The Politician season 2 binge recap
Three years after the infamous student body election campaign, Payton Hobart's back on the campaign trail, this time looking to unseat a longtime New York state senator. Unfortunately, Payton's met his match as Dede Standish also isn't afraid of playing a little dirty. The race is on for the 27th district senate seat and things are about to get very contentious. Follow along with EW's binge recap of The Politician season 2.
Episode 1: “New York State of Mind”
Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) is a winner… except he’s currently losing the race for New York state senate. It’s been three years since his infamous, scandal-ridden race for student body president, and after a bit of soul-searching away from politics, Payton and his associates are back at it, looking to unseat longtime State Senator Dede Standish (Judith Light) of New York’s 27th district. But right now things are pretty rocky — for Payton, who is behind in the polling, and his team, whose years of infighting and back-stabbing have added a contentious layer to the mix.
McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss) and James (Theo Germaine) are no longer the well-oiled machine they once were together, bickering over polling questions and next steps. The campaign is sitting on a major bombshell — Dede and her husband Marcus (Joe Morton) are in a decade-long polyamorous relationship — but can’t agree on how to proceed with this potentially game-changing news.
Astrid (Lucy Boynton), newly allied with Payton, doesn’t feel like part of the team at all, which Dede’s long-standing campaign manager Hadassah Gold (Bette Midler) capitalizes on. Hadassah recruits Astrid to be her mole inside Payton’s campaign. Astrid briefly balks at the idea but is won over when the seasoned politico reopens old wounds from the St. Sebastian student body president race. As a mole, her first order of business is revealing that the Hobart campaign knows all about Dede’s secret throuple.
Dede and Hadassah’s plans run much larger than the New York state senate; Dede is in final negotiations to join rising star Texas Senator Tino McCutcheon’s (Sam Jaeger) upcoming presidential campaign as his running mate — and news of her throuple could derail it all. Hadassah gives Dede an ultimatum: stick with her and secure the VP nod or stay with William (Teddy Sears), the Standish’s partner. William briefly removes himself from the equation but is roped back into the mix by a remorseful Dede and Marcus.
Meanwhile, Payton and company's former classmate Andrew Cashman (Ryan J. Haddad) approaches the Hobart campaign with an offer to be their mole in the Standish campaign in exchange for a date with Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch). The campaign quickly sinks into Nixon territory as Andrew plants bugs in Standish campaign headquarters and at Hadassah and Dede’s homes.
Dede Standish isn’t the only candidate standing in Payton’s way. His mother Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow) is running for governor of California, thanks to her newfound passion for climate change. Never mind that climate change also happens to be Payton’s signature issue, Georgina is also infinitely more popular, upstaging his campaign from 3,000 miles away. Looking to reclaim his footing, Payton unsuccessfully attempts to persuade Georgina to drop out of her race.
After a viral appearance at the California gubernatorial debate — featuring a cameo from Jake Tapper — Georgina also attracts the attention of Tino. Dede’s tightening race against Payton has Tino exploring his options and, after becoming acquainted with Georgina at a swanky Hollywood party hosted by her new film executive partner, he offers her the VP spot.
Unsure of what to do with his damning evidence, Payton turns inward. After a reflective conversation with himself — in the form of David Corenswet’s late River Barkley — over what kind of person he is, Payton determines he’s a winner and he must do whatever it takes to win. He arranges a secret meeting with Dede and Hadassah and unveils his ultimate win-win scenario: she drops out and endorses him and he won’t release the evidence of her throuple, freeing Dede up for her vice-presidential candidacy. But while Payton is blackmailing Dede, Astrid leaks to Hadassah that Payton also has a well-kept sex scandal: his threesome with Astrid and River.
Episode 2: “Conscious Unthroupling”
With Payton dangling news of Dede’s secret throuple to The New York Times, Hadassah digs deeper into Astrid’s dirt on Payton. Unfortunately, thanks to a brief dalliance with her mother’s stash of pills back in high school, Astrid’s details on her threesome with Payton and River are a bit hazy.
Meanwhile, Andrew reports back with the scoop from the Standish campaign and it seems there's trouble in incumbent paradise. Dede’s unwilling to break off her throuple, pushing Hadassah to temporarily quit her campaign. Hadassah returns with a plan to keep the throuple on the down-low — she’ll pretend to be dating William, leaving all rumors of a polyamorous relationship seeming outlandish.
