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Veep Recap: Do Not Resuscitate

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matt Walsh, Tony Hale. Photograph by Lacey Terrell courtesy HBO.

Maybe this rings more clearly because I’m writing this recount in a Las Vegas hotel room, but when one is doing business in Nevada—as Selina Meyer’s team is with the ongoing recount fight—it’s best to walk away from the table when you’ve got a pocketful of house money. Who among us hadn’t enjoyed a heater only to give it all back when the dealer pulls 20s and 21s on eight consecutive hands?

But Selina’s momentary recount victory followed by a sudden reversal that tilts Nevada back toward her opponent is just an exclamation point after a main plot that ranks among one of the darkest in Veep’s five-year run. The episode opens with Selina’s mother comatose and on her deathbed, with doctors asking the president if she’d like to pull the plug.

Well, there’s not actually a plug, it’s a ventilator tube. And yet everyone cares more about Selina’s mother than Selina herself. Her daughter, Catherine, (Sarah Sutherland) sobs loudly and Gary goes catatonic during when the doctor advises Selina on how her mother’s life will end.

Selina is at her worst throughout the half-hour, from her “prayer” in the hospital chapel that turns into a devotional about the recount to her cackling with glee when the good recount news arrives just as her mother expires. The crucial scene, though, comes when Selina gets a moment alone with her mother. More than most shows, Veep is all about conversations and arguments between rotten people, but with Selina’s mother vegetative and Selina herself unable to summon words, all the work is done by Julia Louis-Dreyfus‘s face, which shifts expressions so many times in just a few seconds.

Alas, the recount winds up favoring Senator O’Brien thanks to military absentee votes, throwing Nevada his way and leaving the election to be decided by Congress. Seems like Selina’s “You’re going to cancel this recount like Anne Frank’s bat mitzvah” order didn’t do the trick.

Here are some other observations from “Mother”:

Charlie Rose, ya burnt!: Catherine pleads with Selina to talk to “mee-maw,” but why would Selina bother with someone she clearly loathes? And then there’s this unnecessary sideswipe: “If I wanted to talk to an unconscious person I’d book myself on Charlie Rose,” Selina says. Ouch.


POLL BLINK: Selina’s first moment of grace in an episode filled with unearned moments of grace comes when Kent informs her that her poll numbers are ticking upward in light of her mother’s hospitalization and that there might be a chance to really surge her approval ratings. “There’s is a possibility of a shorter-lived but empirically greater outpouring,” Kent says. “If you will, a death bump.” I eagerly await the FiveThirtyEight analysis of this theory.

Presidential playlist: Smart presidential campaigns start making their inauguration plans before the election is actually decided, and Selina proves to be no exception when her chances of winning Nevada start to appear flaky. “I’m going to have a lovely inauguration,” she says “Billy Joel is going to sing.”

As if America wants a president who would ask Billy Joel to sing at the inauguration.

“Those you love cannot be lost because they’re always a part of you”: It’s no “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” but as far as greeting-card statements of grief go, it’s—nah, it’s pretty lame.

Jonah Ryan insult watch: It’s another light week for America’s favorite ugly scarecrow, but Dan still gets a good shot in. With the Meyer and O’Brien camps staging dueling Brooks Brothers riots in Carson City, Jonah fantasizes that young women will swoon at the sight of his face on TV. “The only thing 18-to-34-year olds are going to do when they see you on TV is file a restraining order,” Dan replies.

Mike McClintock Health Watch: With Mike and Wendy’s adoption plans scuttled by last week’s trade war with China, they’ve turned to hiring a surrogate, who turns out to be emphatically Christian. The muddling, meandering responses Matt Walsh and Kathy Najimy give are just more evidence that when Veep runs its course, we need a spin-off that is just about Mike and Wendy attempting to navigate society.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.