Sunday, June 14, 2015

REVIEW: 'Veep' - Selina Learns Whether or Not She Has Been Elected President of the United States in 'Election Night'

HBO's Veep - Episode 4.10 "Election Night"

On election night, Selina and her staff find their nerves growing frayed as each state result is called.

Veep has been building towards "Election Night" ever since Selina decided to run for President of the United States in the second season finale. It has taken two years of storytelling but both she and her team have finally made it to that stage. She has gotten a taste of what it would be like to hold onto the most powerful office in the country. She has been in power for the duration of this season. She has had highs and lows - which culminated hilariously in last week's format-bending episode. The finale brings a sense of resolution to this very important story Veep has been telling for two years now. And yet, it makes sure to have things just as complicated as they possibly can be with the characters hilarious commenting on just how crazy and unprecedented the whole experience actually is.

This season hasn't really focused a whole lot on Selina running for President. It has mostly opted to show her in the office and whether or not she can actually bring change or direction to the country. The campaign had strong moments throughout the season especially whenever Tom James was involved. But it largely showed the campaign from Selina's point-of-view. Her opponent, Senator Bill O'Brian, is barely a character at all in the context of the show. He has been used for a good joke or two every so often. But the focus has never really been about the face of her opponent. The story has instead leaned on what Selina is trying to do to win this election while still holding onto the job. That has been a comedic rich ground for the show to dig. It's all leading up to this episode which makes sure to find the hilarity in the uncertainty of Selina's (and the show's) future.

The structure of this finale isn't all that different from this season's "Convention." Selina and her team spend the majority of the running time together in one room talking about the uncertainty of events. The return of Karen makes those comparisons especially apt. That character doesn't suddenly have some new value now that she's back. She still exists to offer the other characters non-specific advice. That is humorous but also has a short shelf live. And it does still provide some great moments like when she briefly cuts into Tom's rousing speech about not conceding with an "Or....." and everyone just gives her a dirty look. Plus, her presence only reaffirms just how big a deal it is for Amy to be rejoining the team during this very critical moment.

Dan and Amy have been having a lot of fun off on their own little show about D.C. lobbyists. It's a job drastically different than the ones they had with Selina. It's a different energy for them. That brought out both good and bad qualities for both of them. It made their competitive relationship apparent once again while the jokes kept flying about how shrill Amy actually is. But no matter what, nothing compares to the thrills they had when working with Selina. That's apparent throughout the finale as they both half-heartedly cover the election news as each state's result is called. It's humorous watching them try to offer strong and insightful commentary on the state of the race while not having anything of real substance to actually say. But Amy actually does make the strong choice of leaving to go be with Selina. She left the campaign because of a violent and sudden outburst brought on during the convention. But she gave so much time and effort to getting Selina elected. She deserves to be with the candidate and not at the news desk. It's a decision that makes her go crazy for a little bit singing along to the radio reports of the race being too close to call. But in the end, it's worth it. When Selina needs comforting in the face of what may happening with the election, she chooses to dissolve into Amy's arms. Not Tom James'. Not Gary's. But Amy's. That shows that the relationship between the two will be mended shortly - even though Selina jabs Amy later with the comment about Amy running her campaign until she became ill.

The jokes and the ridicule are also apparent in Selina's presence. That's part of the energy that her entire team has just had to accept in order to work for her. Dan has been much happier working as a lobbyist. But it's also incredibly lonely for him once Amy leaves. He doesn't build up the courage to walk right behind her though. There is a longing look in his eyes as he sees everyone up on the stage at the Meyer rally. He is jealous of the excitement in that room. It looks much better than his current setting sitting next to a guy who entered the night extremely cocky and ended it completely ripped to shreds. Dan was a better commentator than Amy. But that's not where he envisioned being on this night. It's too early to tell if that will somehow manifest into a return to the main team somehow next season for. He's no longer to blame for the massive data breach he took the rap for earlier. He could realistically return. But will he actually be welcomed back the same way that Amy was?