Hadassah stages a paparazzi ambush to solidify their cover and despite her initial dislike of William — and his mere presence’s threat to her political career — he manages to charm his way through her frustration and they spend all night talking, hinting that there may be more to their faux romance than meets the eye.
While Hadassah’s faking a personal life, the senior staffers on the Hobart campaign are reminiscing about their own. During a tense strategy session with Skye and James, McAfee hits a wall; the trio has spent every waking moment together since reuniting for Payton’s campaign and things are getting pretty toxic. Looking for balance, McAfee goes on a date, but runs into both Skye and James at a political musical and ends up sabotaging her own night out.
On Hadassah’s orders, Astrid cozies up to Payton for information about their threesome with River but learns nothing actually happened. The two reminisce about River, and as Payton walks her home, Astrid makes a failed attempt to come on to him. Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), who’s been tailing Astrid, tells Payton she thinks his former rival might be a mole for the Standish campaign. The pair deduce that Astrid’s ever-changing loyalties lie with whoever can give her what she wants and they see having a threesome with her as their resolution. It works, and Astrid plays coy about her dirt on Payton during her next secret meeting with Hadassah, who knows her mole has flipped… for now.
Dede meets with Tino to discuss their partnership. She knows he’s looking at other potential running mates and wants to present herself as more than just an established woman in politics. She wants to use her throuple to attract young voters who will respect a candidate who owns her sexuality. Tino’s willing to play along, so long as the numbers are in her favor.
So before Payton can formally leak Dede’s secret to the Times, Dede announces her relationship with Marcus and William in a new ad, earning her new clout with young voters. Unfortunately for Dede, just as she’s made her announcement, William makes one of his own: he’s fallen in love with Hadassah.
Episode 3: “Cancel Culture”
Hadassah receives an anonymously sent photo of a six-year-old Payton dressed up as a Native American and sees an opening for attack. Polling 35 points ahead, Dede doesn’t think there's any need to run the photo, but Hadassah wants to send him — and any other young guns looking to unseat an incumbent — a message. With the photo splashed across the New York Post, the Hobart campaign spins into damage control.
Payton makes an impassioned apology, stabilizing his polling numbers, but the idea that he might lose begins to set in. Infinity, whose worldwide book tour opened her eyes to the horrors of climate change, has become Payton’s most valuable surrogate. However, she has a few major reservations, including Payton selling her off to Andrew in exchange for campaign information, which she calls “not cool.” But more importantly, she’s worried about his — and his campaign’s — commitment to the environment after repeatedly witnessing their wastefulness. She demands Payton and Skye move to a zero-waste lifestyle and reduce their carbon footprint under the threat of exposing them as frauds on their key issue.
But Infinity's support isn’t the only major hurdle Team Hobart is facing. Hadassah comes into possession of another, more recent photo of a speedo-clad Payton wearing a Native American headdress. Dede and Hadassah present the photo to Payton with a deal: his campaign stops digging into Dede and they’ll keep the photo private with the added promise of supporting his next campaign.
Looking to get to the bottom of the photo scandals, Payton turns to Andrew, who confirms that Martin and Luther Hobart, Payton’s brothers, sent the childhood photo to the Standish campaign — just for fun. But the second leak came from within. Payton confronts his inner circle, and Alice, James, Skye, and McAfee all admit to having come into contact with the photo. McAfee admits to sending it to Hadassah and Dede to put the crumbling Hobart campaign out of its misery and prevent the photo from causing a future scandal.
Fired from the campaign, McAfee sees refuge with the Standish crew. But it’s all a ruse set up by Payton and McAfee, a last shot at getting a real mole inside Dede’s campaign.
Episode 4: “Hail Mary”
Georgina is on a quest to reach an approval rating of 100 percent and is thinking up bold plays to get there. But there’s a looming wrinkle in her quest for universal affection: the comatose wife of Senator Tino McCutcheon, with whom she’s been having an affair, wakes up from her three-year-long coma and has an announcement.
It’s less than a week before the election, and McAfee makes a major discovery inside the Standish campaign. After cozying up to Hadassah and gaining access to her home, McAfee learns she’s in a secret relationship with William, meaning Dede’s throuple is all a sham. While McAfee positions it as news Payton can use to narrow the margin of his impending loss to Dede in order to set up for his next campaign, Payton wants to take it a step further. He tricks Hadassah into meeting with him and makes her an offer: She either gets Dede to pull out of the campaign or he’ll go to the press with the news.
