You know, politicians are just like people. No, scratch that. In a way, they’re more like athletes. They’re always read to step up to the plate, hit the political ball out of the park, make their way around all 50 bases-I mean states- and eventually land on home plate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Or something like that.
“Debate” is a fun episode from start to finish and turns the American political system on its well shaven, red, white and blue head. As always the case is with Veep, nothing goes according to plan. This week, we tackle the Presidential debates and see how our candidates think on the spot, how much the American people will eat that up and, more importantly, wonder how in the world these people became politicians in the first place.
The episode begins at the Meyer Campaign Headquarters, where Team Selina and temporary Dan stand-in, Jackson, played by Andrew Leeds, go over Selina’s rivals, primarily her biggest targets: Maddox and Chung. Gary interrupts the debate prep to introduce the new and improved Selina Meyer!
Complete with a new haircut that no one in their right mind would like.
Also sporting a new look is Dan, who has returned from London as a new man. He diagnosed himself and apologizes to Selina for his behavior, so I suppose all is well.
During debate prep, everyone notices Selina’s right eye twitching, which is sure to cause a huge distraction during the debate. Dan may have a smoking gun to take out Joe Thornhill: he has a friend in the MLB who says that Thornhill once had an affair. It could be a finishing blow, but the team needs the sources to confirm this, first.
Mike talks to Gary in private about Selina’s look: he doesn’t like it. At all. He thinks it’s too short and Selina is opening herself to an onslaught of lesbian jokes. So now they’ll have to find reporters and get them on their side so they won’t make fun of Selina. They’ll probably do that anyway, but whatever makes these guys feel better.
Three days later, debate night has arrived and we go to the University of New Hampshire. We already know Meyer, Chung and Maddox, but now we’re introduced to Joe Thornhill, played by Glenn Wrage, and Owen Pierce, played by Paul Fitzgerald. The five take the obligatory ‘Play nice and get along’ group photo before heading out to face the audience.
Oh, and Selina’s twitch is still there.
Thornhill kicks off the debate by pacing the stage and speaking about America because America. What the country needs is someone who is ready to coach America and he’s just the coach for the job.
In the hallway, the campaign teams monitor focus group reactions. Surprise, they all love Thornhill.
Chung talks about being in the army again and rescuing a soldier from a burning tank again. Move along.
Wendy shows up to do a puff piece on Selina, so nothing major. Gary unintentionally spills that Selina listened to what Ray wanted, which contradicts what Selina says seconds later on stage that her fitness instructor played no part in the decision making. Oops.
Oh, and Owen Pierce uses a plug for a visual. How different, I guess.
When the candidates are asked about the military, Chung begins to respond, but Thornhill not only cuts him off, he doesn’t let Chung finish and he blocks Selina in the process.
Dan’s source confirms that Thornhill did have an affair. When Amy gives Selina the signal to go ahead with this bombshell, Selina speaks to the fact that she has absolutely no skeletons in her closet.
So what does Thornhill do? He openly admits to having an affair on live television during a presidential debate! But he still asks the American people for forgiveness!
Who knew that honesty could be such a powerful weapon? This also means that Wendy can’t run with that story, so Mike better start talking about the First Lady’s condition.
Selina does still have one hopeful ace up her sleeve when the topic comes to immigration- her three R’s: reaffirm, reform and…she can’t remember the last one. Instead of remembering that it’s “renew,” she says “repel” unwanted immigration. And yet, the focus groups love her. Why? Because Meyer wills it, I guess.
Also, Selina’s twitch, which returns during her forgetful phase, turns into a useful distraction when Maddox focuses on it too much and pays little attention to the question from the audience. Instead, he talks about holes, big ones, small ones and legitimate holes.
And Thornhill wins the focus group poll, so maybe Ericsson wasn’t too far off when he said voters would respond well to his kind of story.
“Debate” was the opposite way to present yourself to the American people, with methods such as using props, talking over and blocking candidates, not paying attention to the questions, bad word choice and forgetting your message. These are the makings of a presidential debate doomed to fail from the start, and that’s just what happens.
Veep has always been about the unpredictability of politics, but also how no promises are kept and everyone will inevitably fail in one of the worst ways possible. All this time we’ve followed Selina’s journey, but on the stage, we see that none of these contenders are truly ready for prime time.
The satire of American politics on Veep has always been great, but it really shined with the debate by showing how much candidates try and stand out or have some sort of zinger. Whether it’s Selina thanking the staff for organizing the debate or having a Rick Perry moment by forgetting one of three R’s, Chung pulling a John Kerry and reminding the audience how he served in the military or Thornhill trying to be the All-American style candidate, the country is doomed if this is the best we have to vote for. I love it.
Selina’s in a transitional phase right now. With the London trip over, it’s time to get back to business. Ray is gone and she’s got both a new haircut and a new campaign manager. In a way, it feels like a fresh start, but like the twitch, there are little nuisances that keep her from going as far as she could- nuisances that range from her staff, Jonah, her family, other politicians and even her own issues. Sure, as Vice President, Selina may have a political edge over her competitors, but as we see in this episode, none of them come off as very polished.
Everyone else on staff looks like they’d rather be doing something else. Mike’s conflict of interest with his wife deepens when he and Gary try to cover up a mess that they end up making worse, and turns out that no one even spent time talking about Selina’s haircut anyway. Hopefully these two don’t fall apart because of the conflict of interest, because I do think they make a good pair.
And Amy at least appears to be more competent at the campaign manager position than Dan did. Good. Whether she’ll remain that way, I don’t know. Given the preview for next week’s episode, it doesn’t seem likely.
Oh, and I loved Thornhill’s debate debut. Part of me wants this guy to actually win the Presidency not because I think he’d do a good job- none of them would, really- but because the voters seem to love him and as far as we know, he doesn’t have any political or personal baggage he’s unwilling to admit.
While there wasn’t a lot of debate so much as there was preparation for the debate and reacting to the debate, this episode had great writing, memorable lines and more misfortunes not just for our presidential candidates, but their staffs who must spin flaws into strengths. Good luck with that. Onward to the campaign trail!