This Veep review contains spoilers.
Veep Season 7 Episode 4
Veep season 7 episode 4, “South Carolina,” takes the fight to the south where some voters still consider Bill Clinton the first black president, even after the country enjoyed eight years of the real thing. South Carolina’s Reverend Dr. Jordan Thomas told Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) he found her to be the blackest white woman he’d ever met. The former and hopefully future president still loves telling that story every though she’s now running against the real thing and counting on the son of that pastor, played by Keegan-Michael Key, to throw his support her way.
Selina bends political realities into pretzels before she internalizes them. She flip flops about how to approach South Carolina after she learns the “blackest white lady” line was exactly that, a line. One the civil rights fighter used quite a bit. At first, she plans to veer fully white, backing the police over a local eight-year-old boy whose candy was mistaken for a gun by overzealous officers. But after reading the room, she commits treasonous subterfuge.
Veep has always been fully contemporary but it’s never been as pointedly infused with modern news as it is getting now. Past seasons have seen the show throw poison darts at the infection of the body politic at large. Scandals like the Families First campaign leak of the name of the HIV positive Pine Hill, Alabama, girl that came out on CBS This Morning, Andrew’s cheating, or the slave-quarters controversy of the Selina Meyer Library are all perennial scenarios in Washington. There are not tied to specifics incidents.
Veep‘s allegory is far more pointed this season. Jonah Ryan’s (Timothy Simons) #notme movement was a perfect skewering of #MeToo. The Chinese territorial rights problem is an allegory for Trump’s Russian scandal. It is never explicitly stated which party Selina belongs to, each are inherently odious in how they follow business as usual political rules. Jonah appears to be the Republican stand-in for the tea-bagger candidates who rode and fueled Trump, but Selina’s financial and campaign indiscretions also follow the Trump architectural design.
He actually connects with the populace by playing into everyone’s inherent fear of math. It looks like his mind is politically addled and mentally challenged when he comes up with his initial conspiracy theory: Math is a plot the Chinese came up with to make smart Americans feel dumb. He refines it to perfect fear mongering after his father-in-law, out-of-law and everything in between the law tells him it was an Islamic invention. What’s happening here is the beginnings of the true brilliance of Jonah, and it doesn’t get past Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky).
Amy recognizes something in Jonah even as she designs his exit strategy in her mind’s eye. She drives him around trying to get anyone to take his endorsement before it loses whatever political capital it has left. At first Amy pretty much agrees with Jonah’s uncle Jeff Kane (Peter MacNicol), whose laughter at Jonah’s presidential run is more than infectious, it’s a contaminant. Selina frets at how far Amy has fallen when she tries to foist a Ryan vice presidency on Meyer. But while Amy is trying to hide her identity in underground parking garage meetings and looking for safe zones in offices he starts talking in meme-worthy slogans. He compares algebra to Al-Jazeera, and all of his three word phrases are catchy. We’ve already seen Selina doesn’t have a knack for this. Even her own three word slogan, “New. Selena. Now.,” only stays in conscious memory long enough to recognize it from previous episodes. But “No More Math?” Who could possibly forget, or disagree? It sounds like a ticket Bart Simpson could run on for third grade student council.
Before Jonah sees the light, he gets desperate for any appointment, even HUD, which he calls the fat girl of governmental departments. Jonah’s main benefactor, prison privateer Sherman Tanz has as much faith in the candidate as his uncle, his staff and modern science seems to confirm. Tanz thinks Jonah’s a joke. He wants Jonah to continue to be the bull in the China shop at the Washington Mall. This way he can push the envelopes on his own lobbying. He wants things like stricter marijuana laws because he needs more potheads in the prisons. If it’s just murderers and rapists, the atmosphere is unpleasant. Jonah can never go too far for him. He is political theater and he’s got third row seats. Mainly to keep clear in case the Slenderman of Washington spits when he speaks.