While outwardly blasé about Payton’s threats, a panicked Hadassah rushes to formulate a plan to keep the Standish campaign’s messy “sex pentagram” under wraps and salvage Dede’s political future. Luckily, they’re interrupted by Mary McCutcheon’s press conference, which she uses to tank Tino’s shot at the presidency, thus refocusing Dede’s efforts on her senate campaign.
James feels betrayed that he wasn’t in on the secret plan to send McAfee into the Standish campaign. Unfortunately for him, Payton just doesn’t see him as a big enough risk-taker. But before Team Hobart can really air grievances, William shows up at campaign headquarters to share inside information on Dede’s professor husband in exchange for keeping his affair with Hadassah on the down-low. Unbeknownst to Dede, Marcus makes six figures writing papers for students across the country — which would ruin Dede’s clean candidate claims. Additionally, their new third partner is Marcus’s student. After weighing their options, Payton and the team decide to keep William’s information under wraps. But James, still reeling from Payton’s risk-taker comments, goes ahead and leaks it to the press.
Meanwhile, Alice tells Payton that she’s pregnant and the pair make plans to announce the pregnancy and their impending engagement the night before the election to stir up some positive press. They're quickly hit with even bigger news as Astrid, with whom they’ve been in a low-key throuple of their own, reveals she is also pregnant with Payton’s baby.
Episode 5: “The Voters”
Election Day is upon us and the Hobart and Standish campaigns are in a Get Out the Vote frenzy. However, like the fifth episode of season 1, "The Voters" pulls back from the scheming campaigns, focusing instead on a pair of voters, Andi Mueller (Robin Weigert) and her college-aged daughter Jayne (Susannah Perkins).
As is wont to happen when talking politics with parents, their election day chatter turns contentious as pragmatic Dede supporter Andi scoffs at Jayne’s stalwart belief in Payton’s ability to save the precarious state of the environment. Jayne is spending election day volunteering at Hobart campaign headquarters, arriving just in time to see an enraged Payton fire James over the Marcus leak to the Times.
But the leak may just be the spark the Hobart campaign needs to pull off a win, with potentially record-breaking local election turnout on the horizon. Now that things are looking slightly more favorable, Team Hobart reshuffles their strategy and Jayne is recruited to help McAfee set the stage for a publicity stunt Payton is going to make to showcase his unwavering support for the environment.
Getting an inside look at the operation, Jayne discovers the Hobart campaign is a little disingenuous when it comes to its flagship cause. In a moment of honesty, Payton admits that he does care about the environment, but his passion is definitely poll-tested.
Meanwhile, Andi is spending her day volunteering as an election judge and encounters Dede and Hadassah attempting to vote while being hounded by the press over the allegations surrounding her husband. Payton and Alice also show up to vote at this particular packed polling place and use Dede’s faltering attempts to defend her husband as the moment to announce their growing family.
After spending most of the morning trying to talk to Dede and Hadassah about an urgent matter, Andi finally tracks them down at their headquarters. Seeing that they’re struggling with turnout, she suggests the pair make a trek to NYU to sway young voters. Stuck in traffic with Dede and Hadassah, Andi also has an enlightening experience with the candidate of her choice, realizing that while they understand why people are so fervent about the environment, they still can't help belittling their ability to make a change. When the pair refuse to acknowledge their role in shaping the crises younger generations are worried about, chiefly climate change, Andi ditches them, stumbling into Payton’s rally just in time to see him put on a show in support of a zero-waste initiative.
The contrast between the candidates has a clear impact on Andi, who ultimately votes for Payton, apologizing to Jayne for trivializing the issues that matter to her.
Episode 6: “What’s in the Box?”
After three days of recounts, Dede and Payton are officially tied. This leaves two courses of action that both candidates must agree on: an election redo in ten days or a coin flip. Neither campaign is confident in their ability to win a revote. In lieu of a coin flip, Hadassah poses a match of rock paper scissors, a.k.a. roshambo.
