Season four got off to a solid, if not spectacular start with “Joint Session,” as Selina and her team adjusted to their new roles and faced the first significant challenge of the Meyer presidency. With the setup of the premiere out of the way, “East Wing” returns the series to its season-three heights, bringing mile-a-minute jokes, laugh out loud visuals, and a surprising late episode dramatic moment that only strengthens the comedy surrounding it. The episode jumps back and forth between the main characters, progressing each of the arcs introduced in “Joint Session,” but its central thread is Selina’s peace talks with the Israeli Prime Minister and Gary’s unintentional sabotaging of them. Left unsupervised by Selina and empowered to coordinate the state dinner with the White House Social Secretary—the wonderful Michaela Watkins—Gary is flailing. While he doesn’t need much attention from Selina, her complete dismissal of him eventually brings things to a head and though the fight that closes this episode doesn’t quite top the pair’s show-stopping bathroom scene from “Crate,” it comes close.
Their confrontation is among the series’ most vitriolic, with Selina dressing down her over-stepping body man and Gary standing up for himself. Spine looks good on Gary, who may be anxious and may know he’s in the wrong, but who has also grown tremendously over the series. It’s great to see him confidently assert his value and commitment to the President and both Tony Hale and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are excellent in the scene. Hale’s near-hysterical delivery of “Can you find somebody else who did what I did?” pushes the exchange to its breaking point and the pair’s reaction to this is powerful and real, two people who are inextricably tied trying to walk back from a ledge neither wants to acknowledge. It’s personal, it’s raw, and it humanizes these often comically over the top characters. The episode quickly restores Selina and Gary’s usual dynamic, lest they become too subdued, and transitioning away from the intensity of the fight with Gary’s sad William Henry Harrison Day cake is a nice touch of symmetry that brings the episode full circle.
Gary may stand up for himself with Selina, but Jonah’s a long way from doing so with Teddy. The Vice President’s Chief of Staff sexually assaults Jonah once again, with the episode going more overtly for comedy this time (“Tap tappy tap tap”), though Timothy Simons still plays Jonah’s reaction completely straight. Including this storyline highlights the self-involvement and ridiculousness of most of the other characters: While Amy is playing career chess with Bill Ericsson and Catherine is powering through having to meet and greet some young scouts, Jonah would just like to get through his day without being groped. Thankfully, he still has time to take a few meetings and watching him sink, then salvage, and then completely Jonah Dan’s attempts to win votes for the President’s Family First initiative is a blast.
“East Wing” is full of hilarious one-on-one exchanges. Kent’s conversation with Catherine is the most entertaining either has been in a while, with Kent’s, “If you will” the perfect button to the scene. Pairing Richard with Jonah works incredibly well and promises interesting developments to come with Teddy, not to mention new levels of insufferability from Jonah. Zak Orth’s Jim may have lost his job to Ericsson, but at least Orth gets a few moments to shine with Matt Walsh; here’s hoping he sticks around for more of the season in a new capacity. Speaking of Ericsson, Diedrich Bader is once again terrific, returning to agitate Amy. Anna Chlumsky’s twitchy, barely-suppressed rage as he interrupts her makes the exchange and Bader’s pitch-perfect delivery of, “Well, I just wanted to say a friendly hello in an unfriendly way. Hello” is the line of the episode.
Then there’s the running gag of Mike’s dyed moustache, which pays greater and greater dividends throughout the episode. Bader’s reactions to it in the background of scenes, even when the camera is focused elsewhere, are a lot of fun and the Joker-ish smile the running dye puts on Mike’s face mid-press conference is fantastic. Watkins is only in a few scenes, but she’s a welcome addition to the ensemble and her imaginary phone call as Ben attempts to pawn off telling Selina about Gary’s overspending is one of the episode’s many highlights. Similarly underplayed is the physical comedy of Selina’s inability to move in her fabulous red dress, shuffling forward purposefully as she attempts to chase down Gary after the dinner. Each moment in “East Wing” is packed full of crackling, memorable dialogue and the skillful incorporation and progression of the continuing threads from “Joint Session” point towards a tightly constructed and satisfying season four.
- Veep has been renewed for season five! While some may be concerned over Iannucci leaving at the end of this season, the series seems to be on firm footing, so I’m unreservedly excited to know the show is coming back next year.
- The office of the White House Social Secretary is housed in the East Wing, as is that of the First Lady. Gary will likely be staying out of the East Wing for a while, but hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll see of Watkins.
- The staffer no one knows is played by Jessie Ennis, who is fun in the role. She feels lifted directly from The West Wing, and counterpointing the Veep team with such a no-nonsense character is delightful.
- The Prime Minister of India sent Selina a golden duck and now South Korea wants to send a baby elephant. If this keeps up, she’ll have a real and crafted menagerie by the end of the season.
- After the incompetence of the premiere, everyone (besides Gary) is on their A-game here. It’s great to see them actually thrive in this environment and take it seriously; watching people who love their jobs be good at them is almost always satisfying. Selina and Dan’s quick exchange about her needing to go save the world sets up Selina’s win with the peace talks, a win she and her team know will be a rarity, and having this diminished by Gary’s screw-ups only adds fuel to their confrontation.