Amy is beginning to look a lot like Christmas came early to Kelly Ann Conway when her turnaround is complete. Jonah’s honesty about his dishonesty makes him the most honest candidate, she says as a true believer. Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) is the most honest character on Veep. It’s not that he never tells untruths. He is always mistaking the lies of state in a state of lies. But these are honest mistakes. Richard has no guile. Even as he begins his ascent to whatever the heroics he shows in this episode will open, he remains inscrutably oblique in what comes off as completely selfless. He’s got to be hiding something.
Catherine’s (Sarah Sutherland) wife Marjorie (Clea DuVall) comes into her own as Selina’s replacement Gary (Tony Hale). Not only does Marjorie perform each of his duties in a more appropriate temperature, her wit has become sharper. She lays out Selina’s clothes for the day, and the designer matches make sense. Marjorie points out that the ex-president is taking fashion advice from a man who dresses like an overgrown ventriloquist’s dummy. When Jonah comes in for a meeting, Marjorie’s salutation is he has ten minutes and she started timing when he knocked at the door.
Marjorie’s arc is wide this episode. She begins defending her and Catherine’s mixed race child from being Lion Kinged all over the south, screams louder than Howard Dean at a pep rally for Selina when she gets caught up in the glamor of a job so close to the former president. The former Secret Service agent catches herself by the end though, committing the ultimate sin in a close campaign race: speaking unkind truths to power. In her case, the truth is only about baggy eyes, but with a character as vain as Selina, this puts Marjorie’s role in the Selina Meyer for President team back in the bag. Finance chair isn’t even where the money is.
Mike McLintock’s new Buzzfeed podcast, “McLintalk,” gets off to an auspicious start, even if the green screen he uses doesn’t cover the whole screen and both of his kids come into the room while he’s on the air. But his value lies in his former life in the vicinity of the woman running for president. Corruption pays off in politics for everyone but Mike, who becomes a human fortune cookie bearing messages of covert payoffs to Selina and her staff.
Kent Davison (Gary Cole) and Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) may not finish each other’s or Selina’s sentences, but they add garnish. We live in a country of rules, Selina says at one point, Ben adds ish to the end, and Kent offers up “esque.” I’m not quite, sure but it looks like Gary is being set up on the past-plausibility workings of Selina’s China money. Just like Bill Richardson, and so many interns of the past.
Tom James (Hugh Laurie) brings backstabbing to a new level in his non-endorsement. He doesn’t back anyone against Selina, but he does it in a way that shuts her out in favor of anyone who might come along. It’s is not even damning with faint praise. The line where she tells Senator James if he “keeps talking like Reagan, she’ll work it like Nancy” refers to the late first lady’s pre-DC days when she had a reputation for giving the best head in Hollywood. Selina continues to be absolutely surprising, even to herself.
She is also fully conspiratorial, fully self-serving and absolutely unconcerned with anything but her own immediate needs. Yet, she is not childish. These are all completely adult decisions, made with fully informed intent. Corruption pays off at the voting booths, and it feels good to feel so bad. Not that any of us approve of voter suppression, but it is fascinating to see it so blatantly laid out. It is a shock but it is also another example of business as usual. Conflicted as Selina is, it is a newly defining moment. From now on, she will do what she wants and take what she wants whenever she wants it. She tells this to Dan Eagan (Reid Scott) as she takes him.
Selena’s bonding moment with Dan leads to his undoing. Keith Quinn, in a master stroke, proves he is as ruthless as any Meyer staffer when he ends Dan’s employment with a death threat. I see good things coming from Quinn.
Selina Meyer fully goes to the dark side in “South Carolina,” and it is very exciting. Veep‘s politicians play on a razor thin edge of ethical lines. As real life politics continues to obliterate those, it is more than refreshing to see the slippery slope at play. The series has always offered a brilliant shredding of the body politic, and as it bleeds out into darkness it is delivering elevated commentary. Veep adds gasp-inducing moments without losing laughs.
“South Carolina” was written by Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck, and directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller.
Veep airs Sundays on HBO.
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.