Well, that was dark. While last week’s episode was possibly the funniest of the series, tonight’s was definitely the least funny – intentionally so. Those of us speculating about how “Veep” would handle the major plot twist from last week’s episode were dealt another curveball this week. Instead of moving forward with Selina’s pregnancy or chalking it up to an error on Gary’s part (that was my best guess), Armando Ianucci and his writers went with the darkest possible outcome and unleashed a nasty but effective episode.
I expected that the pregnancy – if it was real – could only make the show even more cynical. After all, we had seen Selina and her staff play politics with the environment, the mentally disabled, and obese children. But a multi-episode arc regarding the politics of her pregnancy? That might have been too much to bear – especially since we have a good idea how poorly she would treat that child.
But the darkness of this particular episode had less to do with the pregnancy and more with a problem that has been bubbling up all season and finally reached a boiling point: the incompetence of the staff. A story gets out that puts the vice-president in hot water, and, amazingly, it’s not the pregnancy. It’s the firing of a secret service agent who was too “jocular” for Selina’s tastes.
Selina finally realizes that her staff’s poor performance is hurting her, so she decides to send a message: someone is getting fired. Seen largely through the eyes of her staff this week, Selina comes off as particularly cruel – and cunning. By letting Amy, Dan, and Mike know that one of them would be fired but holding off on telling them who it would be, she puts all three of them on the defensive. Watching their hilarious “murder-suicide pact” crumble as soon as they are actually in Selina’s presence, it struck me that in the vice-president’s office, as in all organizations, the problems begin and end at the top.
Selina was clearly the source of this particular screw-up; the disgruntled Secret Service agent who she had reassigned was the one who leaked the story to the press. But more than that, the incompetence in her office has largely been the result of Selina’s laissez faire management style. When she does take a hands-on approach to managing her staff, as she does in tonight’s episode, she can be frightfully effective.
Over the course of this first season, Selina has been many different things: funny, scary, effective, foolish, phony, and humiliating. I am not sure whether this speaks to a conscious decision to keep her opaque – as a reflection of the chameleon-like nature of the politician – or if it is just poor characterization. For tonight, at least, it worked. I didn’t like the Selina Meyer that we saw tonight. But I was impressed by her, and that’s a positive and important development for this show.