Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Political Animals: “The Woman Problem”

Illustration for article titled Political Animals: “The Woman Problem”

Ciaran Hinds’ Bud Hammond has become the punching bag of Political Animals, encapsulating the show’s worst trait: caricature without either making a statement or creating a compelling character. But watching Hinds let the word “vagina” slip out of the side of his mouth would make watching the first two hours worth it. (The moment when Hinds turns to the camera, later in the show and says, “You heard me right. I said penis,” should be grounds enough to keep on watching.)

Hammond gets his “vagina” on in yet another series of yellow-tinted flashbacks, this go-round from the perspective of Doug, whose Daddy Issues had been bubbling up since the first episode. The flashbacks work better in this episode than the previous attempt because Doug doesn’t seem like a completely different character when we’re thrust back into the past (although, it’s still a cheap narrative trick). The Elaine-focused flashbacks of “Second Time Around” made the woman we’ve been told was viewed as ambitious bitch to the American populace seem like a puppy who had been kicked one too many times. But Doug has always been a killjoy workaholic and probably always will be.

All of the boys head out to the country under the guise of fishing trip to visit an expert pollster named Jubal Jenkins. “Why are all of Dad’s friends such ugly cultural stereotypes?” TJ asks as they pull up to Jenkins’ cabin. He then followed that question up with “Oh, hey, Pot? You’re black, BTW,” as the next time we see TJ, he’s fishing in jeans and a leather jacket, cigarette dangling from his lips. Later scenes of the ecstasy-fueled party will confirm these sentiments.

The source of Doug’s agita is not his father’s incessant cheating, but that he believed Bud blamed him for his mother’s loss in the primary. The scene where Doug lets Bud have it, had shades of Good Will Hunting. I half-expected a tearful hug and an “It’s not your fault” Southern-tinged bellow from Bud.

Doug’s emotional deluge is not for naught. Jenkins claims that Elaine has a real shot of taking on Garcetti. Of course she does, or else this would be a really short miniseries. But this episode poses Doug as the quarterback, as Bud calls him, in Elaine’s campaign, despite his initial aversion to the idea of Elaine’s run. Doug needed this scene. Despite James Wolk’s best efforts, Doug often verges on whiny pushover, a case not helped by his further involvement in TJ’s nightclub (for the brother of a guy who has gone to rehab a couple times, Doug should probably know that addiction isn’t cured by pride, especially when that pride comes in the form of a nightclub where said addiction is easily sourced). This is the first time we see that Doug actually deserves the job he has.

With Elaine separated from family drama, she focuses on her upcoming fight with President Garcetti. To block Elaine from hurting his reelection chances,  Garcetti tells Supreme Court Justice Diane Nash (the always-welcome Vanessa Redgrave) that if she retires, he’ll guarantee that Elaine replace her. This was Doug’s, though, and Elaine had little to do. As much as I enjoyed Redgrave, Elaine’s subplot was just a distraction based around getting other characters into their correct places, setting up the show’s fast-approaching climax. Elaine was never going to take the Supreme Court justice, and not just because her mother tells her she would look terrible in black. Nor did we need another reason for Elaine to reinforce her desire to run for president. It’s all she’s been talking about for three episodes. We get it.


After largely acting as an observer in the previous episode, Susan, thankfully, comes roaring back. She now owns one of the key power players, Doug, in what’s potentially another Pulitzer and she gets to have break up sex. One of Political Animal’s strengths is how the show casually deals with the political subterfuge. It’s a fact of life, and it's treated with less fanfare than the familial dramatics, which is why I loved the scene between Susan and Elaine outside of the Globe building. Elaine extends an olive branch, inviting Susan on one of her famous power walks, but why? There’s no way Elaine is naive enough to let Susan in to her inner circle without something up her sleeve. A girl doesn’t get asked out on a power walk without expecting to give something up in return.

Originally, I touted the portrayal of women on the show and the addition of the quietly fierce Redgrave initially only reinforced that idea. But the benefits of a fully-realized character are only bestowed on part of the female cast. Poor Ann has, for the second episode in a row, is only portrayed as this sexual being. We barely get to see her outside of various states of undress or sexual positioning. Georgia, the evil bloggess at the Globe, went from conniving man-stealer to puddly mess in the span of three episodes. Even when she’s pitching her big investigation, we’re supposed to hate her. “I was shopping in Georgetown…” doesn’t usually lead to a searing expose, unless it’s about fake Louboutins. Susan gets a pat on the back for being nice to her nemesis, but while Georgia had the balls to steal a story right from underneath Susan, she loses that gravitas when it comes to taking on a man.


Stray Observations:

  • Ellen Burstyn comes through with the best line once again: ”I know the boys don’t want to go through what the hell we all barely survived two years ago so you can be Queen Shit of the United States of Elaineland.” In the alternate reality I wish were real, Margaret Barrish would begin a torrid affair with The Newsroom’s Charlie Skinner. They would start some kind of Nick-and-Nora-style private investigations firm where they would just get drunk, say hilarious things and solve crimes.
  • The look on Vanessa Redgrave’s face when it dawns on her that Elaine is running for president deserves its own Emmy nomination.
  • The portrayals of journalism in continue to be irksome. What newspaper editor listens to a story like Georgia’s bus piece and simply dismisses it because the reporter doesn’t do investigations? Especially a hot shot blogger who just broke a major story about the son of the Secretary of State? And if Georgia is just some lowly blogger, why does she get a spot at such a high-level desk meeting?
  • The juxtaposition of Elaine’s two mother figures — her biological mother versus her intellectual mother in the form of Nash — was a fascinating beginning, but with only three episodes left before the series ends, it seems like a waste of time to fully explore what could have been a potentially rich plot in a full series.