Having Cake & Eating It, Too
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Veep’s second episode was this show at its absolute finest, missing a tiny beat but overall a much stronger and storied showing than the premiere last week. The references to Marie Antoinette and her famous quote “Let them eat cake!” (which wasn’t said by her in reality) were woven in beautifully throughout the hour, capped off with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s pitch-perfect delivery of “Who do you think you are, Gary Antoinette?” That confrontation is the true beating heart of East Wing, three seasons’ worth of layering leading a hyperbolic crescendo. Gary has been the unseen side-man for the entirety of the show, the bag-man who simply melted away into the shadows until Selina needed something. He never complained, always happy to serve and their moment in last season’s Crate (still the best scene in the entire series) seemed to affirm their bond like no other. But the resentment at the ignorance, the lack of caring, and the denial of his fundamental existence had to pop at some point and it did here.
East Wing is remarkable in how efficient Selina’s staff largely is. Sure, there are incompetent beats because otherwise this wouldn’t be an effective half hour of the show, but it was nice to see everyone scrambling to do a good job to preserve the power they had garnered and largely succeeding. It helps significantly that there are a platitude of threats to that very power coming from all sides so the characters’ shields are raised in a significantly appropriate manner. For Amy, that threat is in the form of Bill Ericsson, who’s joined Selina’s White House and whom Amy rightfully distrusts to the point of nihilism. She needs to keep her guard up constantly, just in case Eric finds a single flaw to exploit and overtakes her job as campaign manager (that fight has to be brewing on the horizon, there’s no way that it’s been mentioned twice in two episodes straight for it not to be significant down the road). For Dan, it’s efficiency and managing to get enough signatures on the Families First bill despite Jonah’s absolute buffoonery. Catherine realizes how much people dislike her and the necessary public image change she has to pursue in order to preserve her own future. For Jonah, his most pressing danger is in the form of Teddy, whose passive-aggressive sexual assaults are a dark method of control that saps every bit of confidence Jonah exudes and replaces it with a marked fear.
Selina’s primary juncture this episode is the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Haim (her charged pronunciations are hilarious). His visit encompasses two main tracts: as the primary guest of Selina’s first official state dinner and a peace agreement. Selina is determined to have this one success after the remarkably disastrous beginning to her presidency, the specter of former President William Henry Harrison hanging over the air. President Harrison had only served for thirty-three days before his untimely death. Stupidly he had given his inaugural address outside in the freezing cold without the appropriate garments (like a jacket, for example) and thus found himself in the expectedly inane position of dying from pneumonia. The possibility of being an eight-month president is terrifying to her and understandably so. So when she actually accomplishes something as the President of the United States, which she notes to Ben is a phenomena that is virtually unheard of, but has to share headlines with a painting and vast centerpieces, her fury knows no bounds. Her fury is understandable, the small nitpicking of American politics that was skewered magnificently in tonight’s script. Sure, Israel is at the table, but the press is more concerned with the only Native American painting in the White House being removed and how much the State Dinner cost.
That fury concentrates and centers itself on Gary. Gary’s insistence on keeping Selina happy above everything has manifested into problematic territory before, notably in the government shutdown episode from the show’s second season. Gary’s problem lies in fundamentally undervaluing the positives of pragmatism. Sure, Selina hates the painting in her office (it is quite hideous, to back her up here), but that doesn’t mean that it should be removed before it’s properly vetted. State dinners going well are always a positive, but they have to strike the right balance between power and humility – especially in times of economic hardship. Giant centerpieces that are five feet tall are an absolute no and the phrase “I don’t care about the cost” should never be uttered in politics. From that vantage point, Selina’s anger is completely understandable. As the first female president and one with no family, she already has a much different standard set aside for her and Gary’s stupidity isn’t helping anything. From Gary’s point of view, he does everything in his power to keep her happy, to make sure that she has absolutely everything that she needs the moment she needs it. “You are unimportant, okay,” crosses the line for him and the two come the closest they’ve ever been to severing each other out of their lives. They recognize astutely how much they mean to each other, bonding over the partially eaten Harrison Day Cake. It’s literally sweet, an endearing moment that lasts despite all of the bitterness that is surely right around the corner.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Mike calling his mustache Tangerine Orange
+“We love to drink.”
+“Middle East, middle easy.”
+“Is that why his wife tried to kill herself?” Catherine’s sass and Selina’s genuine reaction of hilarity was a fantastic combination. More of that, please.
+“You make me any more late, I lock you in this car and have it compacted.”
+“I need a core role.”
+“I feel like I’m on trial in the future.” Amy would fit in pretty great in 1984, don’t you think?
+“But who’s gonna do that?” Everyone is too afraid of Catherine.
+“I outlived some dead idiot President.”
+The cake as a metaphor
+“Better think of a way to make me feel good.”
+“Did we get these from a homeless man’s grave? They’re molesting my eyes right now.”
+“I’ll just tell the Israelis to move on, ‘cause they love that.”
+“That’s a little Nazi doctor.”
+“Well, I just wanted to say a friendly hello in an unfriendly way. Hello.”
+“I like him. And I loathe politicians.”
+“20 bucks says she’s Mossad.”
+“Catherine, America doesn’t like you.”
+“Oh my. You have sharp shoulders.” Watching Ken try to be parental is hilarious.
+“Invest in education… Spend to save.”
+“You spend the money you save.”: Professor Jonah’s Economics 101
+The Israeli Prime Minister on the American government’s relations with Native Americans: “It’s ironic that you’re talking to us about occupation while you occupy someone else’s continent.”
+“Gary, you look whiter than a Georgia country club.”
+“At peace with Israel and war with Native Americans… I’m like the opposite of Mel Gibson.”
+Jonah claiming to be like Amelia Earhart
+“Yeah, said the Princeton grad in a Valentino tux.”
Title: East Wing
Story By: Armando Iannucci & Kevin Cecil & Roger Drew & Andy Riley
Teleplay By: Kevin Cecil & Roger Drew & Andy Riley
Directed By: Stephanie Laing
Image Courtesy: EW