This Veep review contains spoilers.
Veep Season 7 Episode 5
On last week’s Veep, Selina Meyer began what looked like the start of a trip down a slippery slope of ethical malfeasance. In episode 5, she jumps on a greased fireman’s pole, and not in a good, erotic way. “Super Tuesday” is political satire at its best and most savage. Seinfeld, the series which Julia Louis-Dreyfus helped Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David transform TV comedy in, ended with the main characters imprisoned for criminal disregard. I wonder if Selina will end this series campaigning in an orange jumpsuit for chief of C-Block. I can only hope Jerry himself is appointed special council.
The political system is designed to favor wealthy and well-connected candidates, and corruption is the best way to buy goodwill, from both donors and voters. Keith Quinn (Andy Daly), officially the campaign manager of Selina Meyer’s 2020 presidential campaign but unofficially her liaison to China, is a revelation. Cut from the Brad Majors-Asshole cloth of outward sycophantic, Madison-dancing, glad-handing, he hides murderous intent and cold, calculated efficiency. Every bit of verbal indictment comes from a giddy mouth. He even quotes Tom Hagen, the coldest, most calculated and efficient member of the Corleone family in The Godfather. When Selina turns down a favor from the Chinese, Quinn makes a hasty exit, saying his client insists on hearing bad news immediately. We know in our bones if Selina asked him to get her off “for old time’s sake,” he would grin as he told her he can’t do that.
While reviewing “South Carolina” I worried Gary (Tony Hale) might be set up, so when Selina’s ex-husband Andrew Meyer (David Pasquesi) fits her bag man for fall guy clothes, it is a momentary shock. It implies no one is safe. Gary is as much a political idealist as he is a clueless accessory, but not after the fact. Gary had to testify before and was almost left out to dry before a more fitting patsy was tossed into prison, but his heart felt testimony was so uninformed, no one really knew what he was talking about.
Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) is more than inscrutable. He is lethally unreadable. Dan Eagan finds this out after assuming charge of Splett’s potential political arc. That assumes a lot. Dan thinks he can drive the newly-heroic mayor of Lurlane to governmental greatness. But Richard rides Dan straight into the soft bellies of the worst Washington dealmakers. And he does it with exceedingly good humor, and grace. As awkward as Richard comes across in all conceivable social interactions, he has a sense of grace about him, an untouchable innocence. It’s a superpower, really, and he is kryptonite to lobbyists.
Richard is the sweetest part of the bitter and salty mix on Veep. As an elected official, one of his pet issues is pet issues. He is the candidate we all want to see, and probably really deserve. He’s Jon Snow, Sansa, pre-faceless men Arya and Third Eye Raven Stark all wrapped in a puddle of Samwell, but more. His innocence is brilliance and it obscures some truly remarkable accomplishments he’s just glossed over. He worked on both Jonah and Selina’s campaign because of odd details of his education or experience which he didn’t even think anyone would remember. They don’t, of course, but this gives him a power. I’ve always thought there was more going on with Richard, and this episode goes a very long way to confirming it.
While past seasons played up Selina’s narcissism, this season allows it to lay there as a baseline, freeing up her vanity for more important things like death threats. Her staff has so many to choose from. She gets more during a typical lunch hour than Senator Talbot gets in a week. People want to rip off Selina’s fat arms and her old face. Selina doesn’t care about the threats, but the message they are conveying. They’re saying she’s old and ugly, and that’s the part which bugs the former president. This feeds into the gag from her opponent’s camp about her age.
Jonah Ryan’s (Timothy Simons) rallying cry of “when are you from?” is a wonderful send-up of the 2016 “Lock her up” viral demand that pushed Trump over Hillary. Veep doesn’t shy away from either side, as it also satirizes the Clinton Mafia stories of financial misdeeds and ordered executions. But this is no lampoon. Veep moves into House of Cards territory with this episode. It is deadly serious without sacrificing a single laugh. Oh and when Selina does laugh, especially at the miseries of others, she sounds like the former Secretary of State and Senator from New York.
Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) is amazing as well. She’s become a KellyAnne Conway clone pushing a base of bottom feeders and tagging them in the most deplorable terms. His brand of crazy is polling high among Florida’s storm-ravaged climate deniers and deadbeat moms and dads. These are my peeps, Jonah claims, proudly. Amy is loving the idea of attacking Selina’s age. She is enamored of all his new ideas since her turnaround, but the age thing really turns her on. She’s got all this pent up rage against her old boss and Amy knows this is what will hit Selina the hardest. Brookheimer’s eyes positively gleam during certain scenes. And it’s not a particularly comforting sight. Neither are her new style choices, but they scream commitment. That being said, after viewers hear her call Selina a chicken-necked hag, they might wonder if it’s Amy who should be committed. Even Jonah takes a step back to that kind of crazy. It is a beautifully deranged moment.
Selina’s remaining advisors Kent Davison (Gary Cole) and Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) have always been reliable overseers of political maneuverings. Now they are rubberneckers at a particularly gruesome accident site. This is actually also almost literal, except the fate of Selina’s ex-husband is no accident and they didn’t actually witness the crash. But they have a bird’s eye view of the carnage. As the evidence builds, their characters are de-evolving, reacting rather than acting, although Cole and Dunn’s performances are evolutionary. Kent’s reserved addition of tampering to impending charges is the most underplayed laugh-til-you-snort moment in the history of TV comedy.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is amazing. She is always brilliant but tonight is beyond. If anyone wonders why she beat Lucille Ball as all-time Emmy-winner, they can find evidence on any random episode of Veep. Louis-Dreyfus isn’t playing for comedy here, she’s playing for keeps. In season 5, she played one episode sick in bed, and we could feel the phlegm in every cough. In an early scene of “Super Tuesday,” Selina gets overwhelmed by the growing tide of her ex-husband Andrew Meyer’s (David Pasquesi) financial scandal, learning he is about to flip everything over on her. She knocks over a bunch of skincare products on a shelf, which any actor can do, but she condenses Orson Welles’ entire Citizen Kane breakdown in under two seconds. It’s not the physical act of relieving herself of the burden through a destructive outburst which packs the punch, although she puts her whole body into it. It is inner turmoil she’d been hiding from the audience coming to the surface which does it.
Compare this with the scene when she learns Andrew was killed on the boat he was going to escape justice on. Selina bites down harder on this than she did on that escalator ride that took her away from a man she truly cared for in order to run for president. Everything internal creates a gag reflex but she can’t throw it up. A lot of people vomit before they go on stage, but she pulls herself together long enough to put on a political show. Louis-Dreyfus’ range defies gravity when Selina learns how her ex-husband’s problems are solved. It is a shock brought home by Selina’s expressions. She is appalled, frightened, sad and cornered all at the same time, instantaneously. The scene is heartbreaking. It is scary.
The denouement of the episode continues the downward spiral. Selina callously exploits the adopted daughter of Mike McLintock, who appears to get more pathetic even as he becomes more vital. Jonah’s birth certificate revelation is enough to shake even Amy’s newfound faith. And the Chinese nationals pull the Oriental rug right out from under Selina’s political footing.
Veep’s “Super Tuesday” is brilliant. It is brutal. It is the best TV I’ve seen in a long time and I’ve seen some great TV.
“Super Tuesday” was written by Ted Cohen, Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, and directed by Becky Martin.
Veep airs Sundays on HBO.