonel gets the capper of the exchange. Selina reminds him she is running for president again, and not to rule out a longer term in the future. He brings up embalming options.
Amy goes for her abortion, past pro-life protesters. At first Dan tries to “part the redneck sea,” but Amy has a better idea. She lets loose with a scathing put down of the righteous defenders both individually and as a group, the least of cutting of which is pointing out a sign is misspelled, that could cause spontaneous birth defects. Dan closes the session by saying he hopes each of them will remember Selina Meyer in the caucus.
Mike knows what Flowers for Algernon is now, because of his study buddies. Not the kids who work at Buzzfeed, but what they give him. The last thing they gave him was the nickname “Fatty,” which he upgrades to “Hatty” by wearing a hat. At least he tells himself that. Like Hunter S. Thompson before him, the drugs pay off for Mike. He writes up a rant follow-up to his first hit job, outing a closeted philanthropist, this time going after Selina’s ex, Andrew, and it also goes viral. He references Fonzie scheme, which is not cool.
Jonah’s team ultimately gets sued by the sensitivity trainers. They are joining a long list. In a concerted effort efforts to keep things politically correct, Jonah goes into the Undercard Debate with all the words he’s not supposed to say written on his hands. What could go wrong with that? Plenty, especially if you don’t check the pronunciations. This makes Jonah over-sensitive long before the cameras read the crip notes up his sleeve.
The non-negative pledge lasts less an eighth of the episode. It comes out Kemi killed her boyfriend when she decapitated him with her car when she was sixteen. The records were sealed and Selina is absolutely giddy about spreading it. Except her moron aides let her make the pledge. She does a Belway runaround. Once she and Tom James get rid of Kemi and her post-racial promise, the party is stuck with them, the way it’s supposed to be. Like novelty Mayors in Iowa.
The main debate at Drake University descents into a mudslinging orgy and it brings out the best and the beast in Selina. She’s been at this game for a long time since she was young attorney. She smiled through the casual behind-grabbing, and the secret golf course meetings while building the ladder candidates like Talbot have been climbing ever since. Stealing from her own tirade at her daughter Catherine, Selina tells the female candidate to “grow a pair and man the fuck up.”
The potential electorate eats it up, the polls love both the ex-president forerunner and the divisive repugnant underdog. Veep‘s “Pledge” undermines campaign promises expertly and wholly unexpectedly. By lowering the bar on acceptable behavior, the series raises the bar on comedy itself. This episode is exquisitely subversive, extremely intelligent, often uncomfortable and extremely funny.
Veep Season 7 is currently airing Sundays at 10:30 p.m. (ET) on HBO