After a season of one-liners, physical comedy, and reaction shots, Veep surprises viewers by taking a turn towards the dramatic in its two episode finale. Season three wraps up by making Selina the President of the United States and with her change of title comes a distinct shift in tone. Whether this will continue next season remains to be seen, but particularly when compared to “Debate,” both “Crate” and “New Hampshire” are restrained, with long stretches devoted to character, but not necessarily humor.
Part of the brilliance of creator Armando Iannucci’s original vision for the show is that the office of the Vice President is comparatively unexplored in popular culture. Vice Presidents rarely wind up on the news for positive reasons and there is a strong public perception that most of the time, the Veep doesn’t actually have much to do. This makes the job—and the show—inherently low stakes and gives the characters room to be despicable, yet endearing. Theoretically there’s another tier of authority keeping Selina and her people in check and after seeing her post-swearing in, accusatory and irrational, that was probably a good thing.
These episodes show Selina at her absolute best as well as her absolute worst. Much of “Crate” proceeds as so many before it have, with a colorful character (the kind Selina hates) introduced, a problem presented, and our leads left to their own devices to find a solution. But while an earlier season three episode would have seen Amy or Dan resolve the phone issue, likely through deceit, here they stumble and in the process, doom the campaign. It’s amazing how little of the characters’ normal banter it takes to ruin Selina’s shot at the nomination. The resulting scene features a committed performance from Julia Louis-Dreyfus as she takes Selina from heartfelt resignation to utterly horribleness. The episode’s light tone fades once Selina turns on her loyal staff, berating them and misdirecting her anger and disappointment. Bile drips from each word as she labels them losers and it’s the bitter tone of her voice, more than what she’s saying, that gives the moment such weight.
Selina’s reaction to the good (for her) news about FLOTUS and POTUS is fascinating. Her first thoughts, as she attempts to process everything, are not of herself, but of the President and his well-being. Next she mothers Gary, fretting over his bloody nose and only breaking down and embracing her laughter and giddy excitement once she’s unable to immediately help him with his nosebleed. Upon receiving the most important news of her life, Selina instinctually thinks of others first, focusing on practical concerns and only later indulging in her happiness. It’s a promising sign, one supported briefly before being dashed against the rocks of Selina’s self-involvement.
The bathroom scene between Gary and Selina is the clear highlight of “Crate,” with Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale giving fantastic performances. It’s a lovely moment and one that immediately counteracts the ugliness of Selina’s earlier verbal attacks. Another spoonful of sugar this week is Selina’s treatment of Catherine, who she is genuinely excited to include in her moment. Catherine may be desperate for her mother’s approval and acclaim—her clear desire to have been invaluable is palpable and totally understandable, if a bit sad—but Selina’s words have the ring of truth. She may not be able to point to a particular accomplishment, but Catherine’s steady support has energized Selina and kept her on track. Anyone watching just these scenes would assume Ms. Meyers is ready to step behind the desk.
Unfortunately for those living in Veep’s America, from her first moments as President, Selina makes mistake after mistake, most of which she attributes to her staff. She seems paranoid and increasingly wide- (read: crazy-) eyed, unwilling to accept her role in the dismissal of the Iranian Ambassador, General Maddox’s endorsement of Danny Chung, and her loss in New Hampshire. Perhaps Selina is still settling into her new job—it’s an intimidating one—or perhaps the attention has already gotten to her head, but the notion of her having the nuclear launch codes is sobering, and that pall hangs over much of the season finale.
That’s not to say that these episodes aren’t fun. They’re energetic and engaging, swinging from one extreme of the election spectrum to another. However, appropriate seriousness creeps in at the edges, making for a decidedly different viewing experience. Several of the characters make important life choices. Ben agrees to stay on as Selina’s acting Chief of Staff, making his ecstasy at being out of a job painfully short-lived. He knows he doesn’t have another administration in him, but in one of a handful of character moments reminiscent of The West Wing, Ben relents—his President needs him. The scene is short but effective, and Kevin Dunn nails the exhaustion in Ben’s voice and his near panic at the thought of having to start over. Gary Cole lends gravitas to Kent’s conflicted emotions as he tells Selina of POTUS’ plan to step down and his wary eye towards Selina and Gary when he opens the door on them mid-giggle party is appropriately withering.
