A fond and appropriately bitter farewell, then, to the beautifully shriveled heart of HBO’s pitch-perfect Washington satire “Veep,” which ended Sunday night with the fullest possible symphony of f-bombs, c-words and manic maneuverings, as its antihero, Selina Meyer (the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus), finally got what she always wanted — the presidency of the United States — only to have live coverage of her state funeral (24 years later) interrupted by the breaking news that actor Tom Hanks had died.
Selina’s victory didn’t come easily, because nothing in Selina’s inglorious career as a public servant ever did. You’ll be thrilled to know that she never found happiness.
But viewers certainly did. In a satisfyingly conclusive, supersized episode (written and directed by “Veep” showrunner David Mandel, who took over from the show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, a few seasons back) “Veep” luxuriated one final time in history-making swerves of political fate, echoing the bizarre events that had previously landed Selina in the Oval Office for a term that was so short it’s why they invented asterisks.
This time, Selina’s party (the show was always coy about which party she belonged to) was split among feuding nominees, leading to the first deadlocked convention in almost 70 years. Selina had to scrape and connive her way to her party’s nomination at its 2020 convention in Charlotte. The harder she tried to win over more delegates, the more she lost — leading to the horrifying prospect that the imbecilic, upwards-failing Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) might secure the nomination.
Jonah’s improbable rise with voters this season was “Veep’s” lone, slight nod to real-life American politics and the Trump administration. The more reprehensible he became, the more he looked like a sure bet. Even poor Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), who suffered years as Selina’s chief of staff and later campaign manager, found a new kind of political salvation on Jonah’s campaign. Instead of fighting stupidity, she teased her hair and went on TV to argue, in a Kellyanne Conway-ish way, that facts are just opinions.
For the past two seasons, some viewers (and certainly a lot of reporters and critics) have asked how “Veep” could possibly compete with the real headlines of the day. The show’s answer, usually, was to deliver story lines that were inventively absurd and even funnier than anything lampooned on “Saturday Night Live” or in late-night monologues. It was a tad disappointing to watch as “Veep” subtly acquiesced in these last few episodes to the idea that it must somehow weigh in on actual events, lining its subplots with foreign governments interfering in elections (China, in Selina’s case) and the rise of a candidate who subverts everything we once knew about traditional campaigning and leadership.
Happily, the finale leaned far more on “Veep’s” established strengths as a work of fiction. More than anything, viewers will miss the repulsive rat-a-tat dialogue of Selina in high dudgeon — it was the show’s core, the reason Louis-Dreyfus won an impressive six Emmys in a row for the role.
When her rival and former lover Tom James (Hugh Laurie) tried to step into the race as a last-minute savior/solution to the convention’s deadlocked votes, Selina delivered what may have been one of the most deliciously scorching diatribes to James’s aide, Michelle York (“Better Call Saul’s” Rhea Seehorn).
Can I repeat it here? Not much of it, except: “I just hate to see smart women throw their political careers away on men who only see them as the [slur for a body part] of least resistance.”
It worked. The next day, Michelle appeared on the news shows, accusing James of sexual harassment. And just like that, Selina’s final obstacles begin to fall away. Against everyone’s pleading, she makes Jonah her Veep, for no one knows better than Selina what an inescapable purgatory of insignificance that job can be. It’s a suitable punishment.
Selina made other decisions that were painful but necessary; one led to permanent estrangement from her emotionally fragile daughter, Catherine (Sarah Sutherland), and the other landed her loyal bagman, Gary Walsh (Tony Hale, who provided so many of the show’s funniest moments), in federal prison.
Gary, now old and paroled, came to Selina’s funeral anyhow. “You’d hate the flowers,” he whispered to her casket, leaving a tube of her favorite lipstick atop it.
Sentiment and genuine emotion was hardly ever “Veep’s” forte, but it was hard not to feel a little wistful at its passing. Mandel and his outstanding cast made sure everyone got more or less what they deserved. Thankfully, most of them left politics — except the enigmatically good-natured Richard Splett (Sam Richardson), who became a popular two-term president and Nobel Peace Prize winner. It was as if “Veep” was telling us that the nation’s future may yet wind up in better hands.