WashingTelevision: Political Animals Recap, Episode Five, “16 Hours”

Susan and Doug get jiggy in a jet, and TJ has one epic morning after.

By: Sophie Gilbert

In true Political Animals style, allow us to indulge in a momentary flashback before we recap last night’s episode.

It was just five short weeks ago that we were welcoming the show to the Sunday-night lineup and acknowledging that as soapy and absurd as it might be, we actually kinda dug it. Because there aren’t really enough strong, ethical female characters in most Washington shows who aren’t also sleeping with the President, and even though Elaine Barrish Hammond is sleeping with a President, she used to be married to him, so it’s okay. And frankly, it was nice to live out a utopian fantasy wherein Hillary left Bill and lived happily ever after, threatening plutocrats in fluent Russian and dodging tulips sent by lovesick Turkish ambassadors.

Unfortunately, things rapidly went south when the show stopped paying attention to Elaine and instead started focusing on the family drama, which is all very well, but we’re perfectly capable of flipping the channel to Dallas if we want to, thank you very much. And as easy on the eye as TJ and Doug are, they’re so utterly two-dimensional that you get the feeling they’d topple in a stiff breeze. Our erstwhile Secretary of State, meanwhile, has had nothing to do for weeks beyond sporting structurally incomprehensible tailoring and hectoring the President monotonically about his lack of spine. Susan, who at least used to be bitchy enough to be interesting, is these days mostly seen juggling ethical dilemmas while she struggles to make everyone else understand how noble and selfless and not-at-all-about-eating-filet-mignon-on-private-jets of a profession journalism is. Oh, how we miss those halcyon days when Elaine used to sassily throw her scarf over one shoulder and saunter casually away to the sounds of mediocre R&B.

It was inevitable from this episodes’s opening scene, in which Doug and Susan give each other hot looks across the aisle (political metaphor alert), that they’d be hooking up pretty promptly, particularly since Susan’s already joined the Mile High Club this season and Doug’s only character trait is being a dick. Flash back 16 hours: TJ’s in a hospital bed, heavily sedated until the small cartel’s worth of blow he did leaves his system, while Bud sits loyally by his side and Elaine runs off to remind everyone in the West Wing how shabby and dishonest they are.

The Chinese diplomat whom Elaine attempted to woo in French last episode throws a spanner in the works, however, when he tells her that the Chinese will consider any attempt to rescue the trapped submarine crew as an act of aggression, and the crew have been trained to “scuttle” the ship, or blow it up, unleashing who knows how much radiation off the coast of California. Elaine expects the President to respond with his characteristic skeeviness, but instead he appears to have finally learned something from all her lectures (and possibly a Dixie Chicks song or two), and resists the efforts at intimidation from what Elaine describes as a “bunch of thugs who aren’t even in charge.” But of course he asks Elaine for help writing his speech, because without her he’s just a wimp in a suit with the nuclear codes.

There’s some kind of subplot where Nana and Anne help get TJ’s room ready, which means searching it for drugs so Nana can get Anne stoned and then confront her about her bulimia. But this is all secondary to this week’s main attraction: Susan and Doug eating steak on a plane, arguing, getting drunk, and then fighting over who gets to be on top when they start going at it. In yet more flashbacks, notable mainly for the fact that we get to see how well the producers can make Carla Gugino appear to be in her twenties, we see Susan wrestling with those pesky journalistic ethics and getting reamed out by her editor and her mother for writing such mean columns about Elaine Barrish. And the point of all this is . . . what? Maybe to show us the irony of Susan’s antipathy towards Georgia Gibbons? Maybe to explain why she doesn’t mind writing patently untrue stories about TJ having an “allergic reaction”? Or maybe because nothing else actually happened in this episode and the writers needed some padding?

The long and the short of it is: the President finds his balls, the Chinese back down, Bud tells TJ how much he loves him and is proud of him (while TJ is comatose and unable to process this information, it’s worth adding), and the Prez says “Let me be clear” in his speech in case you had any doubts at all that he was based on Obama. Bud also punches out the VP after Elaine tells him that he was partly responsible for TJ’s initial suicide attempt, forcing the President to break up a fight in the Oval Office because despite the fact that he’s THE PRESIDENT, there seem to be no security people around.

In what promises to be a climactic season finale next week, Doug threatens to come clean to Anne, Elaine (who’s wearing black, possibly because she’s bored someone to death) has a face-off with someone carrying assault weapons, and TJ threatens to leave the safety of Nana’s alcoholic arms to go buy more drugs. But let us be clear: If we don’t get a good Elaine Barrish “us bitches hate being called bitches” moment, we’re not coming back for season two. So there.

What did you make of last night’s penultimate episode of Political Animals? Let us know in the comments.