Veep Season 7, episode 7 photo: Colleen Hayes/HBO
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Warning: This story contains plot details from Sunday’s series finale of Veep.

The relationship of Selina Meyer and Gary Walsh has always been hilarious, yes, but it’s also… what are the words? Tragic. Disturbing. Broken to its bones. “Like a dog returning to its vomit” is how Tony Hale recently and colorfully described it. This master-and-servant dynamic gone wrong, between the vainglorious VP-turned-POTUS-turned-legacy chaser-turned-POTUS (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the bootlicking bag man/dumped-upon doormat who kept her secrets and prepared her snacks (Hale), served as the beating black heart of HBO’s shrewd, crude political comedy for seven seasons. But near the end of Sunday’s series finale, it all came crashing down in the show’s darkest moment.

Desperate to find a fall guy for her scandals with the Meyer Fund and illicit ties to the Chinese government (whom she actively courted to meddle in the election), Selina chose the best man(child) for the job: poor, naive Gary. Yes, the person she had appointed to take charge of her faith-based initiative — the person who had the most faith in her, the person who did god-knows-what for her on the good ship Labor Day — would be the one to pay for all of her corruption. It was a sadistic death blow.

Right before she hit the stage in Charlotte to accept her party’s nomination for president, she tried to prepare Gary for what was about to hit him, while he tried to prepare her for the spotlight with a special lipstick. “I need you to do something for me,” she said, though he obliviously was more concerned with getting that chia seed out of her teeth. “It’s kind of important actually…. and I would also say that it’s not easy. And it’s kind of also not fair.” Not sensing any approaching doom, Gary asked if she wanted coffee from across the street and pointed out that it was a chia seed in her mouth. “Nah,” she said, reversing course. “Never mind, forget I ever said anything.”

“You look beautiful,” he said, loyal to the very end that he did not know was here. “And you are a lifesaver, I couldn’t have done it without you,” she returned, surprising him with a hug. “You don’t have to worry,” he said, pleasantly startled. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Taking the stage and securing her second shot at history — history that she felt was hers to claim — Selina addressed the crowd. “I wanted to say a word about sacrifice,” she said. “It means to lose something. For the greater good. and when I look back on my 52 years with almost 30 of them spent in public service… there is no one who has sacrificed more than me.”

It was during that last line that Gary was accosted by two FBI agents on the side of the stage. She made eye contact with Gary, who looked at her for help as he was being led away, to which she… simply looked away and continued the speech that she had swiped from the war hero. “And there’s nothing anyone can do to stop me from standing and walking for my country!” she concluded. “Thank you and God bless America!”

It was a move that on its face seemed shocking and heartbreaking, and served as the show’s darkest moment. But in a career of amoral political moves, and especially in a recent tornado of decisions that saw her cravenly crave a return to the Oval Office at all costs — selling out her daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) by outlawing same-sex marriage, selling out Tibet by secretly okaying a Chinese invasion, selling out America by choosing dangerous dolt Jonah (Timothy Simons) as her VP — it definitively answered the question that was thematically draped over the season: How far will Selina go to get what she wants?

“I knew about it for quite some time, and it felt absolutely perfect,” Louis-Dreyfus tells EW of the story turn. “I mean, we set this up at the beginning of the season with the faith-based initiative, and it was the perfect sacrifice for him to make and what his job was — in her mind. This is, you know… it’s roadkill.” She adds with a laugh: “So, tough s—.”

Hale called it “perfect” as well, and in expressing his extreme approval for this grim outcome, he opines that it takes two damaged individuals to tango — and that Gary bears some responsibility for that broken relationship. “I’m actually really glad it happened because Gary needed to be woken up,” he tells EW. “For twentysomething years, he had lived in this fantasy and it shook him, and hopefully it woke him out of that to where he can begin living his life. It took that. Not to compare it to addiction, but he was addicted to Selina and it takes somebody hitting the bottom to wake up, and that was Gary’s rock-bottom.”

Hale had dropped a hint about the finale before it aired, “You reap what you sow,” and he seems to apply that to Gary almost as much as Selina. “He invested his co-dependent energy in trying to please somebody else — getting them to like him, not valuing himself,” he continues. “There’s not an authentic foundation there. Even though he had a kernel of love for her, he spent so much of his time just trying to please in this codependent love, and the result of that is never good.”

Filming that pivotal sell-out scene — in which Selina knows that the end is nigh for Gary — was challenging for both actors, given the weight of the moment (and the fact that this would be the last scene in which Louis-Dreyfus and Hale shared the screen). “There is a part of Selina that recognizes that Gary is maybe the only one who’s ever really loved her, and she’s giving that up,” says Louis-Dreyfus. “It is a decision she’s made. I think it was hard not to infuse that scene of saying goodbye to him in the wings with too much emotion that was coming from me, personally. Because Selina doesn’t go there very frequently. She’s not sympathetic toward others. She doesn’t have empathy for others. So that was… tricky. Tricky.”

Hale also had difficulty in keeping his emotions in check as he came to grips with the finality of the moment, both on- and off-camera. “It was really emotional because it was the last episode and that was us kind of saying goodbye even though we had other stuff to shoot,” he says. “You realize when something like that happens, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this relationship is done. This relationship is done.’ She just sent him to jail and knowing Selina, she’s not going to get him out. It was really like, ‘All right, this is it.’”

