Sunday, May 24, 2015

REVIEW: 'Veep' - Mike Does His Best to Support the President When Tom James Makes a Mistake in 'Mommy Meyer'

HBO's Veep - Episode 4.07 "Mommy Meyer"

A dramatic incident in the White House leaves the president shaken, while at a Q&A, Tom James speaks out and makes her day even worse. As Mike tries to sell the press on Selina's Families First bill, Sue and Gary prepare for the president's White House dinner with old friends. Jonah and Richard inadvertently reveal a terrible secret. Dan and Amy find themselves at a lobbying event for the concrete industry.

Selina is back at the White House this week but her problems with both the election and passing the Families First bill are only getting worse. Those are the two core story arcs of the season. Selina is trying to accomplish something during her stay at the White House while also trying to ensure that she is there to stay for the next four years. It's a delicate line the show has been forced to walk this season - with the politics at the White House largely outweighing the specifics of the election campaign. "Mommy Meyer" works because it is able to tackle both of these stories while never having to be overtly about them. Selina has been in a reactionary role as of late. That makes for some great comedy - but that also comes at the cost with her seeming too separate from the daily beats of the show's stories.

Selina tasked Mike with rebranding the Families First bill to the press as the Meyer bill. That way she can firmly get her name on it as something that is fundamentally about the way that she wants to enforce the power of this office. And yet, she is not aware of the full situation. The press wants to dub the bill the "Mommy Meyer bill." Sure, that likely helps establish the fact that not only is Selina the president but also a mother. But a mother is never how Selina wants to be identified. She is always focused on herself first while Catherine is just an afterthought. Just look at how Selina treats Catherine when she interrupts her big dinner with her old law firm friends. Selina is controlling and demanding in a way that cripples Catherine's self-esteem. And yet, Selina doesn't see any of that. She's trying to create good will with her mere presence and not with something that can actually bring about change.

The arc of this season has entirely been about the change in public perception on the Families First bill. Selina and her team started the season so confident that it would pass and help those families in need. And now, after all the scandals surrounding the bill (some known to the public and some not), the public seems violently against it. It seems like Selina is only person championing for it. Even when her friends visit, she is so out of step with who they are as people and their beliefs. She simply wants to recreate the old days while they want to see a glimpse of how this job has changed their old friend. Politics has changed Selina. She has to be more aware of how the public sees her. And yet, she is still very adamant about putting her agenda first. She doesn't care that her friends don't like the bill. She just wants to get it passed no matter what. However, how can she expect to do that when she isn't even aware that Mike isn't handling the press room the way that she told him to.

At times, this really felt like the episode that Mike would be fired from the presidential staff. As this season has pointed out, there are consequences for making mistakes that will reflect badly on Selina. Both Dan and Amy have been fired but are still a part of the show. This episode spends more time on how Mike is handling (or actually mishandling) the stress of his job. He's not able to get the press to compile with calling the Families First bill, the Meyer Bill. He fails spectacularly in handling the official reaction to Tom James' horrible statement at a local town hall meeting. When a crisis comes up, he is ultimately just made the laughing stock of the staff. Even Selina joins in with the mocking in regards to how he reacted when news came that there was an intruder in the White House. Despite all of that though, Mike still has a job and is still enjoying drinks with the rest of the male staff.

What brings all of this about is the news of a shooting happening that killed four people as well as an intruder making his way through the White House to kill Tom James and Selina. Those aren't lingering stories. The intruder is caught as promptly as he was introduced while Selina and Tom don't know about the shooting until it's over. But everyone's reactions to these events set them up for the rest of the episode. The adrenaline is pumping with the knowledge that someone wanted to kill Selina. Of course, the intruder just referred to her as "that bitch." But it's still something that Selina takes to heart. She is able to continue about her day working just like she normally would. But now, there's the idea that she is important enough to make someone angry and want to kill her. At times that overshadows the tragedy of four people being killed elsewhere in the country. But it's also a very Selina reaction to have in a time like this.

More importantly though, this episode highlights that Tom James is just as capable of making a mistake with the public as Selina is. Since his introduction, he has been a sly charmer able to win over crowds with ease. Even Selina's friends point out that they would support the Families First bill if Tom James was selling it. That's such a crushing blow to Selina's psyche (and makes her lashing out later understandable). However, Tom James is capable of some radical thoughts as well. In fact, that's what makes him the perfect companion to Selina in this journey. He gets her sense of humor and understanding of Washington politics. He can cause chaos for Selina just as easily as he can aide her in getting elected though. It's horrible when he proclaims that the shooter is just as much a victim as those he killed. That's not something the public wants to hear in the immediate aftermath. Tom James is able to sincerely apologize in a way that the public genuinely accepts. He just has that ability to get people to trust him immediately. And yet, it's still important to realize that this man has complexity and radical ideas just like every other politician. That's what makes his reaction to the data breach news so great. Unlike Doyle, he accepts this as something horrible that the rest of the team did. And now, they just have to move forward. Everyone has done, said or believed something that could ruin them in this profession. But all of those guys in that room drinking are willing to embrace even more of that shit in order to stay exactly where they are now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mommy Meyer" was directed by Becky Martin with story by Armando Iannucci, Roger Drew & David Quantick and teleplay by Roger Drew & David Quantick.
  • Everyone has an appropriate reaction both times when the White House is forced into lockdown. The first time it's not something that Kent anticipated while Mike and Gary promptly freak out. And then, the second time everyone is baffled that it's happening again so soon. Also, Sue just doesn't care. She doesn't want anyone to interrupt her work.
  • Jonah and Richard are still making sure that events are getting set up properly for the Selina campaign. That works because it allows for both to be meticulous about the sound and lighting while everyone else is just going about their business like it's no big deal.
  • Also, a friendship between Tom James, Jonah and Richard could be very hilarious but also very devastating. 
  • All of this also happened on Wendy's birthday - which Mike largely just forgot and still didn't get her anything.
  • Dan and Amy continue to exist on their own show. They react to the various news stories of the day while at a lobbying event for the concrete industry. It is interesting seeing how efficient they are at these new jobs. But it's still not adding a whole lot to the overall narrative.