It’s wall-to-wall assholes on this week’s Veep, with Dan reverting to his sleaziest behavior and appearances by misogynist Congressman Roger Furlong, hostile House Speaker Jim Marwood, and Selina’s opportunistic rival Danny Chung. In case we don’t feel dirty enough watching these characters, there’s also the manager of a garbage dump, whose possession of the vice-president’s incriminating trash bags gives him the chance to play political hardball just like the guys in the tastefully decorated offices of the White House.
All the metaphorical and actual garbage in this episode may be a little too on-the-nose (or up-the-nose). “Shutdown” is relatively simple on plot, with the vice-presidential ship continuing to take on water—leading Selina and Dan to attempt unholy alliances as a means of survival. With three more episodes to go in the season, we may yet see Selina triumph over the Good Ol’ Douchbag Network, but this installment will test your tolerance for cringe comedy.
“Shutdown” opens with Gary looking over the bags of garbage piling up outside the vice-president’s residence—the result of a government spending freeze that the president is not too subtly blaming on Selina, despite her genuine skill and hard work at negotiating a budget deal with Congress (seen in the previous episode). Gary gives a Ned Flanders-like shriek at the sight of a rat, who’s probably just off to join Dan in looking for a new job. The shutdown also prompts Selina to furlough half her staff, though she keeps changing which half throughout the episode. (At least she has the sense to hold onto Amy.)
Selina is understandably distracted by the accumulating threats to her reputation: not only her “failed” budget talks but her unintentional deception of the press in a hostage crisis and various little scandals involving her ex-husband, Andrew. It doesn’t help that she’s restarted her relationship with Andrew because the sex is so good. (“It’s stress release,” she rationalizes to a disapproving Amy.) That’s one of the many deals with the devil in this episode, and it’s not as disgusting as Selina’s proposal for a political alliance with the man who’s spreading more dirt on her than anyone: Roger Furlong.
Dan spends his brief vacation angling for a job with an over-the-top evil lobbyist (Peter Grosz, writer and occasional on-screen presence on The Colbert Report) who mocks Dan’s “slack pussy” and makes him pick up the tab for an absurdly expensive lunch that goes uneaten. After that scene, one of the most uncomfortable in the series so far, we’re back to more traditionally tasteless comedy, with Selina trying to avoid the fallout from a Minnesota hiker (accent humor!) getting killed by a black bear at a short-staffed national park. Mike screws up Selina’s attempt to meet with the widow, but Dan helps to arranges a photo op—for Selina’s presumed rival for the presidency, Governor Chung.
It remains to be seen whether Dan’s defection is permanent, as Chung seems capable of stabbing his new ally in the back if it suits him, but the political maneuvering with Furlong and Chung promises some tense showdowns over the rest of the season, as well as some bad rhymes and puns.
Poor Gary, meanwhile, is stuck retrieving Selina’s garbage after hiring someone to haul it away while the bags pile up everywhere else in Washington. (Even Mike, the inept communications director, grasps that this is terrible PR for the veep.) After Selina gives him some info on how to identify her refuse—we don’t hear the details, but they turn Gary pale—he’s off to the dump with Jonah, lassoed into the adventure by the promise of an expedited passport application. You know things aren’t going to go smoothly when the manager is played by Delaney Williams, the porn-loving Sergeant Landsman on The Wire.
Jonah’s boneheaded attempt at intimidating the manager into giving up the garbage allows Gary to come off as the more sophisticated half of the duo (kind of like Barney Fife when he was paired with Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show). Still, Gary’s promise that Selina will make an official “tour” of the dump isn’t an optimal solution, especially when the manager suggests a headline for the event: “Vice president applauds shit compaction.”
So, despite Selina’s earlier declaration that her “ass is in clenchdown” (as a retort to the suggestion that the vice-president’s traditional role is to “take it in the ass” for POTUS), she ends the episode at one of her lowest moments, making small talk for the cameras with a sleazeball at a garbage dump. Do the Veep writers have worse in store for her next week?
- Tony Hale gets MVP status this episode, as his character keeps trying to act tough and compensate for his rat-sighting scream. As Sue’s substitute, Gary is on the phone with someone trying to make an appointment with the veep: “If the V-P did have a window, it would be a high one, and she’d push you out of it!” (And after Selina is out of earshot: “What? You’re pregnant? Oh my God, I did not mean that!”)
- The suddenly furloughed Sue gets a same-day appointment at her spa by identifying herself as “a valued, and if need be, aggressive client.” Sounds like an effective line, but I’m not sure I’d have the balls to back it up.
- Jonah’s contribution to the horrible male behavior in this episode includes affecting a Cockney accent in advance to a trip to London and saying, “It is a city when women are literally drunk all day, and I am going to mind their gaps, my friend.” Gary’s disgusted reaction furthers the theory that he is Buster Bluth’s older, only slightly more worldly, brother.
- In one of the episode’s funniest scenes, David Rasche ramps up the pompousness of obviously Republican Speaker of the House Jim Marwood, over-enunciating his version of a folksy, off-the-cuff expression. (“It’s all beans to me.”) He also begins reading Selina a story from Politico.com by saying, “Slide to unlock.” Who thinks he’s trying a hip way of saying, “And I quote,” and who thinks he’s reading an aide’s instructions on how to work a smartphone? Or is he just calling Selina a whore, like he did in “The Vic Allen Dinner”?
- Mike seems pretty knowledgeable about bear behavior, as well as sailing. Maybe he should be editor of Outside magazine instead of communications director for the vice president.
- Gender politics: Roger Furlong drags an assistant everywhere to make a big show of emasculating him (“That’s as much a fact as Will’s impotence”), which will probably lead to Roger's food being poisoned. In contrast, Selina has a generally respectful relationship with Amy, who occasionally succeeds in saving the veep from her own bad judgment.
- Amy’s succinct advice to Selina regarding her ex-husband: “Dump him overboard, like the toxic waste he is.”