It’s an absolutely ruthless, soulless decision, and one that leaves you in the moment wondering how much she will come to regret that. In Selina’s final scene — at least one in which she is not in a casket — she reflexively called out for Gary in the Oval Office, only to have new staffer Keith (Andy Daly) remind her that Gary is gone. Selina snapped back at him in anger, and when he and Michelle (Rhea Seehorn) exited the room, she was left with her darker thoughts (the betrayal of Gary, of Catherine, of so much) and started to tear up. Before the moment turned to something more shattering, though, she was jolted out of her daze when the Israeli prime minister calls, and she quickly reverted to charm mode.

Louis-Dreyfus recalls that she had to bridle her own feelings to power through this poignant moment. “I felt in a sense like I had tight reins on myself, I was trying very hard not to let a certain kind of emotion flow out of me,” she says. “There was just an enormous amount of restraint. But this is a woman at the end of the day that has sacrificed everything — everything — to be in this office. And she can’t really allow herself to question that sacrifice. And maybe you see a flicker of that questioning, but it has to be batted away immediately because otherwise. I mean, she doesn’t dare go down that path of regret. Maybe in that moment she sticks her toe in that regret pond, but then quickly pulls it out, and moves forward with her miserable self — alone, and without anyone or anything in her life of meaning.”

That moment also required a degree of restraint for Hale. “When somebody else comes to her, it was so hard to watch that and not run to her,” shares Hale. “I remember I was outside the room watching the monitor, hearing her go ‘Gary’ and I couldn’t move. I was like, ‘Oh! Oh, no, no, no!’ I moved for the past seven years anytime she said that and the fact that I had to stay there was like, ‘Aww, dammnit! Oh, that sucks!’”

The scene, which illustrated the karmic punishment that had been meted out to her, served as an appropriate cautionary ending to a show steeped in corrosive cynicism and selfishness, according to Hale. “People in life that do invest in wounding people, or pride, arrogance — ‘more for me, it’s never enough and it’s all about me’ — they will reap isolation and pain and sadness,” he notes. “That is the end result.”

And yet, two-and-a-half decades later, Gary still showed up at Selina’s funeral, looking haggard and war-torn. “You’d hate the flowers… but I… I brought the Dubonnet,” he says to her flag-draped coffin, a cocktail of emotions flooding his weary voice. He placed the lipstick on the coffin and touched the coffin somberly before walking away. (An earlier version of the script had him saying that she looked stunning.) It seemed that despite the betrayal, on some level, he will always hold a warped torch for Selina. Louis-Dreyfus uses the words “pretty intense” to describe that moment. “His devotion to her was so evident in those final moments, with the lipstick,” she says.

You can read that gesture as closure, but not full forgiveness. “He’s very angry,” says Hale. “He’s very bitter. Even with all the dysfunction and all the abuse, he did have this almost spiritual love for her. This core in him that really cared about her, and really loved her and saw something else that other people didn’t see. So that’s what brought him back to that funeral, because everybody else could care less about her, but he had this kernel of authentic love for her. That’s why he went back.”

And Veep truly came full circle in the final seconds of the episode, as CBS Evening News anchor (!) Mike McLintock anchored coverage of Selina’s funeral as her coffin entered the vagina-shaped crypt.. As he prepared to personally sing her praises with his “own heartfelt eulogy” of the “underrated” president, he received breaking news in his earpiece that beloved actor Tom Hanks had passed at the age of 88. He quickly shifted gears into paying tribute to the Oscar-winning actor (four times, possibly winning for the sequel-you-never-saw-coming in Philadelphia 2). “Today the world mourns the loss of this towering and beloved figure,” intoned Mike, and as he moved to face the wrong camera, the last words by a character on Veep were spoken: “Let’s take a look at the storied career of Tom Hanks, American icon.”

It was a playful and ideal wink to the very first episode, in which Mike attempted to console Selina about a gaffe by absurdly suggesting that maybe bigger breaking news could overshadow it: “What if Tom Hanks dies?”

“It was just f—ing fabulous!” declares Louis-Dreyfus, who emailed Hanks for his blessing. “It was like you’ve got a 10,000-piece puzzle and it’s that one last tiny piece and it fits in perfectly. And it was just ideal. It was so satisfying on so many levels. Goddammit. I love it so much. I still love it so much.”

The flash-forward to the funeral gave glimpses of how everyone in Selina’s orbit turned out: Jonah (Timothy Simons) was impeached! Richard (Sam Richardson) became a two-term POTUS! Amy (Anna Chlumsky) ended up with Ericsson (Diedrich Bader)! Dan (Reid Scott) is selling real estate in Laguna Beach! Ben (Kevin Dunn) has been dead! Kent (Gary Cole) is a full-on hippie raising alpaca but wants to focus on his watchmaking! But Hale says that the ultimate revenge may be Selina’s, even from the grave. “I thought it was really interesting that everybody is in old-age makeup, everybody’s looking rough, we’re all really old, and the only one that is not in old-age makeup is Selina,” says Hale. “Because she’s in the casket. And it’s just like, of course she’s not going to put herself in that. Not Julia, but Selina is like, ‘I’m not going to look like s—!’ I can’t imagine the amount of work that that woman had done to her face. She’s like, ‘I’m going out looking good!’”

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