Who knew a painting could cause so much controversy?
The episode begins with Mike delivering a press briefing. Selina will soon be hosting her first state visit to the Prime Minister of Israel and preparation is underway. As the Vice President’s staff watches, they can’t help but notice that Mike has dyed his moustache. Teddy calls it vanity. Mike calls it Tangerine Dream. I’m personally not a fan of either.
At the conference, one journalist notes that President Meyer is serving her 33rd day in office, officially meaning she has outlived William Henry Harrison. You know, the war hero who gave his oath of office in the cold and without much protection. He died of pneumonia soon after that.
In the Roosevelt Room, Team Selina plans to allow Selina to have time to speak on her Families First bill. However, there’s a concern regarding some of the White House artwork, particularly a piece of art that Ben refers to as The Man Who Shits Triangles. Now that’s a funny name. Oh, and you know who happens to be absent from this campaign strategy session?
The campaign manager, Amy, who is stuck in traffic with Richard. She does keep in touch with the team by texting Dan and letting him know that she’s a latté. Easy mistake to make. She tries virtually calling into the meeting, but the connection is shit. Commendable effort on Amy’s part, but not the smartest of ideas.
However, we do get a freeze frame of her surprised face when she manages to hear that Selina is bringing in Bill Ericsson because she needs a steady hand….it’s a funny face.
Kent, after asking Catherine to leave the room, brings up a matter of national security: Everybody Hates Catherine. I mean, not everybody, but Kent ran a poll and the results show that the First Daughter has a low likability index. Selina is initially upset that Kent would run a poll on her daughter’s popularity…but then she sees the numbers. They stink. No one wants to break the news to Catherine, but Kent has a knack for this, so he decides to take the task. I’d say that’s taking one for the team, but this can’t really be that difficult of a task.
Then Gary enters and tells everyone that it’s a special day- Ben’s birthday. There’s no cake, though. I mean, there is, but Gary has the chefs move it away just when they’re close to the room.
Elsewhere, Teddy managed to do Jonah a solid. On his advice, the Vice President will ask Jonah to be in the Families First talks with Dan. So though Jonah is elated that Teddy made his day and possibly ruined Jonah’s, his day may have possibly been ruined when Teddy gives him another scrotum tap. Sorry, several taps.
Gary takes it upon himself to plan for the upcoming dinner, and the cost matters not to him. While preparing, he gets a surprise visit from his favorite White House social secretary, Patty, played by Michaela Watkins. All these orders, though, are coming from his group, not necessarily Selina, and that includes swapping out the painting.
Amy finally arrives and is unable to have an audience with Selina at the moment, but she does have a run-in with Bill Ericsson. He now has a very specific title, but a wide brief: eliminate weaknesses. He’s the new Director of Communications. Oh, and he bids Amy a friendly hello, but in an unfriendly way. Hello.
So Selina has a very brief Press Spray with the Prime Minister of Israel, Mike and Jim let Selina know about that removed crazy triangles looking piece of artwork: turns out it was the only work of an art by a Native American artist in the building. Now what are the odds of that? Native Americans are taking it as a slight. Selina tells them to have Ericsson deliver a statement that the painting was removed to be cleaned.
Per the random staffer who no one knows, Selina also receives some points of departure for the possible agreements on the scale-down of blockades. This staffer technically does have a name, but she just hasn’t been identified yet. As of now, everyone still doesn’t know who the hell she is.
Kent breaks the news to Catherine that America doesn’t like her. Well, there’s a perception that she’s unlikable, anyway. Kent suggests changing the narrative so Catherine’s frown can turn into the inverse of a frown. You know, like a smile. Customary shortcuts to public affirmation are military service or childbirth, but Catherine won’t go with either of those.
Dan isn’t a fan of Jonah coming with him in these meetings. The two first sit down with Congressman Owen Pierce, played by Paul Fitzgerald, to discuss the Families First bill, specifically the pre-K program for low-income families. Pierce’s constituents just want the money to be spent wisely. Dan agrees, which is why they’re investing in education. Hell, don’t even think of them as kids, but little start-ups. There’s something inherently awful about that.
Anyway, Pierce knows all about economics. He keeps a box of coupons so he remembers to be economical, even though some of the coupons are expired. Pierce’s time has been taken up by his sessions on the Rules’ Committee. Jonah correctly figures that Pierce would support the bill in principle, but is worried that an escalation of cost wouldn’t go well with his House colleagues. Dan tries to take control by inviting Pierce to bowl at the White House bowling alley tomorrow night.
Mike tries to console Jim by asking him to tell the press that Bill Ericsson is taking his job. It would sound more amicable that way. Jim considers it for a moment, places his hand on Mike’s shoulder, and responds with a very warm no.
Selina, meanwhile, tries to get some actual presidential stuff done and is on the verge of brokering a peace deal, but everyone can’t help but notice that Ben is receiving note after note about the painting. She goes to Ben and tells him to let tell Sacheen Littlefeather to get off the rag and get over it. And she never said that. You know how Selina has such a way with words.
So at a press briefing, Mike explains to the journalists that the painting wasn’t removed, but taken out to be cleaned. It was just a preemptive cleaning, much like a juice cleanse. Holy hell, I’m just glad that Mike didn’t say something along the lines of juice cleansing. That line went over my head the first time I heard it, but I didn’t give it some thought until the second viewing and saw Ericsson’s reaction to it. Anyway, other paintings will be cleansed. No, wiped. No…cleaned.
A frightened Gary comes to Sue and admits to her and Amy that he’s responsible for moving the painting. It’s worse than that. He wanted this dinner to be nice, so he spent a lot of money. It’s not as easy as just telling her, but Amy tells him that his inner child needs to grow an outer man.
Neither he nor anyone else is able to get a word through to an overwhelmed Selina, not even mystery staffer girl with the GDP figures. Those go to Kent, who now wants the GDP figures. No, Selina’s priority is that the office needs a lot more butt-ugly Native American paintings because the first butt-ugly one was removed by some jerkoff with a hair ball for a brain.
Back to the continuing adventures of Dan and Jonah, who speak with Congresswoman Angstrom, played by Amy Wilson. Jonah’s proposal is a minimum and a safety check on all providers. Wilson, though, is concerned by the fact that, within the bill, Title 2, Section 3 and Title 8, Section 5, contradict each other. And do you really think that either Dan or Jonah actually read the bill? That’d be like asking whether all of Congress reads the bills they force through for the sake of passage.
So instead, Jonah asks if Wilson likes Martin Scorsese because there will be a private screening of his new film at the White House. And he’ll be there, too. Of course, Jonah just assumes that because this is Martin Scorsese, he’ll have a new film coming out this year. It’s understandable. It’d be like wondering whether Meryl Streep will appear in a new film this year, and I believe she is, but don’t quote me on that.
When Wilson is called away by one of her staffers, Dan tells Jonah that he can’t lie about stuff like that. Jonah stands his ground. After all, he has to go to about this all on his own, while Dan at least has a staff. He wants a staff. The confrontation almost gets physical when Jonah threatens to reveal that Dan was the one who planted the Danny Chung torture rumors.
Wilson returns. There are a lot of Navajo in her district and this painting news is escalating. She’ll have to postpone.
As the First Lady and her daughter get their hair done, Selina asks to see Catherine’s new smile. It looks happy, but the trick is she just needs to pretend she is. I feel that can apply beyond politics.
Back at the White House, final preparations are being made for the dinner. Dan figures out a way to get eager Richard off of Amy’s back, so he gives him to Jonah. Richard is ecstatic about being able to work at the White House. Amy owes Dan one. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have done it.
One hour to the State Dinner, some of the team reviews the expenses on the event. It’s as if Gary wanted to max out America, if such a thing is possible, given our national debt. Selina doesn’t know now and she may not need to since she already has a full plate. Nonetheless, someone has to tell her, and given that Selina actually likes Bill, he has no intention of talking.
It’s finally time for the dinner in the White House State Dining Room. Selina slowly learns from word of mouth about how much Gary spent on the dinner. Imagine Elton John on a day he feels fat. I assume that’s a good comparison. The press kept sniffing after the stink about the painting, which was also Gary’s doing. Even though Selina has achieved something as big as a peace deal with Israel, she is now sharing headline news with a painting because of Gary.
When Selina addresses the crowd, she speaks about the power of hope and how it can outlast the power of hatred. Hope can build, but for it to grow, you first need trust.
So Selina pursues Gary and corners him in an office. His hiding space could have been better. He tries to explain himself, but she goes on the offensive and calls him unimportant. He has suckered onto her like a car window Garfield.
But Gary does not back down. In fact, he tells Selina that she’s wrong. He is her calendar, Google and Wilson the volleyball. He’s broken his body and allowed himself to be laughed at and humiliated, but he’s happy to do it. Most of the time, Selina doesn’t even know that he exists, but he is fucking everything to her. She’ll never be able to find someone who did what he did.
Oh, did he mean Labor Day, which he promised to never mention? After that heated moment, the two apologize for their choice of words, but it’s good to clear the air. They then bond over light sponge cake.
The episode comes to a close with Selina meeting with some Native Americans and looking at their art, while Catherine tries her hand at being likable to some scouts. Also, South Korea wants to know if Selina would like a baby elephant. No words to that, really.
In a rare show of competence, “East Wing” actually has Selina Meyer, the President, manage to achieve something, which is virtually unheard of, especially on this show. One of the strength of Veep’s humor, I feel, is watching these characters trying their damndest to get something done without any screw-ups or hiccups. More often than not, that doesn’t happen, but when they do manage to accomplish something, it’s noteworthy. Consider, brokering peace in the Middle East isn’t small potatoes. It is, to quote our gaffe worthy Vice President, Joe Biden, it’s a big, fucking deal.
But it’s not the biggest deal this week. Dealing with the painting turns into a politically correct mess as Selina and her team scramble to explain and justify the removal of the painting that none of them even liked. It’s incredible that so much focus and attention goes to this painting in the first place and that everyone, from the politicians to the press, would devote their time to that instead of peace agreements. Such is the screwy, political world that is Veep.
So Team Selina has to tiptoe its way out of a mess, but they can’t help but let one or two offensive lines slip by, such as Mike trying to describe the process of cleaning the paintings without using terms like cleansed or wiped. Much like in the real world of politics, it’s impossible to make everyone happy.
You can’t please one side without pissing off another, and Selina confronted this head-on with last season’s “The Choice.” No one in her inner circle is fond of the painting, but it’s an uphill battle to explain why they had it removed when they learn it was done by the only Native American artist in the building. I’m willing to bet they didn’t even know they had one up until this point.
For the sake of referencing TV Tropes, you know how people get sidetracked by analogies? Well, here, we have people sidetracked by the painting. The painting is not the most important thing in the world right now and chances are that the peace arrangements will be more significant in the long run, but the painting is priority because you don’t want to piss off the Native Americans when you’re technically still occupying their land. It leads to that awkward and uncomfortably true humor that Veep excels at so well.
But this is just one part of a larger, excellent episode. Veep has always delivered great dialogue, but this episode stood out to me because the lines were so good, but you don’t have time to process them all before another comes your way. It’s the little things like Ben needing a shirt because this isn’t Die Hard, Kent needing to ask Selina for something before being handed GDP figures he didn’t ask for, Amy telling Gary to grow a pair, Catherine learning about how unpopular she is, each scene had a funny or memorable line to me.
That extends to the social commentary Veep throws in whenever it can. Kent’s polling of Catherine and her being so unlikable mirror the amount of attention and scrutiny that pundits and even everyday folks give to the First Family’s children. Do they even need to have so much attention and be brought out like props? Not necessarily, though politicians do like to show off their family to prove to voters that they’re just like them. That doesn’t always work and bringing out the family can feel more like a stunt than genuine love, but I appreciate that Veep touched upon this. And Catherine being such a blank slate made her the perfect target for such undeserved hatred and scorn. Hopefully she has another moment to assert herself.
And hopefully Jonah has a moment to just assert himself at all. His moment with Teddy this week was possibly even more uncomfortable than their first encounter, but Timothy Simons played it completely straight when Teddy gave Jonah’s sack several love taps. I mean, this is sexual harassment, right? But then, this is also Jonah, who is the butt of almost every joke on Veep. These scenes are as awkward as they are fun to watch and I hope there are more of them. Not just for the awkward stuff. At the very least, he has an aide now with an eager to please Richard.
So Amy doesn’t have Richard on her back, but she will probably still have to put up with Ericsson. The unfriendly hello was a highlight for me, made better by Diedrich Bader’s delivery.
And now let’s get to what is easily the episode’s most memorable scene to me. Gary and Selina have one of the more interesting relationships of Team Selina. He’s literally at her beck and call for any and every reason and Selina is glad to accept his aid. He’s done more good than bad and has put himself on the front line for Selina, time and time again, without asking for much in return. I get the feeling that their relationship had been building to this point.
Even if he called out his boss, Gary has a point: he’s been humiliated and marginalized by so many people, and even Selina herself, but he comes in every day to help in any way that he can. Despite Selina becoming the President and his role being minimized, Gary remained fiercely loyal. He wants to stay relevant in Selina’s life, even when she has 99 other problems on her hands. He is her calendar, Google, and Wilson the volleyball, even if Selina doesn’t want to admit it.
And when Gary throws out the line about Selina finding someone else to do what he did, and she doesn’t have an immediate response, she realizes that he’s right. Gary won’t abandon Selina because he’s done so much for her already. We don’t know what this whole Labor Day incident is, but chances are it involved another instance of Gary proving his fierce devotion to Selina. He’s a central part of Selina’s political and personal life and may even know more intimate details about Selina than she herself does. Hell, he knew Catherine’s birthday when Selina did not.
I’m glad that Gary didn’t hold anything back or let himself be bullied around by Selina. This is something he’s been holding onto for a long time. It’s a visceral scene that made me feel uncomfortable for how harsh Gary and Selina spoke to one another.
It’s a testament to the incredible performances and chemistry between Tony Hale and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It’s too soon to tell and this could be very presumptuous, but if either Hale or Dreyfus ends up being nominated again for Veep, my best guess is that their Emmy nomination clip will be from this scene. It was a fantastic moment to wrap up another fantastic episode of Veep.