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

Susan and Doug get jiggy in a jet, and TJ has one epic morning after.
Elaine gets serious in the Situation Room. Photo by David Giesbrecht for USA Network.
Elaine gets serious in the Situation Room. Photo by David Giesbrecht for USA Network.

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.

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