It was inevitable, at some point, that Political Animals was going to have a flashback episode (and it isn’t 100 percent off the cards for a future episode to be all a figment of Bud’s Scotch-soaked dreams, either). In episode two, nicely titled “Second Time Around,” we got to see everything hit the fan and a 17th-century Xing Dynasty vase hit the floor, which is something Ai Weiwei might approve of, but I do not. We also get to see 1997 Elaine confronting Bud about his alleged infidelities, and she’s so baggy and frumpy and downtrodden that it’s quite depressing. Meanwhile Bud is pleading his innocence and telling someone on the phone, “There’s only five things I do well, and one of them is fart.” Charming.
Cut back to 2012 and Elaine is still dealing with the American journalists who’ve been sentenced to death in Iran. The Vice President, who seems to be a bit of a whiny bitch (we know, we know, never call a bitch a bitch, but he’s a dude, so it’s okay), doesn’t want Bud to go, and President Garcetti’s horrible chief of staff (Roger Bart, who terrified us as creepy pharmacist George Williams in Desperate Housewives) tells Elaine the former President is “one sex scandal away from Dancing With the Stars.” To which we say, only one? But Elaine stands her ground, and sighs heavily when the President asks what will happen if he says no, and in that simple sigh is a cornucopia of unspoken threats and terror. Hence, Bud is going to negotiate with the Iranian president in Oman.
Meanwhile, Doug doesn’t like the idea because it means he’ll have to change his engagement party yet again, and TJ is doing blow with a half-naked man who has a boyfriend, but it’s okay because TJ is “on his list,” even though nobody has had lists since Ross got blown off by Isabella Rossellini in that 1996 episode of Friends. And Susan still isn’t talking to Alex, and she instructs an underling at the Washington Globe to tell him he’s a “lying, cheating piece of shit.” The underling isn’t thrilled at having to insult his boss thusly, so Susan says, “Tell him it’s in quotes. You’re just reporting the news.” Which will absolutely work as a defense when poor underling has been fired for insubordination.
Elaine is coaching Bud on his trip to Oman, and talk somehow turns to their hookup in last week’s episode. Elaine wants to forget it ever happened. “I was vulnerable,” she tells him. “You were insatiable,” he replies, and there is not enough Clorox in the whole world for this bleachable moment. Bud insists on calling everyone “sugar,” apart from Susan, whom he calls the “Bitch of the Beltway.” And even though he’s furious she’s on the trip with him as a member of the press corps, he naturally expresses said fury by inviting her to drink Stoli, eat presidential M&Ms, and play Words with Friends. And Susan is thrilled to accept because she’s beaten all her friends at Words with Friends so often that no one will play with her (this is basically a metaphor for her entire life).
We flashback to Bud telling Elaine, “I did not have sex with that woman, sorry, Sarah Latham,” and it’s the most Bubba he’s been thus far. And then we flash forward to TJ, who’s helping his grandmother rehearse “Second Time Around” for the engagement party. (“We’ll figure out some bullshit relevance later on,” Nana explains, since it isn’t an obvious choice of song for a young couple in love.) Nana, we find out, used to sing songs in Vegas, and she also chooses to help her alcoholic, drug-addicted grandson by asking him to fix her a screwdriver. Then she tells him (and us) about how easy it was to potty-train Elaine, which is awkward. TJ asks Nana for money and she says no, but then she oh-so-conveniently gets out her checkbook and then leaves the room, leaving her purse in full view. Is TJ low enough to steal a check from Ellen Burstyn? Damn right he is.
The Vice President is on TV neither confirming nor denying that Bud has gone on a top-secret mission no one can know about, which of course means he’s confirming it. Elaine is furious, and it prompts a huge rant about all these stupid men and their stupid egos and how it makes her so sick, Douglas, so sick that she could actually puke for days. It’s an odd rant, and as much as we bow down to the altar of Ripley, Weaver delivers it so formally that it’s a bit like the Queen of England telling you she has tummy troubles. It sounds stiff and awkward, and it’s also not something anyone over the age of 25 would ever say (because they’ve long since forgotten what it’s like to drink so much Jägermeister that you actually do puke for days). Douglas is unimpressed by her salty tone, and more unimpressed when she tells him she’s running against Garcetti, because my goodness, the DNC will be upset. And then the Sultan of Oman calls, and Doug has to stop complaining, and really if he’s going to complain about anything it should be his mom’s high-waisted purple skirt and blouse combo.
