Friday, September 27, 2019

REVIEW: 'The Politician' - A Scandalous Video with Infinity Could Derail Payton's Campaign Completely in 'October Surprise'

Netflix's The Politician - Episode 1.03 "October Surprise"

While Payton plays hardball with Harvard admissions, shocking betrayals and a scandalous videotape take the election to a new level of ruthlessness. 

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Netflix's The Politician.

"October Surprise" was written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk & Ian Brennan and directed by Janet Mock

This show is designed around its shocking twists and turns. It wants to keep its viewers guessing for as long as possible. Payton sees himself becoming President. That is an inevitability to him. As such, he is able to make bold proclamations to anyone who crosses his path. He can bully his way into Harvard simply by promising it will be a vital piece of his history as well as promising to build his presidential library there. He can essentially keep his bond with Alice alive through the sheer prospect of her becoming the First Lady. He wants to marry his high school sweetheart. That has long been on his road map to success. Their breakup has simply been a scheme in order to earn sympathy from the voters. It has worked. He and Infinity are on an upward trajectory while Astrid and Skye are losing ground every single day. In fact, it doesn't even seem like Astrid is running a campaign. She doesn't have a team of advisers telling her what she should do. When she does make a bold move, it blows up in her face spectacularly. However, that is an incredibly forced and manipulative moment. The show wants the audience to believe that it's possible James could betray Payton. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense because he has always been a loyal advisor. The only way it could happen was if he too was in love with Alice. They have been seeing each other long before the fake break up was conceived of and enacted. They have still been together this entire time too. James was doing that behind Payton's break. Payton is incredibly forgiving. He just demands full loyalty and support from James. He has that. The show just plays with the audience's expectations in order to keep Luther and Martin as active characters. There is no reason why they should be concerned about the race for student body president. The same goes to several of the parents of the people caught up in this story. The narrative essentially treats all of this as life-or-death. At times, it actually is. In fact, it's chilling to see just how glib some characters approach the whole assassination angle. Payton is able to build an entire campaign around honoring River's memory. He does that in his personal life too. He still has vivid memories of their time together. River still appears to give Payton advice and comfort him when he needs it. He doesn't quite know how to reckon with that especially as it could complicate his roadmap to the White House. He is honest with Alice. She wants to know if it's a problem. He says that it isn't. But it mostly feels like artificial drama. It's something in order to provide a great deal of style to the proceedings without actually wanting to analyze the deeper psychological nuances happening. Payton is clearly in mourning. He wants to make a difference. But he's also repressing all of these emotions in order to win. Him talking about River in public isn't really cathartic for him. It's a way for him to win. Of course, his true self does appear when he lashes out at people. When he feels personally slighted or betrayed, that's when his true colors shine. He is a man comfortable with the power and influence he wields. He stands to inherit billions of dollars now. But he's more upset that a video of Infinity has the potential to derail his campaign. That's his most pressing concern. While all of that is going on though, Ricardo has done something mysterious to Astrid. That's a somewhat cheap cliffhanger that mostly reveals that the show wants every single action to be shocking and dramatic. If everything embodies that tone though, then it starts feeling repetitive. If done enough, then the audience could feel that the show doesn't have anything interesting to say about politics and the people who live and breathe in this world completely. It may be fun for the performers but it can grow quite tiring for the viewer after awhile. Adding more excess and shock may not be the solution either. It's a tricky narrative balance. One Ryan Murphy and his frequent collaborators have done plenty of times before. It all may just depend on how deep the moments go with the various characters to see if anything is designed to have a lasting impact.