“Political Animals” mini-cap 1.02 “Second Time Around”

I hope you decided to give Political Animals space on your DVR. If you still haven’t watched the season premiere, you can see it free on the USA website and the network’s YouTube site. Sigourney Weaver fans, especially, can’t miss this series.

Elaine’s decision to send Bud to Iran to negotiate for the three journalists sentenced to death for spying is risky, and not just because failure means that three Americans will be killed. Elaine stands up to the current administration in such a way that the death of the journalists will also kill her reputation. The vice president is especially antagonistic since he believes he should be the one to go. So much so that he leaks the secret plan to the press, forcing a change plans, quite literally on the fly.

As the situation unfolds, Elaine flashes back to the First Lady version of herself, an emotional, weak willed cheater’s wife. Even her clothes and hair were boring and non-descript. We hear echoes of Clinton’s Lewinski affair, right down to the “I did not have sex with Sarah Latham.” In the Political Animals version, we see behind the scenes; Bud admits the affair to Elaine and tells her she should leave him. Elaine breaks down emotionally, but believes she has a duty to the country to stay.

Perhaps that is the moment Elaine decides she will never again give control of her life and career to someone else. In any case, First Lady Elaine is the polar opposite of Secretary of State Elaine. But the duality is important, I think; we can’t be who we are without the experience of who we used to be — for better or worse.

In fact, we see both sides of most of the Hammond family this episode. President Bud is a lying, cheating husband, but he also is a skillful politician. The very things that show him to be a cad — the country-boy accent, the good-old-boy manner, the too-obvious charm — serve him well in a crisis. Still, Bud is not too pleased to see Susan on the plane.

Bud: What’s the Bitch of the Beltway doing here?
Elaine: Finishing her feature on me. I told her she could cover this trip on background.
Bud: She won a Pulitzer for hating our guts.
Elaine: Turns out she doesn’t hate us, just you.

Bud turns on the charm for Susan, and invites her into his cabin to chat and play Words with Friends — and maybe a few other games. She is duly impressed; she sees a smarter, savvier Bud than the philanderer she wrote about. The negotiation is a success — and Susan witnesses it all. Including the way Bud celebrates by taking one of the just-released female journalists on a “private tour” of his cabin. The man is consistent, at least.

Gay T.J. descends deeper into his drug-fueled desperation — even stealing a check from his grandmother Margaret to finance his part of a nightclub that he’s convinced will pull him out of his problems. Nana is not fooled, mainly because she watched her musician husband succumb to heroin addiction. “I know your story,” she tells T.J. “I know how it ends.”

Doug still is not very well defined, although we get a sense of how damaged he was by his dad’s infidelity. Now he believes Elaine is letting Bud back in her life to boost her campaign when she makes another run for president — this time against the incumbent of her own party.

 

Whether Doug’s objection is concern about his mom’s emotional health and the future of her career or his own anger about what politics has done to his family is not clear. Whatever the motive, Doug leaks the news to Susan, obviously hoping to derail the campaign before it starts. The good son is not so good after all.

A few things bothered me about this episode, mostly inconsistency in Elaine’s character and some dialog that should have been better. In fact, I looked to see if a woman writer worked on this episode because I thought that might be what was missing. (I was wrong – Molly Newman has the writing credit.) The best example is Elaine’s response when Doug asks her why she would make a decision to run against her own party, especially so early in the term.

“You know, I am just sick of it all. I’m sick to death of the bullshit. The egos and the men. I am sick of the men. Just one time – just once – I would like to accomplish something in this city without having to spend all my energy navigating the shortsighted, selfish, self-involved, and oh-so-fragile male egos that suck up all the oxygen in this town. It makes me so sick, Douglas, so sick I could puke for days.”

It’s a great statement — and on paper it looks as good as it should have sounded. But what could have been a very powerful, very quotable moment fell flat. I wanted it to be better, especially since so much of Elaine’s dialogue is pitch perfect. I’d love to hear whether you think the speech worked. You can watch all of Episode 2 here.

This episode sets up Elaine’s encounter next week with the lesbian Supreme Court Justice, played by Vanessa Redgrave. I have a feeling that will be a highlight of the series. How could it not be?

What did you think of this episode of Political Animals? Do you think that the series is effective in its portrayal of a woman in power? Does the sexism of the other players bother you, or do you think it’s realistic?

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