This post contains spoilers for the series finale of “Veep,” so please proceed with caution.
There’s some irony that the series finale of HBO’s “Veep” — an inky, black satire of contemporary political life about the travails of politician Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as she attempts to journey out of the Old Executive Office Building and into the West Wing — has been overshadowed almost entirely by the end of “Game of Thrones.” Think piece after think piece about Crazy Dany (Emilia Clarke) and Dopey Jon (Kit Harington), yet not much time to spare for my president, Selina Meyer.
Indeed, one wonders whether the show’s writers weren’t predicting just this eclipse when, after flashing forward 24 years to Selina’s funeral, coverage of her burial is interrupted by news that America’s Sweetheart, Tom Hanks, has died at the age of 88. It’s a comic, bittersweet capstone to a life that was consumed by the pursuit of power for its own sake.
The finale of “Veep” highlights the emptiness of that effort. After finally winning an election to take the presidency, we see Meyer, briefly, in the Oval Office. The only two aides in the sanctum are relative newcomers to the show and to her life: Michelle York (Rhea Seehorn), who betrayed her lover and patron, Tom James (Hugh Laurie), to get Selina elected, and Keith Quinn (Andrew Daly), an agent of the Chinese government whose work for Selina included the rigging of the South Carolina primary via foreign interference. In a moment of forgetfulness, she calls for her longtime manservant Gary (Tony Hale), but he’s not coming — he’s in prison, having taken the fall for crimes committed in Selina’s name.
Gary is just one of the many to have fallen at Selina’s feet. To obtain an endorsement from an evangelical Democrat (one of the show’s few truly unbelievable characters), she came out against same-sex marriage, costing her the love of her lesbian daughter, Catherine (Sarah Sutherland). Her husband, Andrew (David Pasquesi), faked his own death to avoid prison time for shenanigans related to her charitable foundation. Loyal hatchet man Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) has quit the great game because Selina’s demands gave him a heart attack.
The biggest betrayal of all comes when Selina, desperate for delegates at the deadlocked Democratic Convention, chooses as her running mate Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons). A longtime butt of the show’s jokes, Jonah has devolved from an idiotic but mostly harmless assistant into an anti-vaxxer former congressman who fearmongered for votes by claiming that Arabic numerals were a terrorist plot. Even Jonah’s campaign manager, onetime Meyer aide Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), is horrified by the idea that the Gumby-limbed goon might sniff power: “Ma’am, you can’t let an embittered, vindictive, narcissistic man-child be one heartbeat away from the presidency.”
But it’s the president’s pollster — Kent Davison (Gary Cole), the perfectly groomed, utterly unflappable, apolitical numbers guy who seems to care about nothing but his models — who drives home the magnitude of Selina’s immorality here. “F — k the numbers!” Kent screams after Selina makes her case. “I will not be part of a campaign, let alone an administration, that includes Jonah Ryan as vice president! That is an entirely unacceptable outcome.” True to his word, after the choice is revealed to the convention crowd, we see Kent, the most dapper man among an inevitably sloppy pool of D.C. schlubs, strip off his tie and drop it in the trash.
By the time of Selina’s funeral 24 years later, Kent’s a broken man: His frazzled hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and a jean jacket has replaced his impeccably tailored suits. He’s not alone; the whole gang has shown up to say goodbye. Which brings me back to Gary. Older, grayer, grizzled, paunchy, Gary: an ex-con, never visited in prison by the president, despite his sacrifice for her. He staggers up to the casket alone, and we wait for the cries and recriminations. But they never come. Instead he mutters, “You’d hate the flowers,” and puts her favorite lipstick on the casket. “I brought the Dubonnet,” he says, touching the casket, his eyes tearing.
Gary’s mistiness echoes the shot from moments before, as Selina sits in the empty Oval Office, having just mistakenly asked for Gary. One is at first struck by the majesty of the office: the Resolute desk, the portrait of Honest Abe, the flags behind her. Then you notice how small she looks, how diminished. And then we cut to a close-up of Selina, verging on tears. This, right here, is the tragedy of Selina Meyer and the greatness of “Veep.” She has everything she ever wanted. She has it all.
She has no one.
Not even Gary.