Why the Finale of Netflix's 'The Politician' Already Has Us Excited for Season 2

the politician

This post contains spoilers for the end of The Politician, Season 1.

In the midst of the Emmys this past Sunday, Netflix released a preview image from The Politician featuring noted grand dames of entertainment, Judith Light and Bette Midler. But you'll be waiting a while to get to their appearances in the first series from Ryan Murphy's $300 million deal for the streamer. Light and Midler don't show up until the very final episode of the season, which exists entirely as set-up for the next chapter in the saga of striver Payton Hobart. 

Unlike Ryan Murphy's other series about a Type-A teenager, Glee, The Politician actually gets done with its high school storyline pretty quickly. In the penultimate 40 minutes of the series, Ben Platt's Payton, having survived multiple assassination attempts, is outed as having known that his sometime running mate Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch) was being poisoned by her Nana (Jessica Lange). He's forced to resign as president of the school and his offer of admission to Harvard is rescinded. 

When we check back in with Payton in the finale, he's at NYU, the back-up school of basically every high-achieving TV character. (Remember how Serena and Blair in Gossip Girl were desperate to go to Brown and Yale, respectively, but ended up at NYU?) He's drinking too much and spending his time crooning Billy Joel at Marie's Crisis, the famous bar known for its show tunes singalongs. ("Vienna" doesn't really count. It wasn't even in the Joel Twyla Tharp show Movin' Out.) 

the politician
Will Gwyneth ever return? | Netflix

But the plot veers away from Payton for large swaths of time to introduce us to New York State Senator Dede Standish (Light) and her right-hand woman, Hadassah Gold (Midler). Dede is approached by a senator from Texas who wants her to be his running mate for the US presidency. She's all for that; she just needs to keep the fact that she's part of a long-term throuple with her husband and another man quiet. (This show adores a throuple. And maybe it's worth it alone to hear Tony-winning Light say "Devil's Triangle.")

So how does this all relate to the story of Payton? Well, it becomes relevant when his former lackey McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss), now an early graduate of Columbia University, goes to work with Dede and Hadassah and finds them resting on their laurels when it comes to reelection and vulnerable to an attack by an upstart challenger. From there, McAfee rallies Payton's former high school opponents and allies to convince him to run against Dede. 

Nearly all of Payton's one-time foes, from woke lesbian Skye (Rahne Jones) -- who once tried to feed Payton a cupcake with rat poison -- to ice queen Astrid (Lucy Boynton), appear in his dorm room to get him back into politics. They need something to believe in and that something, apparently, is Payton. And thus, the season ends with Payton mounting a challenge to Dede, making his primary issue the New York transit system's ineffectiveness. (We've got a regular Cynthia Nixon over here!)

My general fatigue with The Politician's erratic storytelling was rendered completely powerless to the idea that if I keep watching in Season 2, I'll get to see Bette Midler and Judith Light on the warpath. As I watched that last episode play out on my TV, I thought: "Why wasn't this the show from the beginning?" Certainly there had to be more to it than the half-baked, detached-from-reality fare I'd been consuming so far.

Payton and his pals. | Netflix

That's not to say the ending rectifies all of The Politician's problems. In fact, it highlights just how confused the writing has been the whole time. For much of the series, Payton is an avatar for privilege, a rich kid who works hard, yes, but feels like he is owed his success, and is willing to manipulate the less fortunate to get his way. But that characterization evolves to the point where we're supposed to believe in these final moments that everyone who previously hated him now believes he is a good leader with good intentions and that he can be the change New York City needs, despite being a college kid with an alcohol problem who has lived there for only a short amount of time. 

I'd like to believe that Murphy is aware of this issue, and is opening the door for a further exploration of Payton's psyche down the line, but it's also hard to deny how much the show loves this guy. It is so deep in Payton's pockets that we're supposed to believe that his ex-lover who killed himself in front of him turned into his spirit guide. Because, yes, that's a thing The Politician actually does. 

And, yet, regrettably, The Politician has hooked me into watching a second season even before its first is over. I'm rendered powerless by the Divine Miss M and Judith Light; I'll just have to deal with the rest of it.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.