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Chickens (temporarily) come home to roost as Veep sets up its finale

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Photo: HBO
Photo: HBO
B+
Anna Chlumsky, Sam Richardson, Matt Walsh, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale (HBO)

Veep

"A Woman First"

Season 6 , Episode 9

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Selina Meyer was a terrible president. She had no clear agenda, she dithered over what should have been easy decisions, and every significant accomplishment or morally sound choice she made was driven by self-interest. Veep may have started with Selina as a well-intentioned but powerless figurehead, but as soon as she started to gain power and was forced to choose between her status and her principles, those pesky beliefs melted away. Cynicism and skepticism of the motivations and machinations of those in power is at the core of the series, requiring Selina to grow more insidious over time, and the writers have not disappointed. Her seasons-long parade of ill-intentioned choices makes the specter of Selina’s comeuppance this episode all the more delicious and makes its immediate reversal all the more disappointing.

As in “Judge,” this episode gives the cast plenty of interesting material to work with but doesn’t give them the time they need to fully explore each development. Instead, the episode prioritizes setting up finale conclusions for the season-long arcs. Dan is out at CBS This Morning, Jonah is on the outs in Congress and likely to be primaried out of a job, and Ben and Kent have both been freed from Jonah’s grasp. That would be plenty to deal with on its own, but on top of everything, Mike’s missing diary is discovered by Leon and the scandalous secrets of the Meyer presidency start coming out. There’s a lot for the writers to choose from, and they make sure to name-check several of Selina’s greatest hits from seasons four and five. It’s wonderful to watch her squirm and actually be faced with potential consequences for her decisions; the pall that falls over Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ face as Selina realizes she could face prison time is potent. It would have been fun to see the show engage with this concept in a fuller, more substantive way. Would her party come to her aid or leave her in the cold? What evidence would come to light and what legal gymnastics could be pulled off to defend her? Instead, the writers avoid overturning the apple cart and have Selina’s role negotiating with China for Tibet’s freedom leaked, allowing the episode to end on a reset of Selina’s political prospects and standing. It’s a safe choice, albeit one that brings the season full circle.

Selina’s fall from grace isn’t the only intriguing subplot to be tidily wiped away in “A Woman First.” Barring finale twists, the season’s two most entertaining arcs—Dan’s new job in broadcasting and Jonah’s rise in the House—are quickly wrapped up, the characters poised to embark on new adventures in season seven. While the Veep writers have more than earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s a shame to see the show close the door on these settings and setups. Both had tremendous life left in them, and both provided convenient and logical excuses to bring together the often widespread ensemble cast. Putting Ben, Kent, and Dan together at a consulting firm is promising, if one can swallow the notion of Ben and Kent wanting to work full-time with Dan, a man who burned out immediately when placed in charge of Selina’s presidential campaign and who has a marginal at best track record. Jonah is more of a mystery. Shawnee’s decision to stick with Jonah and prove her father wrong was exciting but short-lived, and without Uncle Jeff backing him, no one should have any time for or interest in Jonah. This is a reassuring fact for the people he’ll no longer be representing, but a question mark, at best, for the show.

Given how quickly the media is distracted and Selina regains at least some political relevance within their world, and how definitively the show closed the book on Amy’s time in Nevada and now Dan’s time at CBS, it seems likely Catherine and Marjorie’s pregnancy is up next for a season reset. Hopefully all will be well though, because the potential for a baby Splett (at least genetically) around the townhouse is too adorable to not come to fruition. With Selina demolishing Mee-Maw’s house before getting consent from its owner, Catherine, and the baby potentially in jeopardy, a storm may be brewing for Selina. As ever, Selina and Marjorie’s exchanges are delightful and played surprisingly low-key, meaning any fireworks will need to come from Catherine. Seeing Selina finally face some consequences this episode for her political crimes is satisfying. Watching Catherine make her pay for her interpersonal crimes would be spectacular. Selina started season six by complaining about her standing and status and the indignities imposed by the rest of the political community. What she doesn’t realize is how much further she could fall in the finale, should her daughter turn on her.

Gary Cole, Timothy Simons (Photo: HBO)

Stray observations

  • Jonah at basketball practice is about what you’d expect. Kent at basketball practice is a gift to Veep fans everywhere. From his tiny shorts to his sweatbands to his terrific form, every part of that visual and extended moment is spot-on.
  • Peter MacNicol was a high point of season five as Uncle Jeff, but he overstays his welcome here, a prime example of the louder, broader approach of season six. His cackling return to Jonah’s room to mock Jonah over Shawnee’s decision to leave him goes on too long and never comes back around to funny.
  • That being said, I will always laugh at Jonah smacking his head. Did he hit his head too many times? Yes. Was it a bit too broad and did it go on too long? Yes and yes. But did I still laugh out loud every single time? You better believe it.
  • Silly, Selina. You cancel on The Tonight Show last minute, you better believe you’re not getting the friendly “What’s In The Bag?” game next time.
  • None of the lines particularly stood out to me (in a positive way: I’m very ready for the series to stop using anti-trans and homophobic language), but Adam Scott nailed his Tonight Show host delivery, so I’ll give the line of the episode to him for his ribbing of Selina about her book’s title.