‘Veep’ Goes for Broke in Election Season Series Finale

Hilariously vicious and brilliantly sober about how the political game is played, HBO’s “Veep” ends its run with a grand electoral finale episode. Season seven has been about the final attempt by Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to finally grab the most powerful seat in the world. After a season of vendettas, twists and turns, with her own husband’s troubled past still following her around, Selina goes nuclear and makes the ultimate power plays.

It’s convention time and the delegate-vote gets deadlocked. This creates panic in the Meyer campaign, with Selina staring down anyone who even suggests she should either call it quits or accept becoming someone’s running mate yet again. With Kemi (Toks Olagundoye), the demented Jonah (Timothy Simons) and Tom (Hugh Laurie) blocking her path to victory, Selina begins to go full Machiavelli. At first she seems to get a nice boost when a trip to the bathroom results in her unknowingly breaking North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law. But when a Muslim math teacher is caught with bombs, it overshadows Selina and helps Jonah and his whole conspiracy theory about Muslims and math equaling terrorists. Deciding to simply pact with the dark side, Selina goes on a total vote-grabbing raid. She meets with religious fanatic Buddy Calhoun (Matt Oberg) and offers to overturn gay marriage. She manipulates Tom’s chief aid Michelle York (Rhea Seehorn) into confessing to her affair with Tom on the air and accusing him of sexual harassment. All that’s left is the ultimate nuclear option, meaning considering Jonah for the vice presidential slot, even as he advocates for “Christian math” and slams vaccines.

A year before we face the presidential polls once more, “Veep” turned a brilliant final season into an acidic commentary on the campaign culture itself. From vice president to political exile to jumping back into the ring, following Selina’s career has worked like a chart of political life in contemporary America. She may peddle slogans and espouse beliefs, but in the end it’s all about the power. During its run “Veep” has three times won the Emmy for best comedy series, and this last season justifies every single win. No other show on TV gets our political system or any political system for that matter, so well. The series finale builds to a magnificent, savage crescendo. After all the campaign stops, backdoor negotiations and scrambles for votes, Selina has decided once again that you just have to swim with the sharks. If the show has been edgy for seven seasons it has the cut of a sharpened blade in its final chapter. The opening scenes find us in a conference room where the candidates hear convention chairman Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl) bark that they need to “pillow-smother this sad grandma of a convention.” And indeed this is what Selina proceeds to do, bluntly dismissing running with Kemi because a male VP pick has a more important commodity, a penis. Past relationships, such as the romantic links to Tom are in the past, she even carefully walks over a heart attack-stricken Ben (Kevin Dunn) when breaking news hits the television. When longtime confidant Kent Davison (Gary Cole) can’t fathom some of her decisions, like offering Jonah VP, Selina in a cold fury lets everyone in the room know she did not come all the way to North Carolina to lose. She never relents, even when her daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) disowns her for siding with Calhoun against same-sex marriage. One can imagine real-life political operators watching at home and nodding their heads.

Writer/director David Mandel is almost daring himself to go past the limit of good taste with his work here, conjuring lines and jokes so satirically cutting they’re almost radioactive. When Selina proposes Jonah as her running mate, a terrified Amy (Anna Chlumsky) pleads, “you can’t let an embittered, vindictive, narcissistic man child be one heartbeat away from the presidency” (no need to guess who Mandel is actually referencing here). Jonah’s own snarling uncle slams him as being “shaped like a rapist,” and Selina herself describes being vice president as “being declawed, defanged, neutered, ball-gagged and sealed in an abandoned coal mine under two miles of human shit.” It would almost be dangerous to print how Selina describes to Michelle York how Tom must make love to her from behind, and the sexist way Roger Furlong describes an all-female ticket to Selina almost feels like a wink to “Blue is the Warmest Color.” And yet, let’s be frank, we shouldn’t have illusions about how people fire verbal missiles in high-pressure environments involving business and politics. Just look at our actual commander-in-chief. “Veep” is a great satire precisely because it does not pull any punches.

“Veep” does deliver a happy ending, of a sort. Selina clinches that nomination with Jonah at her side. The show then jumps six months into the future. Jonah is blocked from entering the Oval Office and Selina is in there, alone, chatting on the phone with the Israeli prime minister about those “whiner” Palestinians. But in a final shot of Dreyfus for the show she is alone, with a sad look on her face as she stares into the camera. Selina has finally reached the summit, but maybe it was never going to be enough. We then move forward again, 24 years into the future as Selina is now being buried with full honors. As mourners visit her coffin in Washington, we learn that she served one term, overturned gay marriage and liberated Tibet, other than that, nothing else. It turns out Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) went on to become president, served two terms and fixed the Middle East situation with a “three-state solution.” Fittingly, the honor guard carrying Selina’s casket have a hard time opening the burial crypt.

So “Veep” ends, lasting as a comedic snapshot of our current political moment. This is also Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s greatest work, surpassing even her iconic role in “Seinfeld,” because it took her to places both deep and bold. She created a persona who loath and root for, even when she shocks us with her cynicism and damn the consequences behavior. But that’s been the point all along, that such is the nature of power and blind ambition. Selina wins in the end, following Lenin’s advice of breaking a few eggs to make an omelet, but there’s quite the trail of destruction left behind for just one term in office. It’s been an enlightening run, even as we guiltily laughed along the whole way through.

Veep” series finale airs May 12 at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.