WashingTelevision: Political Animals Recap, Episode Three, “The Woman Problem”

Racism on the Circulator, 25-story buildings in downtown DC, and the excellent Vanessa Redgrave all popped up in last night’s episode.

By: Sophie Gilbert

Douglas, Douglas, Douglas.

When this series first started, we thought you were just another preppy, privileged mama’s boy with an unquenchable hunger for power and a misguided sense of loyalty. And we were right! Weird ecstasy-fueled flashback orgy aside, you’re still a less compelling character than TJ, who, we found out last night, isn’t averse to making out with a girl or two if he’s guzzled enough pharmaceuticals.

We’ll cut Douglas some slack. It can’t be easy growing up in the White House when your mom’s the nation’s doormat and your dad’s a fusion of Bill Clinton, Warren Beatty, and priapism. At the opener of “The Woman Problem” we get another flashback to two years ago, when Elaine was still running for President and Bud supposedly screwed her in California by saying “vagina” on television. To which we say: Nothing’s changed. Elaine wants Doug to “wrangle” Bud and stop him from publicly embarrassing her, but instead Doug gets high on happy pills with TJ and Anne and sleeps through his father’s TV appearance the next day, during which Bud proves himself to be an equal-opportunity interlocutor by saying “penis.”

In the present day, Elaine is meeting with her old chum and former law school professor turned Supreme Court justice, Diane Nash (played by Vanessa Redgrave in a compelling piece of casting we absolutely could not have foreseen). Turns out Elaine’s life used to be a lot like Legally Blonde, because Diane was really hard on her as a professor, but it only made Elaine a stronger and better person. Diane was the first openly gay judge on the highest court in the land, but now her partner has Alzheimer’s, so she’s thinking about retiring. And she and Elaine have a convo that sounds an awful lot like a stump speech. “We will not let cynical politicians roll back the reproductive rights we have fought so hard to gain!” says Elaine. “You’re running for something,” says Diane. No slacker in the brain department, that one.

Over at the Washington Globe, which is apparently housed in a 25-story building (will producers ever get this right? ever?), Susan is in a meeting with cheating Alex and annoying cupcake baker Georgia, and Alex says “everyone in DC” says Elaine’s running for President. Georgia pitches a story about why the bus service in Georgetown is so much better on the Circulator, because mostly white people ride it, which is kind of a weird, untrue direction for the show to take. Alex shoots her down and tells her to go back to her nice little blog and write something about TJ Hammond’s nightclub, because she’ll never be a real reporter, ever, even though she broke that story about TJ’s suicide attempt when he fed it to her alongside his penis. And Susan looks sympathetic, which is way more generous than Georgia deserves, but hey, sisterhood.

Elaine, Nana, Doug, and TJ are having dinner, and Elaine announces she’s going to run for President again, which everyone pretends to be happy about except for Nana (she’s sick of the New York Post going through her empty liquor bottles). Bud arrives after apparently playing poker with “Senator Biden,” and inexplicably puts on a patchwork apron to help Elaine clean up. He has a friend, whose name I can only approximate as “Jubal,” who’s a pollster, and Bud’s decided to take the boys on some kind of fishing trip/poll fishing expedition to Jubal’s house to see if Elaine’s campaign has the potential to succeed. Neither of them is thrilled—TJ because he’d rather stay home and drink Perrier (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and Doug because he’s a whiny bitch. “You owe me after what you did,” says Elaine, and for a moment Doug almost looks pale, because he thinks she might know about his conversation with Susan. But Elaine’s actually referring to the money he gave TJ, which she, quite reasonably, isn’t happy about.

President Garcetti calls Nash into his office and tries to bond with her, telling her about his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s. But then he pronounces her girlfriend’s name wrong, which isn’t that hard (apparently it’s “Corine” rather than “Corrinne”). Nevertheless, he has a trump card: He’s pushing her off the court to spend more time with her partner, but he’s going to nominate Elaine in her place, removing that particular threat. Who knew Garcetti was so Machiavellian? Nash looks dismayed.

Elaine, wearing another particularly hideous skirt that basically begins just below her neck, fights with Nana about her childhood (things like cocktail dresses, flasks of bourbon, Nana making Elaine wear a padded bra in sixth grade) while Bud takes the boys to the country to visit Jubal. Jubal opens the door brandishing a shotgun, because of course Bud slept with his wife, but soon Bud works his Southern charm and Jubal goes to count imaginary things while Bud and the boys go fishing. Doug drops his BlackBerry in the water and has a few flashbacks to fights he had with his dad, while TJ goes off and snorts coke. Doug’s being a real dick, and we realize it’s because he blames himself for his mother losing, which of course means he blames Bud so it hurts less.

Elaine and Diane Nash are discussing serious things, like the power Elaine would have on the Supreme Court and how everyone will brand her a “vicious bitch” and call her a “pariah” if she runs against an incumbent. But then Elaine says she really will win, because thanks to Nash she has principles Garcetti doesn’t, and Nash says okay, and actually it’s a relief because as Nana says, she’d “look shitty in all black.” Political Animals giveth to woman, Political Animals taketh away.

Meanwhile Alex wants Susan back, and she strings him along by telling him she’s got the goods on a story about Elaine and then sleeps with him, even though he rudely says she looks terrible, which of course she doesn’t because she’s Carla Gugino. She’s sleeping on her sister’s couch, which is sad, and he tells her she could come back home, but she takes one look at that hideous lamp he has and says no thank you. And he says she doesn’t need love the way she needs work, which may or may not be true, but it isn’t an excuse to cheat on her with a twentysomething blogger.

Jubal the pollster says Elaine can definitely win, but Bud needs to stay away, because even though people like him, they don’t like him and Elaine together because it makes her look weak. And from this Doug somehow realizes his dad said “penis” and “vagina” on television so people would blame him for Elaine’s loss, even though it actually wasn’t his fault at all. Bud tells Doug he’s the “quarterback” now, and suddenly Doug is all aboard the Elaine campaign train, which means he has to go to Susan and tell her not to print her story. Susan, fresh off a moment of bonding with Georgia in which she told her to take herself seriously if she wants to be taken seriously, says okay, but now she owns Doug, and he has to tell her every single thing about the campaign or she’ll serve up his balls in an enchilada. We’re not sure what this’ll mean for Susan and Elaine’s nascent love affair (Elaine invited her to go on a walk right before the President sends her to Siberia), but we’re guessing Susan will have some kind of moral dilemma, just like she always does.

What did you think of last night’s episode? Let us know in the comments.