Mike, happy at the prospect of a new, likely more profitable job that would allow extra family time cringes when he hears the news, as he knows what his wife will think. Matt Walsh has been excellent all season and these episodes are no exception—his lunch with Wendy is not only adorable, it makes his eventual taking of a job that could easily ruin his marriage (thanks to its long hours) all the more potent. Dan is still his delightful, morally bankrupt self and Sue still rules with an iron fist, but Amy shows a new side of herself in her quiet reaction to the news in the car. While the guys are beside themselves, focused on what they’re experiencing and what they hope to gain, she’s carefully studying Selina and asking how the soon-to-be-former VP feels. Amy is thriving as Selina’s campaign manager, though that’s not reflected in the polling. Her conversation with Dan is sweet (in that colorful Veep way) and, as Dan still doesn’t know that she set him up, underlined with tension. In both episodes, particularly once POTUS announces he’ll step down, Anna Chlumsky gives Amy a quiet confidence that tells the audience she’s in the right job.
While most of Team Selina get a bit more serious, Jonah picks up the comedic slack, thanks to a visit with his mother and the best teenaged mall portrait on TV in quite a while. Jonah started the season as a veritable comedy machine, thanks to Ryantology, but then faded from prominence a bit. It’s great to have him back front and center in this finale. Upon rewatch, some of Jonah’s scenes go on a bit long, but Timothy Simons is so fantastic, and works so well with Reid Scott, that it’s hard to complain. His harsh language with his mother (and her reaction to this) is great, and the always entertaining Nancy Lenehan is excellent casting as Simons’ mother.
While “Debate” soared primarily thanks to its hilarious dialogue, “Crate” and “New Hampshire” draw a lot of their humor from visuals as well as their scripts. Neither part of the two-episode finale comes close to the former installment’s sheer number of laughs, but in relation to the season average, both finale episodes hold their own. There are reaction shots galore, from Hale’s wonderfully hurt expression when Selina assumes he can’t throw a baseball to Louis-Dreyfus’ face as she walks down the aisle in those squeaky shoes. There are also many fabulous lines, a particular favorite being Selina’s assertion that, “I’m normal. I can be so folksy. Doing the folksy thing with folks,” as she and her team decide on how to make her seem more approachable. Selina’s well-established lack of connection with the electorate leads to the crate which leads Quincy Carter to the GUMMI spill which leads to the seeming death of Selina’s campaign, so that when she is snatched from the flame at the last moment that surprise will be optimally successful. Each piece of this finale is structured carefully to lead to the next and while that can be overly tidy, it’s also satisfying.
Veep has had a fantastic and consistent third season, knitting the ensemble together even tighter than in previous seasons and taking full advantage of each of the comedic tools at their disposal. The campaign has brought energy to the show and given the writers a goal to work towards and the sudden ascendency of President Meyer opens a new world of narrative options. This season has been satirically sharp and has taken advantage of a wide array of comedic styles while dabbling with hot-button issues and building its universe. President Meyer’s road to the nomination may be a bumpy one, but thanks to “Crate,” “New Hampshire,” and the rest of season three, it’s been a fun ride.
- Nick Wyman is delightful as Quincy Carter, The Endorser, both as a foil for the completely not self-aware Selina and more generally for his Dickens and Shakespeare references which are a hoot, no matter what Selina says. Hopefully we’ll see him again at some point, along with other memorable season three characters like Tracie Thoms’ Alicia and Diedrich Bader’s Bill Ericsson—unsurprisingly, Bader is a highlight here and his takedown of Jonah is a masterclass in efficiency.
- Kent and Sue may not have come back together this season, but two people who share this level of dry seriousness have to be able to make it work. Sue’s, “You will then acquire the nuclear codes” is only trumped by Kent’s, “Ma’am, we’re America. We’re always at war.”
- Veep may be a favorite of many TV fans but as a half-hour comedy, its budget is limited. Using stock footage of Air Force One instead of trying to build a new set for just that quick scene is not only creative, it’s fun.
- With Selina having been sworn in, perhaps Iannucci will take a page from Yes Minister’s book and change the title of the show next season. After series three of Yes Minister, the lead is elevated after the sitting PM resigns and the next seasons are titled Yes, Prime Minister. Could next season be titled POTUS?