Susan is crushing Bud at Words with Friends, until she realizes it’s all been an elaborate ploy to give her a sense of false confidence and steal her money. Her journalist friend on the plane, who in another life was Daniel in Ugly Betty (Eric Mabius), is very jealous of all the great access she’s getting. Elaine calls Bud on Skype, and she isn’t jealous at all because she’s too busy worrying that the Sultan of Oman has told her he can’t host their top-secret summit. They’ll have to go to Turkey instead. Except the Turkish ambassador is in a hammam, so Elaine has to stomp into a steamy room full of hairy, fat, half-naked men to retrieve him. And he also wants to know why Elaine never responded to the four dozen tulips (tulips!) he sent her after she filed for divorce, because Elaine is totally a stone-cold fox. Anyway, Elaine has to agree to go on a date with him to persuade him to let his country be used for a clandestine diplomatic meeting, which is why we’ll never have a woman President, ever. But Elaine at least gets to call him “an honest scoundrel,” so she kind of gets an Aretha Franklin Moment out of it.
Meanwhile, Doug is still harping on his mom for deciding to run for President, and we’re guessing he doesn’t like it because it’ll mean she’s focused on herself instead of on his stupid wedding to a bulimic with mommy issues. Although he does guess, possibly correctly, that Elaine wants to be President because it’ll mean she’ll be back in the White House, with Bud, but happy this time. “You’re the smartest, most powerful woman on the planet and you can’t see he’s going to hurt you,” he says. Flashback to Elaine in 1997, wearing a lime green blouse and being coached for an interview denying her husband’s infidelity by (you guessed it) Garcetti’s dickish chief-of-staff. Only Bud comes in and confesses that he has been unfaithful, and Elaine sobs, and it’s all really sad.
We’re now in Istanbul in what looks like an aircraft hangar, and Bud tells Susan to put a scarf over her head and she might get a scoop (this sounds a lot dirtier the way we’ve just put it). Except Bud being Bud, he’s of course using her to further his agenda, which involves pretending she’s a White House envoy so he can negotiate with the very frail-looking Iranian president. This is how Bud does negotiation: “I won’t give you anything you want, but I will come to your funeral.” And magically it works, and they’re all getting out of there and drinking Champagne, and Daniel from Ugly Betty is really jealous and starts to interview Susan with his iPhone about what she saw. But instead she tells him he’s a gross douche and then has sex with him in the bathroom. And Bud invites a journalist in a flak jacket to use his suite, and God knows why she’s wearing a flak jacket because they’re in Istanbul, not the Korengal Valley.
Anne and Doug are having really bad sex again, and we find out she has a mean mommy, and he wants to know if they’re having sex or parallel parking. There’s a knock at the door, and it’s TJ, all messed up. So of course Doug agrees to lend him $50,000, which is totally what you do with addicts. The next day, Nana tells TJ about his grandfather, who it turns out was a jazz-playing heroin addict. Then she yells at him for stealing her check, and he says sorry, and it’s all okay.
Cut to the engagement party, where Bud is being hailed as a conquering hero, Elaine is wearing another sequined number, and Nana is singing her song kind of breathily. And Elaine remembers Bud telling her she should divorce him because he’ll always cheat and he’ll always lie and he’ll always be a dick. “I’m not leaving,” Elaine says, and goes on about his inauguration and what it meant to her. “I became First Wife. I married the nation. I will be in the Lincoln Bedroom until further notice.” AFM (from the past, but it counts).
But it turns out Bud isn’t the crappiest man in the Hammond-Parrish family. It’s actually Doug, who tries to feed Susan the scoop about his mom running for office. What will Susan do? Will she take a great story and ruin her non-friendship with Elaine? Will girl power triumph? Is Doug just cranky because of all the coitus interruptus? Tune in next week to find out.
What did you think of this weke’s episode of Political Animals? Let us know in the comments.