The 'Veep' Finale Was a Strangely Tragic, Nearly Perfect Ending to the Series
On Sunday's Game of Thrones, dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen laid waste to King's Landing, scorching the Earth, burning women and children alive. Beloved (and no so beloved) characters died in her massacre. And yet nothing in Westeros was quite as devastating to me as what Selina Meyer did to Gary in the series finale of Veep. The often brilliant comedy ended its seven-season run with an episode that highlighted the best of its brutality. Not only were the insults fast and fierce, per Veep's status quo, but there were tragic consequences to its protagonist's ruthlessness that were both shocking and strangely moving. It was a relief, considering the rest of the season had been wildly hit or miss.
In its last episodes, Veep found Julia Louis-Drefyus' Selina once again running for president, and doing basically whatever she can to get there -- even if that means committing some treason. Despite her machinations, she's never able to get a strong lead on her opponents, one of whom happens to be Jonah "Jolly Green Jizz Face" Ryan, running on a platform of insanely idiotic intolerance and anti-vaccination.
Veep was always going to be in a predicament following the election of Donald Trump. Whereas in the Obama era, it exposed the hilarious callousness of America's political system; in the Trump era, Selina and her staff's incompetence and cruelty was no match for what was unfolding in the real world. In the final season, it was hard to shake the feeling that the writers were trying to riff on the news instead of staying true to the alternate universe of the narrative. Sub in Russia for China and you've got a foreign power meddling in an election storyline that's ripped from the headlines; Selina's former chief of staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) transforms into a Kellyanne Conway clone trying to help Jonah win.
Thankfully, in its last half hour, Veep abandoned real-world analogies in favor of what has always made it great: A portrait of people so convinced of their own superiority that they've deluded themselves into thinking what they are doing is for the good of the country.
When the finale opens, it's the night of the convention and the party is in a stalemate. No one candidate has enough delegates to win the nomination. From there, it's a madcap dash of wheeling, dealing, and conniving.
Ultimately, Selina decides that the presidency is worth more than her humanity. To win one pack of delegates, she offers to get rid of same-sex marriage, devastating her lesbian daughter Catherine in the process. (Catherine's never mattered much to her, but this is a new low.) She gives Jonah the veep slot, despite the warnings of Amy, who, in crunch time, realizes putting Jonah anywhere near the presidency is dangerous, despite her desire to fuck with America. "Being Vice President is like being declawed, defanged, neutered, ball-gagged and sealed in an abandoned coal mine under two miles of human shit," Selina snarls in Amy's face. "It is a fate worse than death. And besides, I'm not going to die because I've got the heart and twat of a high school cheerleader who has only done anal."
Selina has one final power move, and it's the most crushing. In order to absolve herself of any wrongdoing related to her nonprofit The Meyer Fund, she has her loyal aide Gary (Tony Hale) take the fall for embezzlement. Just before she accepts the nomination, he picks a chia seed out of her teeth and hands her a favorite shade of lipstick. "You look beautiful," he says. She responds: "And you are a lifesaver, couldn't have done it without you." She hugs him before taking the stage, a rare show of affection. As she speaks about sacrifice, and how no one has sacrificed more than her, FBI agents emerge from the shadows to take him away. He gives her a horrified look, far from the adoring expression he usually wears.
Despite being closest to Selina in almost all respects, Gary is remarkably an innocent. He doesn't care about politics, he cares about his boss, and making sure she's well fed, clothed, made-up, and always has a tampon on hand. He would have remained by her side no matter what came of the election because he deeply loves her in his own strange way. And -- it appears in just a flash across Louis-Drefyus' face -- but she may have loved him as well. Sure enough, she wins the presidency, but when she snaps at Gary to get her food, he's not there. After her staff leaves, she stares out into the distance before getting on the phone to schmooze with the Israeli prime minister. Is she happy with her choice? Maybe not. But she triumphed, she's president, and that's all that matters to her.
Perversely, Gary continues to follow her. The show ends on a flash-forward 24 years in the future. Selina's dead and the whole gang is back to mourn her, including Gary. Dan holds Amy back to see him, remarking that Selina never visited him when he was in prison. They walk away and the camera's left on Tony Hale, who handles the moment like a Tennessee Williams play. He's broken and scruffy, but still prepared. "You'd hate the flowers," he says. "I brought the Dubonnet." He puts a tube of lipstick on her coffin, his hand resting on it while the room empties out. It's played straight without any jokes or gags, just sorrow. It made me nearly cry.
It's not that Veep lost its sense of humor as it came to a close. The only pure-hearted person on the entire series, Richard Splett (Sam Richardson), gets to the presidency in the very end, brokering peace in the Middle East. Coverage of Selina's funeral is interrupted by news that Tom Hanks has died. She would have hated it, but it's what she deserves.