Here is my tip for you, potential kidnappers of the world’s most privileged children: If, by any chance, you find yourself needing to make notes on how to build an improvised explosive device (IED), do not write at the top “Improvised Explosive Device (IED).” I mean, you can, if you like, but it’s going to be a little bit incriminating if you ever get caught.
Still, Gibson’s thorough, you can give him that. His nefarious plan in this week’s episode, whose title I can’t be bothered to type out again, involves a congressman, the congressman’s wife/chief of staff, and a senator, all of whom are parents of two missing Ballard kids. Remember last week’s general, who revealed under torture that some kind of proof of Operation Lennox lived in a CIA vault? Well, these congresspeople have all been assigned to go get it, in a way that is totally ridiculous and clearly a poor idea on many levels. (It involves one of them wearing a suicide vest in the lobby at Langley, one of the most secure places on earth.)
These ridiculously stubborn parents who insist on doing the opposite of what Agents Finley and Dunn tell them to do are making life very difficult for the FBI, who’ve ostensibly put everyone under surveillance. But Gibson and his merry team of hackers laugh in the face of FBI tails, so they simply create distractions by calling the police and telling them Ballard kidnappers are driving around in black SUVs, armed and dangerous. This trick is going to wear thin after a while.
Meg, when she isn’t talking out of the side of her mouth like a rich person’s impression of Katharine Hepburn, is busy palling around with FLOTUS, whom she persuades to get her access to secret FBI stuff. Meg’s reasoning is that she has bajillions of people who work for her who have PhDs and stuff who’ll be much more likely to find the kidnappers than the underpaid and inefficient FBI will. That’s kind of rude to her sister, but never mind.
Shrewd political calculations and vicious low cunning are back on HBO, with characters scheming against each other and some key players meeting their fates at a big wedding. A power vacuum has ruptured open, and several different factions are gunning for the big chair.
By the way, this isn't about the latest developments in Westeros.
Veep’s third season opens with Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on a book tour through Iowa as she desperately waits on her unnamed President to tell the world he isn’t seeking another term. Naturally, she’s bored and frustrated by having to glad-handle a flyover state, a task made even more painful by the absence of her regular staff, who are all back in DC where Mike (Matt Walsh) is getting married to Wendy, a reporter played by Kathy Najimy.
Veep sagged last year when every episode was a rehashed sermon on the relative inanity of the vice-presidency, but by giving Selina an actual arc—she’s running for President!—Armando Iannucci has given his show a fresh trajectory. Even the theme is brassier this year.
The season premiere, “Some New Beginnings,” also shakes up some of the regular cast’s roles. Gary Cole’s number-crunching poll czar Kent Davidson has an expanded part, while Kevin Dunn has been promoted to series regular as White House Chief of Staff (and Meyer supporter) Ben Cafferty. There are also new threats for Selina, like a genteel defense secretary played by Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Memories of The Wire’s corrupt State Senator Clay Davis abound.)
And Jonah (Timothy Simons) has gotten into anonymous blogging, of course, running a site called “West Wing Man” that appears to be the bastard child of FishbowlDC and Wonkette after Gawker sold it off. When Jonah’s extracurricular activity is discovered and upends the entire White House, his summary firing is one of the most pleasurable scenes in Veep’s entire run to date.
Even with the staff shakeups and the inevitable excitement of a presidential campaign, Veep remains a show primarily about politics at its most mundane. Selina strains to come up with a different greeting for everyone lined up to by a copy of her book, Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan (Reid Scott) bicker over who gets to be the campaign manager, and Ben convinces Selina to crash a congressman’s funeral as a way to scope out the available campaign talent.
As Ben mutters to Selina while he forges her signature in copies of her book (written by Dan), “That’s politics in a nutsack.”
Selina: Yeah, barnstorming through Iowa and having to make small talk with a failed presidential candidate is depressing, but she gets to finally be open about her campaign and enjoys the satisfaction of hearing about Jonah’s dismissal. “All my orgasms have come at once,” she says.
Mike: Hey, an HBO character got married and his wedding didn’t end in mass slaughter. That’s got to count for something.
Dan: Selina ignores his pleas to be named campaign manager, but he did get Jonah fired.
