Sunday, May 31, 2015

REVIEW: 'Veep' - Selina's Staff Attempt to Kill the Families First Bill Without Creating a New Scandal in 'B/ill'

HBO's Veep - Episode 4.08 "B/ill"

With the Families First Bill growing increasingly toxic, Gary sets up a clandestine meeting with Dan and Amy to persuade them to lobby against it. Meanwhile, Selina attempts to keep working while ill in bed with the flu. As the vote on Families First draws near, her staff works to ensure the deciding vote will go in their favor, as it becomes clear that victory or defeat lies in the hands of just one congressman.

In order to be elected President of the United States, Selina and her staff must kill the Families First bill - one of the few things she has actually tried to accomplish while in the office. She has worked on other things. But the Families First bill is what she was the most passionate about. So much of the scandal and the mistakes of the season have come from trying to get this bill passed. It's because of the bill that there was a massive data breach. It's because of the bill that so many people have been fired from the administration. It's also because of the bill that Selina is slowly starting to fall behind in the election. If the bill is passed, she will not be elected President. Killing it keeps the hope alive. It just comes at a time where Selina's staff have to be the ones to handle the job - and that creates a wonderful series of misfortunate events.

It is a tad disappointing that the audience doesn't get to truly see just how devastating this defeat is for Selina. It will allow her to get elected - if none of these major scandals get out - but it was something that she was really excited for. She is unable to be an active person in these tense negotiations and unfortunate mistakes because she is sick and trying to lead the country from her bed. It's the right thing to do. The bill needs to be killed in order for her to hold onto the office. But she worked so hard to get to this point only to have to get rid of it. She still believes that the bill can do tremendous things for families throughout the country. She may be the only person who still thinks that though. Everyone else sees it as a horrible piece of change that would ruin the country or are just neutral but need it to go away. Selina is the only passionate one and that passion is weakened by her current state. Selina is still able to get things done. She starts sending memos which are hilarious as everyone both receives them and are confused by them. But she's only able to voice her own feelings about the bill during one quiet moment with Tom James where he assures her that she's doing the right thing in killing it.

And yet, the Families First bill is plagued with potential scandal until the very end. Even though Selina and her team are successful in getting it killed, they do so in a way that opens them up to legal consequences. The episode opens with Gary meeting with Dan and Amy once again. It's a strange meeting place as they are surrounded by toddlers. But they are there on a mission. Dan and Amy need to lobby against the bill for Selina. Both of them have some strong words for their former employer. And yet, they still take on the job for both money and the excitement. They are slowly changing as characters and that excitement is compelling them into these questionable actions. The legal and moral ramifications of the White House hiring lobbyists to persuade congressmen to vote against the bill that the White House is pushing for would be huge. That becomes especially apparent when it's revealed that Dan and Amy are going after the same congressmen as Jonah and Richard. Selina's staff are doing every possible thing in order to get those no votes. And yet, by pushing too hard for that outcome, they are making things that much more complicated for themselves.

As Tom James accurately points out, it is an "infestation of mediocrity." Some of these characters should know better. And yet, their inability to act accordingly is the most telling thing about them. Both Ben and Kent should know to check with each other to make sure that their lists of congressmen their representatives will hit don't match up. And yet, they don't and hilarity ensues. Mike shouldn't know anything about what is going on because he has to report what is going on within the administration to the press. And yet, he doesn't make any effort to leave the room when everyone else starts talking about this huge fuck up they've just created for themselves. Gary is capable of holding onto these kinds of deep, dark secrets. But he's also the one who just blurts out what is really happening to Selina - ensuring that she would get in just as much trouble as they would. At least, all of these characters are capable of understanding the moral implications of what they have just done - unlike Jonah and Richard who are too blind to see that the senior staffers are just using their ineptitude to their benefit.

In the end though, all of their efforts and potentially illegal actions pay off. The Families First bill does not pass. It just took one very scary moment where Gary held all the power in the world in deciding which way the one last swing vote should go. That was a powerful and very hilarious moment. Selina can only handle so much of this crisis before her body just starts to turn against her. She does her best just to stay awake and attentive to what's happening around her. And then, she passes out for a brief moment in the most crucial conversation of the day. This congressman needs to vote no in order for all of the staff's hard work to pay off and make the possible illegal actions actually worth it. Gary may have promised too much with the promotion to Paris. But they still got the job done. They served the President and her wishes to the best of their ability. That is their collective purpose in life right now. Sure, it gets very complicated and daunting with all the uncertainty over what will happen in the future. An investigative committee is already being formed to look into the events of this vote. And yet, Selina is just happy to finally be able to get some rest after the exhausting events of this day. The rest of the staff must feel the same way - though they are able to amuse themselves by listening to Selina's very specific and hilarious memos to them. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "B/ill" was directed by Becky Martin with story by Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche, Andy Riley & Kevin Cecil and teleplay by Tony Roche, Andy Riley & Kevin Cecil.
  • I'm going to be so upset if Hugh Laurie doesn't get an Emmy nomination for his work as Tom James. He is just terrific. From the sly way he can transition from small talk to matters of the utmost importance to him in the practice debate to him calling out the mediocrity of the rest of the staff, he was great in this episode.
  • Again, Gary spends so much of the episode without any real power. He's acting on Ben's behalf in reaching out to Dan and Amy. He's the only one worried about Selina's health and still can't get her to rest. That's what makes it great when suddenly he's the one with the weight of this massive decision on his shoulders.
  • Is this job change actually good for Amy? She is no longer stressing out about things and actually enjoying the excitement of the chaos. Or will that just become even more problematic for her in the future?
  • I loved how Selina said she should just die the old school way - while in office.