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Veep: “Tears”

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Veep

“Tears”

Season 1, Episode 8

The first season of Veep has been one long downward spiral for Selina Meyer. Not that things were necessarily that great in the beginning, back when the vice president was inadvertently provoking the ire of the oil industry and soiling herself in public. And they certainly got worse as she voted to kill the very clean jobs legislation she had been working on for months, and when she had Gary break up with her boyfriend after a pregnancy scare.

All very unpleasant things, to be sure, but in tonight’s finale, “Tears,” Selina reaches what surely has to be the nadir of her sufferings: With her favorability ratings in the toilet—or more accurately, the crapper—Selina is asked not to endorse Furlong, a congressman running for governor of Ohio, after she’s already flown out to make an appearance at a fundraiser. Meanwhile, POTUS is playing a game of golf with her rival—and rumored vice-presidential replacement, Danny Chung. Selina is a political pariah, but I would argue maybe there’s an unforeseen silver lining to the disaster: At least people are paying attention to her, right?

These days you hear a lot of talk about how the frantic pace of the 24/7 news cycle has impacted the political conversation in this country, and that’s something Veep has captured quite memorably—especially in “Tears,” where Selina experiences a comeback, followed by a backlash, all in the space of a single work day. But this show goes a crucial step beyond the conventional wisdom. Not only does it illustrate how one small, spontaneous decision or malapropism can snowball into a full-blown scandal in the space of a few hours, but Veep also reminds us about the dangers of overreacting to every single setback—or, for that matter, to every momentary triumph.

Even after a blunt emotional appeal and a flurry of insults from Selina, Congressman No Jaw refuses to budge. The outburst is unproductive, but it does give Mike and Amy an idea. If only they can get her to cry again, this time on camera, it could be the image overhaul she desperately needs. During an interview with a local reporter, Selina wells up at the news that, unbeknownst to her, the president has been hanging out with Chung. In a nice touch of verisimilitude, Selina avoids a total meltdown. She merely chokes up a little—just as Hillary Clinton did in New Hampshire in 2008—but relatively speaking, it’s an enormous crack in the façade. She also confesses to being “tired,” but then, perhaps worried about over-sharing, she quickly pivots to talk about the Ohio working man: “Imagine how tired the rubber makers are here in Ohio. Making rubber day in and day out. Ohio is the rubber ball state, always bouncing back.”

It’s masterful pandering, and it works. By the time Selina rolls into Furlong’s dinner that night, the tears have made headlines and are already reversing the veep’s disastrous public image. Selina takes to the stage, not aware that Furling has had a change of heart, and as she speaks to the crowd, the congressman’s reaction swings like a wild pendulum: His aide glances at his Blackberry and learns that the “crying is tracking well,” and he wants Selina to endorse; her voice cracks and he rescinds; she sucks up with a joke about buckeyes, and he wants her support once again.

The scene is wonderfully agile bit of farce, a heightened version of the hyper-reactionary climate of American politics, but it’s also not so ridiculous that we don’t believe it. (It's also a vivid reminder of how much humor Armando Iannucci and his team of writers are able to cram into a single episode; this is a show without a trace of flab or filler.) So Selina ultimately endorses Furlong, who joins her on stage where the two whisper obscenities at each other. Selina is thrilled to have to endorse a politician she utterly loathes because it means her image has been rehabilitated. Veep has a terrific eye for moments like this, ones that are so rich with irony that they’re borderline tragic.

After a long string of humiliations, Selina finally scores a win. When she gets back to her office, she even learns that the president has, for once, called her—a nice way to put a period on that long-running gag. Giddy from the high, Selina announces realignment in the office. Dan—rather than Amy or Mike—will be promoted, presumably because of his role in winning over Furlong. Dan instantly starts to rearrange the entire office and, in one of the best lines of the episode, directs one of his new underlings to issue the press release he’s already written about himself (which is filed under “me: phase one,” he explains). In short, everyone overreacts to the brief burst of happy news, which can only mean more trouble is on the horizon. After complaints from the Ohio reporter, the press is now claiming that Selina only cried to divert attention away from Furlong’s otherwise disastrous fundraiser. Irate, Furlong decides to push forward with his inquiry into the Macauley amendment, and Selina’s political fortunes once again hang in the balance.

It’s not a happy ending, but by now, we all know that’s not what we ought to expect from this series. Instead, it’s a terrifically funny finish to an impressive first season, an episode that combines the intricate plotting and acid repartee we’ve come to expect from Armando Iannucci with some real insight into the political process. And, yes, we also get to catch a glimpse of Selina’s human side. Turns out voters aren’t the only ones who appreciate that stuff.

Stray observations:

  • Amy: “We are currently polling lower than a side of beef with eyes drawn on it.”
  • Selina on golf: “Men with sticks, talking about their careers.”
  • Furlong’s Paul Kinsey-esque aide Will is pretty hilarious—especially his line about how Selina is “effed in the b-hole across all networks.”
  • Mike’s awkward pep talk with Selina is classic: “I’m sorry about your tears, they suck. My papaw used to say it’s always darkest before the storm—the dawn.”
  • Funniest moment of non-verbal comedy: Gary’s hand, reaching into the frame to offer Selina a tissue during her emotional confrontation with Furlong.
  • As the credits roll, Mike offers some tepid words of solace to his boss, reminding her they only have four more years of this agony to endure. Or eight. Or 12. Or 16, tops.
  • The only thing missing from this episode is Jonah, who's not in it as much as I would have liked.