Representative Rick Cowgill: The diminutive congressman from Iowa may be dead, but at least he didn’t have to listen to that “bag of wrist slits,” as Selina describes 49-state loser Blake Stewart.
Jonah: He got himself fired, and it was great. He’ll probably come back 10 times more obnoxious.
This week, Olivia dispatches Abby to be her “proxy” at the White House, ostensibly because she’s busy trying to take down B613 but mostly because El Prez hurt her feelings. Everyone at the White House has a hard time grasping the concept of a proxy, even though Abby is wearing a fabulous white coat, and keep referring to her as “Gabby.” El Prez, FLOTUS, and Uncle Andrew all act like sullen kindergartners in this episode, and Abby makes no headway with them. Olivia’s using her time off to meet with her dad, and makes him promise not to harm El Prez. “You said he wouldn’t see his second term,” she says, and he’s like, Well, have you seen the poll numbers lately? Then he explains that B613’s funding was set up by a cyber attack in the late ’80s that siphons off tiny amounts of money from every government organization to a secret account, which only Command controls. She takes her findings back to HQ, and Huck immediately wants to know where she got her information. When she tells him, he says Papa Pope is treating her like a mark: “He promised you something, and that means he’s going to take something from you.” She tells him to find the algorithm that hides the secret B613 account (or something), and he refuses, but she lays down the law. “We all do things we don’t want to do,” she says.
Uncle Andrew is chasing FLOTUS around the White House asking why she won’t return his calls, but she just tells him to stop calling. He says she deserves someone who really loves her, not someone who’s just acting. And Abby makes her first of several calls to Olivia—because our old friend Janine has resurfaced to promote a book with a hilarious cover of her in a slinky dress sitting on a presidential-looking desk, detailing her (totally fake) affair with El Prez. She goes on live TV to answer the important question of whether the leader of the free world is a “breadstick or baguette” (EWW), and Olivia rushes to the White House to clean up the latest spill. Cyrus, of course, immediately wants to leak the story about Sally’s teenage daughter getting an abortion (remember that plot?), which Olivia shoots down. El Prez, for his part, wants Uncle Andrew off the ticket, which she also refuses. He gets huffy that she sent “Gabby” as her proxy, and Olivia reaches the end of her rope. “What service can I render to you today?” she asks. “Am I your nanny, your bodyguard, your dealer? Am I here to make you feel hot and manly so you’re not jealous of your wife’s boyfriend? Am I your fluffer?” He tells her she’s being disgusting, and she reminds him all he offers her are a house in Vermont she can’t live in and promises he can’t keep. “I’m not the bad guy,” he tells her (debatable!). “I didn’t happen to you.” I love how their affair is equally Olivia’s doing and also something that Mellie drove him to with her being dead inside and all. Olivia tells him if he kicks Uncle Andrew off the ticket or if FLOTUS leaves him, he’ll lose, and that’s “not an option.”
Jake tasks Quinn and Charlie with tracking Mama Pope but not approaching her. Quinn gets all squirrelly but acts like it’s not a problem she might have to kill her former boss’s terrorist mom. Meanwhile, Maya meets with a British guy who’s going to procure some weapons for her in exchange for a suitcase full of money (and some nooky, because terrorists are the only ones who are allowed to enjoy sex on this show). Harrison meets up with an old associate named Claire who’s now working with Maya, but she basically considers Maya a role model and she’s “leaning in” so she won’t help him. Back at home, Olivia gets a call from Jake, who’s drunk outside her apartment door. She refuses to let him in, to which he says, “I could come in if I wanted to come in, we both know that.” She says they can’t be together because he kills her friends, and his justification is: “James wasn’t your friend; I would never kill your friends.” They both realize how monumentally messed up that sentence is, and she tells him to leave again, and he says sadly, “I asked you to save me, and you said no.”
Huck finds the algorithm to get into the B613 account, but it’s empty, so he tells Olivia her dad played them. She goes back to Papa Pope, and he tells her, logically, that Jake must have moved the funds. “You may not trust me, but be smart enough to know my priorities,” he says. Olivia gets another call from Abby and heads to the White House to find everyone doing exactly what she told them not to. Cyrus has leaked the story of Sally’s daughter, which is helping her with women voters since she’d already reversed her position on abortion, and El Prez is meeting with a Hispanic woman senator to vet her for the VP slot. Olivia kicks out the senator, then makes El Prez tell her what he really needs. “I need Andrew to stop screwing my wife,” he says, which is not a surprise to anyone. So she goes to Uncle Andrew and tells him he can either be with FLOTUS or be VP—and she’s doubtful that Mellie will stick around once he’s not in a position of power anymore. He says he loves Mellie, and she laughs in his face. “Men like you will always choose power,” she says.
Two weeks ago, Claudia resurfaced to tell the Jenningses she believes a Navy SEAL named Larek killed off fellow Soviet spy couple Emmett and Leanne. Last night, after an episode and a half of scoping him out, Philip and Elizabeth finally get in a room with Larek, and they’re more unsure than ever about exactly who murdered their friends.
Larek, it turns out, was flipped by the KGB, which discovered his homosexuality and blackmailed him into dishing on a Reagan administration program in which the US military trained the Nicaraguan “contras” who went back to their home country to fight the Sandinistas. As much as Claudia wants Larek (played by Lee Tergesen) dead, the Jenningses, masquerading as CIA agents, are so thrown off by his cold, emotionless answers, nobody—most of all the audience—knows if this guy is the real killer or just another diversion from the truth.
The episode title, “Behind the Red Door,” is a not-so-subtle nod to the 1972 pornographic feature Behind the Green Door, and appropriately enough, this installment peers in more than others on its characters’ private lives. Series creator Joe Weisberg has said The Americans is a show about a marriage, but in this episode, Elizabeth starts on the sidelines, still curious about Martha’s bragging last week that Philip’s alter-ego “Clark” is a maniac in bed.
Philip and Elizabeth get busy twice this week. The first time is intimate but vanilla, and segues into some postcoital pillow talk between a fully nude Elizabeth and a still-clothed Philip. Their marriage is far from a love story, but as the series has progressed, both of them have seemed to be more interested in the other’s extramarital work duties.
“Clark” finally shows up near the end of the hour, coming back to Elizabeth after a day’s “work” with Martha, leading to perhaps the most uncomfortable moment in the show’s run to date. Martha, who doesn’t even make a physical apperance in the episode, might like it rough, but for Elizabeth, the painful sex with “Clark” cues up memories of her rape as a young KGB recruit. She sobs on the bed while Philip glares at himself in the bathroom mirror, disgusted with what he’s done.
We’re now 36 hours into the Ballard School kidnapping, and even though the parents of the missing children are among the most powerful people in the world, and even though one of them has already been caught assisting the kidnappers under duress, only now has it occurred to the FBI to start keeping an eye on, duh, the parents. This makes things fairly complicated for Agent Dunn—does she keep an eye on herself, since no one else knows her secret? It’s also nice to finally know that we’re operating under a kind of 24x12 time here, where each episode comprises exactly 12 hours where neither Dunn nor Finley nor anyone in the employ of the government gets any sleep.
Frank Beckwith (which feels like a very House of Cards-y name, don’t you think?), the President’s chief of staff, is next on Gibson’s call list, and because it’s impossible for the kidnapping team to smuggle a burner phone to him as they have with all the other parents, they instead place a call directly to him on a national security line. Much easier. Gibson wants Beckwith to call his very important friend General Osborne and set up a top-secret meeting. On the agenda? Truth and pain. How they didn’t make that the title of the episode, I have no idea, but yes, it’s most certainly a summation of Gibson’s greater mission here.
Dunn goes to interview the President and the First Lady and doesn’t think Finley should go, because he lost their son and all, but luckily they aren’t mad, because they know he got shot by Hearst and did everything he could and lots of other platitudes. The parents are being used by the kidnappers, Dunn tells them, and she works for those kidnapped kids, not the President, so if something shady happens, she will most certainly be investigating, no matter how big his Oval Office is. The President tells her that he swore an oath to the American people that he will not betray, even if that means letting his son die, so she’d better bring his son home before that’s a decision he’s obliged to make. Oh, and FLOTUS wants Finley to hurt the kidnappers whenever he does find them.
After last week’s emotional episode, Scandal was back to full soapy glory. Everyone was in the mood to get frisky, and Shonda Rhimes did her best to make us hate El Prez. To the recap.
The big news this week is that the First Son (Dylan Minnette) and Daughter (Madeline Carroll) have returned from the boarding school that apparently won’t let them out for national holidays or vacation but will release them to appear in a televised interview. Olivia is trying to juggle finding the source of B613’s funding so the Dream Team can cut it off and prepping the Grant family for this big live interview—no small feat, since in case you haven’t noticed, the Grants aren’t exactly the Cleavers. FLOTUS and El Prez remind each other that they’re a “happy couple,” while Olivia sits down to talk with the kids, and Jerry’s caginess makes her ask the Dream Team to look into what he’s been doing. Meanwhile, Olivia and El Prez go back to fooling around in front of the Oval Office window (seriously, why?), and FLOTUS and Andrew Nichols decide to do the dirty in a White House room with French doors that don’t lock and very gauzy curtains. Olivia, fresh from her bout of adultery, sees FLOTUS and then Nichols coming out of the room separately and, unbelievably, tells Nichols to stay away from Mellie. He immediately becomes my hero by looking her straight in the eye and saying, “Glass houses, Olivia.”
There’s also the small matter of a foreign terrorist named Dmitri who showed up outside Baltimore and then disappeared. To where? Oh, just the trunk of Charlie’s car. He and Quinn have kidnapped him at Ballard’s request, and torture him for information while Charlie continuously interrogates Quinn about Huck breaking into her apartment. “Do you want me to kill him?” he offers, which is a thing ONLY Quinn would think is sweet. Charlie also asks Quinn to move in (my notes: Ew), and she nicely tells him she changed the locks and has a gun, then goes back to gleefully power-drilling into Dmitri’s body. Charlie’s a lucky guy.
Papa Pope calls Olivia and tells her to stop digging into B613 because, being an all-powerful, all-seeing secret agency, they know when people are “traipsing” through government buildings digging up old budgets, and he’s already had to call in more than one favor on her behalf. She reminds him he was the one who said she’s responsible for dragging everyone into the light, including B613, and asks him for information, but he hangs up on her.
Back at the White House, Karen asks her mother why she chooses to stay with a cheater. “Nobody’s perfect,” FLOTUS says. Proving that point is Jerry, who, Olivia has just found out, has been running an anonymous anti-El Prez Twitter account, which includes a photo of him with a Photoshopped Hitler mustache that is amazing. Also he bought a Reston for President T-shirt online, which El Prez digs through his bag to find and then yells at both the kids. Karen runs out of the room—and straight into the room where FLOTUS is getting cozy with “Uncle Andrew.” This show goes from hilarious to gross in a heartbeat.
Ballard shows up at the Oval Office, and El Prez tells him to return Dmitri, to which Ballard says, “You don’t tell me to do anything because I’m not your bitch.” He tells El Prez his whole job is to hold babies and comfort people and look pretty, and he’s the one who actually runs the country. Insane power trips look good on Scott Foley, I have to say. Then in comes Cyrus, who rushes at Ballard and tries to attack him. El Prez tries to hold him back, as Cyrus screams that Ballard killed James, and then eventually he gives up and collapses on the couch. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Jake says as he leaves, and El Prez gazes after him perhaps realizing he’s made a huge mistake. Once Cyrus catches his breath he says brokenly that had James gone public he would have brought down Sally and the administration and the entire executive branch, so really Jake was just doing his job—“serving at the pleasure of the President, just like the rest of us.”
Perhaps we were wrong to ever believe Philip was warming to the United States. In an episode that takes place during the 36 hours following the Jenningses’ street fight over a Russian defector, Philip goes cold as a Siberian winter when he’s tasked with holding the big brawler who didn’t die from Elizabeth’s repeated trunk door slams and recovering Anton Baklanov, a physicist the Soviets are trying to capture and spirit back to the mother country.
Philip is supposed to be the soft one on creeping American values, but by the end of “The Deal,” Baklanov is calling him a “monster” and questioning if he has a shred of humanity in him. And after a day and a half locked up with the thug—who turns out to be a Mossad agent trying to keep Baklanov, his fellow Jew, out of the KGB’s hands—Philip is as unsympathetic as he’s ever been. Matthew Rhys does some of his best work to date in keeping Philip focused on the mission, even when the shackled-up Mossad agent needs to use the decrepit toilet in the abandoned building where he’s being held.
Maybe it’s having to wipe the ass of an unfriendly government’s agent only to be clobbered in the head with the lid of the toilet tank that reawakens Philip’s patriotism, but the entire sequence is a staunch reminder that Philip, no matter how much he appears to soften toward America, is, at heart, a brutally efficient spy. In the episode’s closing act, while Baklanov sobs for mercy as Philip drives him to the boat back to Russia, Rhys’s face doesn’t move.
“No feeling, no humanity. You may as well be dead,” Baklanov tells Philip. Maybe the words sink in, but they don’t help.
With Philip dealing with the big, tough Israeli, it falls to Elizabeth to handle Martha, and Elizabeth’s first-season getup as “Jennifer,” the frizzy-haired sister of Philip’s alter-ego “Clark,” shows up at Martha’s pad for some girl talk. Since we saw her last season, Martha has apparently not moved away from the phone, leaving “Clark” message after message about how she’s going to list him as her husband on an FBI security clearance form, to the point where a KGB phone-tapper picks up and dispatches Elizabeth to clean Philip’s laundry.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but did the unfortunately ponderous and not altogether cheering title of last night’s Crisis occur at any point during the show? Was there a videotaped ransom note or message from the grave that was originally intended to be spliced in somewhere? Speaking of spliced in, did everyone appreciate the shot of Meg and Susie chatting outside FBI HQ with the Capitol and the Washington Monument in the background, apparently right next to each other? Would one not have sufficed?
In case we were in any doubt, Crisis = still confusing. There were fewer twists this week, which was partly a relief and partly a removal of the show’s most compelling characteristic, but there was the introduction of something called the Lennox Program, which is possibly/probably why Gibson masterminded this elaborate plot to cut off his pinkie and thrust his daughter into the arms of the First Hunk. The Lennox Program has something to do with the Americans who were being kept medicated in a shiny secret room underneath the Pakistani Embassy, whom Agent Finley found because this is Washington and nobody gives a crap about international jurisdiction when you’re in the GD capital of the GD US of A, sir.
Judging from Gillian Anderson’s glassy stare, immaculate ringlets, and monotonal affect, Meg Fitch has spent the time since last week responding to the kidnapping of her daughter/niece with Xanax rather than actual human emotion. Nonetheless, she authorizes her very-unhappy-about-it lawyer to access $25 million in untraceable bills to send to the kidnappers. Gibson, disguising his voice on the phone, directs her to a parking lot in a neighborhood where the people who work for the people who work for her live, in a scene that was kind of like when Katie Holmes sent Bruce Wayne down into the narrows to understand what real suffering looks like. A man not wearing a mask takes her SUV full of bills and gives her the keys to a beat-up Honda, and in the trunk is . . . a picture of her daughter holding a newspaper. A little disappointed but apparently not that much, Meg goes to see Susie and comes clean about the money, handing the picture over to her sister. And, surprise, getting the picture (and its attached tracker) into the FBI turns out to be exactly the thing the kidnappers wanted her to do, maybe because it wiped all their computers or something? I’m not sure.
I’m just gonna come out and say this: Olivia Pope really needs more girlfriends. Or any girlfriends. Whenever the stress of her insane world gets too much for her she runs to the various men in her life who treat her poorly: El Prez, Jake (remember when his whole purpose was to spy on her?), and in last night’s episode, her dad. Rarely does a scene with Olivia pass the Bechdel test; even her conversations with Quinn lately have been mostly about Huck. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except that it’s a way to avoid talking about the latest devastating development: James, my dear Ira Glass Lite, is dead. I suppose it makes sense from a story perspective and as a way of spurring the characters to action, but I am really going to miss Dan Bucatinsky. To the recap.
We open where the last episode left off, but this time from Ballard’s perspective. He gets out of his car and shoots the reporter and the NSA leak, and as IGL turns to run he gets him in the head and he falls. Then Ballard points the gun at David and tells him he always liked him, because he seemed smart. Then he asks whether David will be smart now.
Turns out he will; Ballard makes James’s death look like a carjacking gone wrong, and David takes over the investigation to make sure Ballard’s story holds up. Meanwhile, Olivia is at the White House taking care of Cyrus, who is basically catatonic. We get a flashback to when James and Cyrus met on the campaign trail. Cyrus is condescending about James’s job; James is sassy about Cyrus’s neck beard. It’s adorable. These flashbacks are peppered throughout the episode, and they’re really sad (though not quite sad enough to erase all the times Cyrus treated James like his second-favorite chew toy). In the present, Olivia tasks 19-year-old Ethan (at least he looks 19) with taking care of Cyrus, then heads to HQ, where she and the Dream Team figure out in about two seconds that with the reporter and the NSA leak missing, James’s death was most likely a hit. Olivia suspects Sally and Leo, so she calls Jake and asks him to look into it, which he agrees to do after he finishes the small matter of burying the two women in a park in broad daylight. (Seriously, where was that supposed to be?) Olivia asks Huck to look into James’s file, and when he opens it he realizes it was tampered with. He looks at the footage from the security camera he installed in the safe, because of course, and sees Quinn stealing the file, so Huck tells Olivia that B613 knows the truth about Daniel Douglas’s death and is behind the hit. Olivia goes to yell at Jake for ordering the murder of a friend and then realizes it was his call. She says he’s turned into her father, and he tells her he’s different for his basically insane plan that rather than task some soldier with doing the dirty work he’s going to do it all himself. “Accept that James died in a carjacking and the world keeps on spinning,” he says. And if she doesn’t? “Bad things happen to good people all the time.”
One minute you’re sitting quietly in synagogue with your hair slicked back,wearing a fake beard and scoping out a target, and the next, you’re driving home and Margo Martindale shows up.
Yeah, Claudia’s back, along with all of her grandmotherly concern for the spies under her oversight and apparently no hard feelings over her thrashing at Elizabeth’s hands last year. Surely this will help solve some of the mysteries that have permeated the first few episodes of The Americans’ second season, right?
Not a chance. “A Little Night Music” opens with Philip in disguise, spending a Saturday morning among the chosen people while he gets a look at Anton Baklanov, a noted physicist but an even more noted Soviet defector. Across town, Paige is spending more time with Kelli, her new friend from last week’s bus trip, who takes her to—wait for it—church.
Philip and Elizabeth won’t learn about Paige’s new religion for a while, but they’ve already got their hands full. While driving home from synagogue, they figure Baklanov is too much of a true believer in the American way to flip back to the USSR, and then there’s Claudia, just standing there in the middle of a crosswalk. She gets in the car, and of course she’s got an assignment of her own.
What’s Claudia’s game here? She’s steely and concerned for her deep-cover agents, but she’s also out to get whoever bumped off Emmett and Leanne, and she’s already got her suspect: Andrew Larek, a Navy SEAL stationed in Virginia Beach. And the easiest apparent link to Larek comes in the form of a shy, classical-music-loving new sailor named Brad. Time for Elizabeth to go into seduction mode.
So for the third time this season, we’re back in the Hampton Roads. Elizabeth throws on a black, shoulder-length wig and her best Molly Ringwald sweater for a meet-cute in a record shop with nice-guy Brad. They bond over the first movement of Motzart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”—hence the episode’s title—and soon enough they’re in a motel room ready to go at it until Brad reveals his inexperience and Elizabeth goes into her damaged-girl cover story.
Meanwhile, at the Rezidentura, Baklanov appears to be a closed case, based on the Jenningses’ report on the physicist’s American fealty, but new arrival Oleg is still stirring up trouble, especially for Nina, of whom we see little this week. Oleg doesn’t have the security clearance required to read Nina’s reports, so he does what any 1980s brat would do: He uses his family connections to move up in the world. He gets his inkling of what Nina has been doing on her secret missions (i.e., Stan Beeman), but Arkady tries to throw him off the trail by reopening the file on Baklanov.