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'Veep' review:  Series finale was absolutely perfect

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the series finale of HBO's

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the series finale of HBO's "Veep." Photo Credit: HBO/Colleen Hayes

This review contains spoilers about the final episode of "Veep."


WHAT IT WAS ABOUT In the series finale, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) confronts a series of crises during the nominating convention, but perhaps the most critical one is this: Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) suffers a heart attack and is laid up. At his bedside, Selina wonders how she can go on without her favorite "hatchet man." Says Ben, "You know what you have to do." And she does. And how.

In the closing seconds, viewers learn that 24 years from now, Selina will have expired, while her legacy is somewhat clouded by many questionable calls she made to get on her party's ballot. 

Then the bigger news breaks: Tom Hanks has died.

Poor Selina.  

MY SAY On the hourlong series finale of "Veep"  late Sunday night, Selina Meyer morphed into Daenerys Targaryen, breathing hellfire down on anyone and everyone who stood in her way en route to the White House, including Amy (Anna Chlumsky), Dan (Reid Scott), Jonah (Timothy Simons), Kent (Gary Cole) and (in the unkindest burn of all) Gary. At least Gary (Tony Hale) got the final word, at her funeral 24 years hence: "You'd hate the flowers but I brought the Dubonnet."

The universe works in curious ways, while karma works in obvious ways. