Veep is a comedy, but it’s also satire, and because it takes place in a universe that very closely mirrors an American political universe that often seems irreparably broken, it can’t help but make statements and observations that seem too important to be laughed off. Such was the case in tonight’s episode, “Convention,” which centered around President Selina Meyer’s search for a new running mate but hinged on the bridge-burning monologue of campaign manager Amy Brookheimer.
I’ve praised Anna Chlumsky in these recaps before, but her performance in “Convention,” particularly during her exit aria, should be submitted for Emmy consideration. She was an absolute dynamo in dealing with Meyer’s latest adviser Karen, who never makes declarative sentences and always tries to drop in on photo ops, and blows her stack with incredible passion and intensity once she gets pushed to the brink. Unable to take Karen any longer, Amy lashes out at Selina, sticking at first to Veep‘s particular brand of biting repartee. “I have bitten my tongue so long it looks like a dog’s cushion,” she says. “But no more. You have made it impossible to do this job. You have two settings: No decision, and bad decision. I wouldn’t let you run a bath without having the Coast Guard and the fire department standing by. But yet here you are, running America. You are the worst thing to happen to this country since food in buckets. And maybe slavery. I’ve had enough. I’m gone.”
She moves to exit, but then comes back for one more turn of the knife. Amy sets aside metaphor and hyperbole in favor of pure, unadulterated bile. “You have achieved nothing, apart from one thing: The fact that you are a woman means we will have no more women presidents,” she hisses. “Because we tried one, and she f—ing sucked.”
Amy’s last statement to Selina is actually “Goodbye, Ma’am,” because even in writing off the person, she still can’t bring herself to disrespect the office of the President. That’s perhaps the thing that makes Amy’s fall so heartbreaking: Despite her rampant cynicism about how the American political system works, deep down she really believes in its ability to be transformative. That’s true of most of the characters on Veep, up to and including Selina. In the two previous episodes, for example, she seems genuinely excited about the prospect of creating peace with foreign nations—not just because it’s a self-aggrandizing boost to her legacy (though that’s definitely a part of it), but because she has genuinely contributed to the betterment of society on a very large scale. These people really believe in America, and though they all have distorted personalities and ways of looking at the world, they wouldn’t have come to Washington unless they really did think the government could ultimately do something to help people.
Of course, plenty of elements get in the way: money, ego, and perhaps most crucially, perception. In writing off Selina, Amy suggests that not only has she ruined her own presidency, but also the potential presidency of anyone possessing a vagina. In giving life to that statement, Amy brings up a scenario playing out in the current election cycle. The pressure on Hillary Clinton is gigantic, as not only does she have to shoulder the burden of the Clinton legacy, but she also has the weight of the entirety of her gender on her back. Is it fair? Absolutely not. But that is the strange transitional world in which we currently operate, and the stakes are gigantic.
It’s unlikely we have seen the last of Amy Brookheimer, who will hopefully end up teaming up with Dan Egan as a lobbyist (provided that dude still has a job, which we’ll get into in a minute). I’m going to give her the victory for this week’s episode, mostly because she earned it but partially because I don’t want her to yell at me. Here’s what the rest of this week’s polling looked like.
Selina Meyer (35%)
It’s convention time, and the President is trying desperately to get elected into the job she stumbled into the first time, and she gets a bit of bad news: Her primary opponent has chosen a Latina as a running mate (a development that Amy refers to as “Latinageddon”). “She’s brilliant! She’s pretty! She’s charming! She’s a woman! She’s f—ing ethnic!” Selina notes, convinced that she can’t win an election with her running mate Andrew Doyle, who Selina refers to as “Steve Martin’s boring older brother.”
But salvation arrives in Doyle’s self-righteous exit over the data leak. He storms into Selina’s hotel room and resigns from the ticket, and Selina can barely contain her excitement. Doyle wants to walk away as a matter of principle, but the Meyer camp needs him to say it’s because he has a health problem for cover, and they’ve got just the bit of blackmail to keep Doyle over a barrel: Jonah’s sexual harassment situation, revealed to the Meyer camp last week. (That leads to the dismissal of Patton Oswalt’s Teddy. “Which of us hasn’t gotten up in some guy’s junk just for a laugh?” Teddy asks in his defense. “I haven’t,” says everybody.)
With an empty space next to her, Meyer only has a few hours to present her new number two during the convention. The slam dunk idea is former enemy Danny Chung, who waves the idea after some consideration. “All I can say is family issues,” he tells her. “What, are you knocked up?” she responds, but it turns out Chung does not like the way Selina “operates,” a seed that would sprout later with Amy’s exit. Naturally, things get hostile. “Thank you for asking. I’m honored and humbled,” Chung says as he exits. “No you’re not!” Selina shouts.
Dan Egan, Jonah Ryan, and Richard (18%)
Meanwhile back inside the Beltway, Dan is striking out as a lobbyist. In order to impress a big-time zucchini executive (is that a thing?), Dan flexes his Rolodex and brings in a series of non-starters. First he summons Jonah (with Richard in tow), who learns of Doyle’s resignation during the meeting. Later, he promises an audience with Amy, but once again he’s undone by a sudden departure. Their ineptitude gets them all dismissed, though not before Richard can still the show with his maddening train of thought. “I actually used to work for Ames,” he says of his relationship with Amy. “In fact, I call her Ames for short. Actually that’d be long for Amy.”
Catherine Meyer (17%)
“Convention” opens with the First Daughter practicing her convention speech and taking direction from both her mother and Karen about the level of enthusiasm she needs to express. “Sweetheart, it doesn’t sound like you’re in love to me,” Selina tells Catherine about the passage where she addresses her fiancé. “It sounds like you’ve been kidnapped by the Taliban.” Catherine and Jason also somehow mess up their rehearsed kiss, which nearly leads to Gary and Selina smooching on the couch. It also led to an amazing exchange between Karen and Kent. Karen explains that human emotion is not “a precise science,” and Kent can’t help but respond. “All sciences are precise,” he says. “That’s what science means.”
In the end, Catherine manages to get through her convention speech just fine, though she still somehow messed up kissing Jason. “We have our whole lives to practice that. And we will!” she happily announces.
Ben Cafferty (14%)
Ben remains my favorite character on this show, probably because Kevin Dunn lends him the same sort of workplace exasperation I tend to have during times of crisis. His one-liners during “Convention” were absolutely brilliant. When Doyle says he won’t lie about his health in his resignation, Ben snaps back, “There is no way on God’s green c–k that you can get out on matter of principle!” Later, once Doyle leaves and they can select a new running mate, he embraces Selina and notes, “It’s like Christmas, except happy!”
But Ben’s real job this episode was dealing with (and ultimately dismissing) the forever-waffling Karen. He shows her the door at the close of “Convention,” and there is an amazing visual gag that reveals that Selina was hiding behind a fireplace while Ben was sending her best friend (or best female friend, according to Gary) on her way.
Tom James (10%)
Hugh Laurie is back on television, and I couldn’t be happier. The legend of Tom James gets spoken of before he actually arrives at the end of the episode, and he’s like a beam of pure light who everybody loves. Laurie is responsible for carrying one of the best extended gags of the fourth season of Veep, as he is forced to repeat his joke about not accepting the job as running mate over and over again (and the fact that Karen ultimately steps on his final punchline is priceless, and almost certainly contributed to her dismissal).
It’ll be interesting to see how Laurie’s presence will impact the rest of the season and the Meyer campaign. Like most characters on Veep, he is presented as the solution to a problem (just like Karen, Bill Ericsson, and even Dan Egan before him), but like everybody who has fallen under that category before, his fatal flaws will be revealed over time. What will be lurking in Tom James’ closet? There must be something—as Gary points out, “Everybody has skeletons. Ask any bagman.”
Mike McLintock (6%)
“This is the best announcement since all those pandas got pregnant!”