But the most important thing to come from "Election Night" is the actual results. Will Selina continue to serve as President? Or will she be forced out of the office just as quickly as she entered it? The episode does a fantastic job of building the tension steadily. It opens with Selina motionless for one of the few times over the course of the entire series. This night is a big deal for her. She wants this more than anything else. Nothing can distract her from this big night - at least until the results start coming in and give her an uphill mountain to climb. The results are out of her hands now. She did the best that she could do to show the American public that she is the right person for the job. Despite all of the mistakes she and her administration have made in her short time in office, she still has a chance of maintaining this job.

But the American public reward Selina with a tie. It's an unprecedented move. Everyone has to scurry to the internet in order to find out what happens should a tie occur. That's hilarious. These people view themselves as the best and most well-informed in the business. And yet, they still have to use Google just like everyone else when a situation like this emerges. They have to consult the amendments to the Constitution. That then sets up the reality where Tom James could theoretically steal the presidency aware from her. That's the reality that just about breaks her. It would be devastating to lose to O'Brien. It would be even worse if ties kept happening and her running mate steals the job away from her.

Tom James has always been a smart charmer throughout this season. He has done his part to serve the President no matter what her agenda is. He willfully helped kill the Families First bill and passed the blame onto Bill when the congressional committee needed a scapegoat to blame for the whole mess. But he also sees this tie as an opportunity for himself. He doesn't want to be the Vice President that Selina or Doyle were. He has worked with Selina throughout this campaign and wants that relationship to continue once they officially hold the jobs. Selina is grateful for his mass appeal amongst the American public. He is just so effortless in his charm - even though he is just as conniving as the rest of them. He knows he shouldn't go out to win over the crowd at the rally until a definitive verdict is called. He does so anyway because of the prospect he faces of becoming President himself. It's no longer a hypothetical situation like he and Selina joked about for a brief second in the hotel suite. It's something that could actually happen.

That's why Selina needs to rush onto that stage and take the microphone away from Tom James. She needs to remain the center of attention - especially in this time of desperation. The verdict is eventually called a tie - with the majority of the races in the House of Representatives being too close to call. So it's not abundantly clear by episode's end if Selina will continue to be President or not. That could be seen as a letdown after two seasons of buildup. It's not because the episode has a lot of fun putting the characters through these extreme situations and emotions. States' results are called and then rescinded. The prospect of a tie emerges and then actually comes true. This will still be a very trying time for Selina and her team. And yet, they are all up on that stage together. Selina is able to show them off to her supporters while still desperately wanting to know the official results. Those won't come in for awhile. But for now, Selina is happy to close another season with a grand spectacle. And that's ultimately what makes Veep so satisfying.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Election Night" was directed by Chris Addison with story by Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell & Tony Roche and teleplay by Simon Blackwell & Tony Roche.
  • The phrase "Too Close to Call" really was the underlying theme of the finale. The race was much tighter than anyone really expected. And that allowed for some truly strong comedic moments from the entire cast.
  • It was wonderful seeing the crowd go from strong support for Jonah with his promotional efforts for male health awareness to awkward silence when he tries a bit about The A-Team.
  • For some miraculous reason, Bill is still with the official team despite the pending legality from the congressional committee. He spends most of his time worrying about what prison will be and how he'll be able to survive. He actually goes as far as asking Selina for a presidential pardon.
  • It's amusing that, despite all the nerves of the night, Mike instead worries about all the static electricity he is building up throughout the suite. That's a weird and random detail that really works well into the show's comedic style. It paid off immensely when he was trying to get drinks from the vending machine.
  • Sue briefly considered taking a new job with a seasoning company because life in politics was boring. All she had to do was get even closer to the action to see that that's not true at all.
  • As was previously reported, series creator Armando Iannucci is stepping down as showrunner. That is sad news especially with how open-ended the conclusion of the finale is. New showrunner David Mandel will have to come in and immediately decide just what kind of future awaits Selina and her staff. That is an incredibly daunting task that I hope he is up for.