In the closing minutes of last week’s Veep, Gary delivered some jaw-dropping news to Vice President Selina Meyer: Against all the odds, she was very, very pregnant. It was a bold and quite possibly insane move for the series, the kind of desperate, shark-jumping maneuver a creaky sitcom in its fifth or sixth season might pull. While I applauded the gutsiness of “Baseball”—in a country that remains oddly Puritanical when it comes to female sexuality, the idea of an unmarried, knocked-up female vice president is practically seditious—I also wondered if Armando Iannucci hadn’t just lost his mind. Selina’s surprise pregnancy was audacious, but also terribly risky.
So it’s both disappointing and something of a relief to learn, early in “Full Disclosure,” that Selina has had a miscarriage. Once again, it’s Gary who delivers the news, mere seconds after Selina slams her office door in his face. (Gary’s greatest strength is his loyalty, not his ability to keep a secret.) Poof! There go my Murphy Brown dreams! In a way, a miscarriage is the ultimate storytelling cop-out—one of these days I’m going to have to pitch a “convenient miscarriages” inventory to the editorial overlords here at The A.V. Club.
“Baseball” ended with a brilliant close-up on Selina’s face as she learned the news. The set-up was an obvious nod to President Bush’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks, but it also spoke, rather poignantly to Selina’s impossible predicament: As an unmarried female politician, she couldn’t possibly have the baby, but she also couldn’t not have it. Would she resign, get married, or both? I was genuinely curious to see how it would all shake out.
Alas, neither Selina nor Veep has to make that difficult decision. In front of her staff, Selina is flippant about the miscarriage—“It’s fine. I mean it was like a heavy period.”—and you don't get the sense that she's privately anguished about it. All the evidence indicates that Selina is not upset about losing the baby, that, if anything, she is relieved, which in and of itself is a pretty revolutionary concept. What I can’t totally figure out is how we’re supposed to react to Selina’s indifference: Should we be okay with it, or are we supposed to think she’s cold and unfeeling?
Instead of a watershed moment for women in politics, Selina’s brief pregnancy becomes merely another public relations boondoggle for the embattled vice president. First, there was the failure of her clean jobs initiative, followed by her tie-breaking vote against the Macauley amendment, then her firing of an overly jocular Secret Service agent, and now rumors about her pregnancy are swirling around the capitol “like the contents of a used condom,” to quote Jonah.
Now a nasty video about Selina has gone viral, and it’s clear Selina needs to rehabilitate her image. Amy proposes a solution: They’ll release their office records in a shallow bid at transparency. Or, as she puts it, “By showing we have nothing to hide, we can hide something.” It’s sort of an odd strategy, when you think about it. Selina’s biggest problem is that the public thinks she’s kind of a diva, not that she’s some kind of shadowy power broker (if only).
But in any case, Selina sparks to the idea, and Mike and Amy set about carefully curating the documents that are released to the press. They intentionally leave records of Selina’s “back facials” in the trove of documents, hoping the press will be distracted with this embarrassing but ultimately trivial tidbit of personal information. It’s a brilliantly cynical ploy, one that exploits the public’s desire for transparent government while playing to the media’s basest instincts.
Despite their careful redactions, the plan backfires spectacularly. Plot-wise, this may be the densest episode of Veep yet. It really is remarkable how many twists and turns this show can cram into the space of 28 minutes or so: There’s the short-lived “suicide pact” between Dan, Amy, and Mike; Selina’s break-up with Ted; Gary’s aborted resignation; Mike’s sleep-deprived confrontation with Agent Collins. It’s also remarkable how neatly these mini-storylines all come together, as Selina concludes her only recourse is to fire one of her staffers. This is an episode that's all about expendability: Who is essential to Selina, and who isn't?
From the very beginning, Veep has done a brilliant job capturing the power dynamics between Selina and her staff, and “Full Disclosure” may be the best example of this yet. Selina gathers Amy, Mike, and Dan into her office, and bluntly asks which one of them she should fire. It plays like an elimination on Project Runway: The remaining contestants instantly forget their alliance and start pointing fingers at each other. Someone proposes firing Sue, a suggestion Selina rejects because she’s “not important enough.” Then, with perfect comic timing, Gary slowly passes by in the background, carefully balancing a cup of Selina's rose hip tea. He’s totally oblivious to the civil war going on in the room; all he cares about is making sure the tea doesn't spill. Veep thrives on wordplay and rat-a-tat dialogue, so it's especially effective when the show pauses for a moment of non-verbal comedy. The meaning is clear: Gary might have a humiliating job, but, like Sue, his lack of involvement in strategic matters means he’s safe. After all, Selina would be hard-pressed to find another staffer who’d be willing to break up with her boyfriend for her—or at least I hope she would.
“Full Disclosure” is also unusually suspenseful, as we’re left to wonder which of her not-so-trusty employees Selina will fire. I cannot tell a lie: I was rooting for Dan to get the boot. Mike is too much fun, and Amy actually seems loyal, whereas Dan’s just sleazy in a slightly one-note fashion. In the end, it’s Amy who has to fall on her sword (in a way) by pretending she’s the one who had the pregnancy scare, and that, in a frazzled emotional state, she had Agent Collins reassigned. She saves her job, but Amy has to publicly humiliate herself and tarnish her reputation in the process. Maybe Gary’s not so irreplaceable after all? (Also worth noting: Ted is the least essential person in Selina's life.)
I do have one lingering complaint with this show, but it’s a relatively big one: Selina. I tend to avoid the whole “likability” conversation, because I think it leads to lazy criticism, but after this episode it seems like it’s an issue worth addressing. As I see it, the main problem with Selina isn’t that she’s unlikable—which, for the record, she quite often is—it’s that we’re almost at the end of the season, and she’s still an opaque character. To my mind, “Catherine” remains the best episode of Veep to date because it gave us a glimpse of the person Selina is outside of the office—indeed, outside of politics altogether. To use another loaded word, the interactions with her daughter humanized Selina.
Over the course of the season, we’ve seen Selina’s vulnerabilities and her shortcomings, but I don’t know that we’ve really gotten a sense of her. Her relationship with Ted, especially Gary’s unceremonious backyard break-up, has garnered big laughs, but it also feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to develop Selina’s character. After all, we’ve only seen her in the same room with him twice, for a grand total of about two minutes of screen time. It’s not that I want Veep to get soft, but at some point, the show may need to slow down its joke-per-minute ratio, take a breather, and give its characters some room to breathe.
- I like how this episode introduces us to some new spaces, like Gary’s house and Jonah’s apartment.
- I love the telling details of the décor in Jonah’s bachelor pad, like the hideous beige leather couches and a great big neon sign for Blue Moon beer. Translation: He’s a frat boy with delusions of sophistication.
- More Jonah gold: The disclosed emails contain birthday suggestions, such as a dick-shaped cake or fetching dick-shaped hat, for an “unnamed White House aid.”
- The Selina viral video is a little toothless, isn't it?
- Dan on the truth: “Nothing good comes of it.”
- Selina: “A suck-up isn’t going to fix a fuck-up.”
- Conspiracy theorists, take note: Gary was making rosehip tea for Selina, which is believed to help prevent miscarriages. (Then again, it’s also an herbal remedy for hot flashes, so my theory probably isn’t that strong.)