Title: “Full Disclosure”
“Veep is gonna go apeshit menstrual over this!” shouts White House aid and towering, gargoyle-like lackey Jonah Ryan to Vice President staffer Dan Egan in the first scene of “Full Disclosure”, the penultimate episode of Veep’s first season. This is a show that I have come to love very dearly this summer. I had heard that Julia Louis-Dreyfus played the vice president, and the show centered on her and her staff’s hysterical adventures. I expected something akin to The Office, but with higher stakes. What I got was a show that examines the internal politics of Washington D.C. from a comically dark point of view that fits perfectly in HBO’s current lineup.
I chose “Full Disclosure” not only because it showcases the best of the ensemble cast, but also because it is smack dab in the middle of some of the show’s best plot revelations. Dreyfus’s character, VP (or “veep”) Selina Meyers, has confided in her right-hand lady Amy Brookheimer that she is pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby. The problem is that she’s not married. The relationship between Selina and her lover is not lingered on for too long, and the viewer gets the feeling that she can’t keep a stable relationship together in addition to her demanding career. That demanding career, ironically, dehumanizes her and her staff, because the hard part of being the Vice President is convincing the public that you are human and know what you’re doing.
“Full Disclosure” starts with various members of the cast listening to a radio show, where the hosts ard criticizing Amy for firing a White House security officer for smiling at a joke. This leads to some negative press for Selina, and it’s up to her team of experts to defuse the situation. In a group meeting, Amy suggests that they release…everything. Every email, text message, and phone call made by the office will be laid out for the press to see. Following up with the show’s theme of false honesty in the public eye, the idea here is not to reveal secrets to the press; rather, the plan is to inundate them with so much information that they can’t actually discover the real secrets of the office. There’s an offhand line in this exchange that I’d like to examine. In the previous scene, the staff finds out that Selina had a miscarriage. It’s immediately glossed over, and the matter at hand is dealt with. Amy says “Dan, just because this isn’t your baby…ooh, wow. I’m sorry, ma’am”. Selina then delivers the most thematically important line of the episode, free of any inflection or sarcasm.
“Oh. It’s fine, it’s fine. I mean, it was like a heavy period. Don’t worry about it.”
The exchange demonstrates how soulless this group really is. It’s strange to think a show that offers a (supposedly semi-accurate) look at the Vice President’s office would choose to portray them as ignoring the death of an unborn child. After finishing Season One, I did some research on the mind behind the show, and I learned that the show runner is Armando Iannucci, Italian-born filmmaker living in England who is known for directing 2009’s In the Loop and 2005’s British comedy series The Thick of It (which Veep is an American remake of). It makes a lot more sense to view Veep as the exaggerated views of an outsider to American politics than as someone who has lived and breathed it for all his life. Similar to In the Loop, Iannucci uses Veep not to criticize American politicians, but to deconstruct how inaccurately they are portrayed in the media. These men and women aren’t sitting in desk chairs all day, reading memos and shaking hands with businessmen. When the doors close, they swear, they have sex, they do drugs, and they are brutally, overwhelmingly, human.
The reason I like Veep, and the reason “Full Disclosure” is such a good episode, is that we’re seeing the staff at their worst. In a later scene, Selina plans to fire at least one of her three main staff members for incompetence, and they opt to lie to each other and go for the “suicide pact”, where they all supposedly quit if one of them is fired. The plan ultimately fails, because nobody is willing to go through with it. There’s a background gag in this scene where Gary (Tony Hale), Selina’s bag boy, is offering to make her tea with the hope of seeing one of his coworkers get fired, only to be shooed out of the room like the meaningless bug that Selina sees him as. Even when there are people’s livelihoods at stake, Selina needs to be the one laying down the verdict. As the meeting comes to a close, Gary and Selina being the only two remaining in the room, they both glare at the door, regretting that fact that nobody was sacked. Later, when Selina brings her boyfriend Ted to Gary’s house to privately break up with him, she has the chance to be a good person and accept that their relationship is over. Instead, she chooses the more conniving option, and leaves Ted with his hands in his pockets, and tells Gary to let him go. “But do it very sensitively, and make sure there aren’t any repercussions or something like that.” And just to make sure Gary doesn’t harbor any resentment for having to do this, she makes sure to compliment him on his beautiful home before she leaves.
The role of the Vice President as her boss’s footstool is explored in the series through many different perspectives. Since it’s a show about the veep, the big man upstairs is never shown nor mentioned by name. It goes to show how selfish she is, and how she uses her minor position of power to weasel her way into the decision-making of the superiors that she holds so much contempt for.
“Full Disclosure” ends on a tragic note that feels like it would fit better in another HBO series like Boardwalk Empire or The Wire. Without actually saying anything, Selina forces Amy to throw herself under the bus and claim that the pregnancy and miscarriage were hers, and to essentially embarrass herself publically to improve the reputation of the veep.
Selina Meyers is not an inherently bad person. She’s simply an ambitious person who was dealt the wrong hand in life, and she’s dealing with it the best way she can. By bringing others down with her, she asserts her power in government, and manages to make the public think she’s only a little crazy. I think that’s why Veep isn’t as popular as some of HBO’s other comedy series. It’s hilarious, but most of the good jokes are at the expense of nice characters, and the viewer can’t help but feel like the focus of the show is just to make politicians look bad. But look a little deeper, and it becomes clear that Veep is a show that highlights how being in the public eye can make a person completely and utterly crazy, and how the humor within that scenario can bubble up to the surface.