Payton knows Hadassah’s up to something with the rock paper scissors match and prepares to optimize the game for himself. He brings in an expert: Ricardo (Benjamin Barrett), who has mastered the game while in prison. Of course, Hadassah didn’t suggest the game without a plan of her own, relying on a researched methodology to secure Dede the victory.
But as if the result of an election being left up to a game of rock paper scissors isn’t enough drama, Infinity reveals to Team Hobart that she stole an official ballot box. It’s a situation so dire, Skye brings the recently-fired James back into the fold. Worried about the result of the election and what a win for Dede would cost the earth, Infinity stole a box from the most Standish-leaning polling place. The theft presents Payton with a dilemma: turn in the box and lose or hide it and cheat his way to a maybe victory.
Payton’s dilemma poses a different predicament for Alice. Shopping for baby clothes with Astrid, she shares that she’s worried about her baby’s future. She’s deferred all her ambitions to help Payton achieve his dreams — and feels like she’s become a worse person for it. With the roshambo date looming, Alice announces to Payton that she’s leaving him. Using the ballot box theft as an example, she explains that Payton’s created an environment of moral ambiguity around him and she doesn’t like what it’s turned her into. She needs time to figure out what she wants, away from his all-consuming ambitions.
Meanwhile, this election has also taken a toll on Dede, whose marriage to Marcus is officially over thanks to the Times leak. Exhausted by the decades of scheming, she reveals to Hadassah that win or lose the election, this is her last go-around.
Georgina, now the Governor-elect of California, comes to Payton’s aid as he ponders his ballot box dilemma. While he’s stuck on the moral/ethical quandary of it all, his mother has a more nuanced take. She tells Payton that knowing him, it’s less about him struggling with what to do, it’s more about being ready to accept his fate. This advice is exactly the reminder that Payton needed that his dream is to make it into the White House and he will do whatever it takes to get there.
Episode 7: ”Election Day”
Hundreds of miles away from the election chaos in upstate New York, Astrid and Alice are seeking refuge at a hippy farm for expectant moms. It’s very much not their scene, but it pushes Astrid to confront the reality that she doesn’t want to be a mom. The pair depart the farm after a very brief stay and Alice accompanies Astrid to terminate the pregnancy. Alice confides that she’s still worried about being a good mother, but isn’t so sure she wants to have a child without Payton.
Payton and Dede are honing in on their respective rock paper scissors strategies, which is going decidedly better for Payton than Dede. Giving up, Dede and Hadassah go to drown their sorrows at the cabaret club Payton’s performing at. At peace with themselves this late in the competition, Dede and Payton have a cordial chat about his ideal first 100 days plan and he serenades the pair with “Corner in the Sky” from Pippin.
The definitive election day arrives and Payton’s performance has left a mark on Dede, who takes the mic before the best-of-five rock paper scissors match can begin. Giving an impassioned speech about the issues that matter to young people, Dede concedes the election to Payton. Soon after, Alice and Payton reconcile, with the latter promising that his dreams won’t be the center of their lives anymore.
Meanwhile, California Governor-Elect Georgina Hobart calls the newly-retired Dede with a proposal: she’s running for president in the next cycle and wants Dede to be her VP, setting up Dede to run for president after Georgina’s single term in office.
Payton prepares to give a formal acceptance speech but is unable to acknowledge his true victory, as his opponent dropped out... again. McAfee reveals that she, James, and Skye couldn’t help themselves and counted the ballots from the stolen box and discovered Payton’s victory over Dede is legitimate. The news of his genuine win prompts him to give his most authentic speech of the series, challenging his constituents to hold him accountable to his promises.
The epilogue picks up two years later as Payton finishes his successful first term as a state senator. There are subtle changes that demonstrate actual growth for Team Hobart — including McAfee's fiancé and Alice’s med school progress. But as Payton, running unopposed for a second term, toasts to another victory, his trusted staff can’t help but feel a little disappointed he’s not announcing his next ambitious campaign.
While running through Central Park, Hadassah sequesters Payton to a quiet spot where Dede, who is set to become vice president in Georgina’s administration, is waiting for him. She comes to him with an offer: she’s running for president after Georgina’s single term and wants Payton to be her running mate.
And with that, season 2 of The Politician is over. After several roadblocks and potentially ill-fated schemes, Payton Hobart’s quest for the White House is very much back on track — setting up for a delightful, probably scandal-ridden national campaign in season 3.
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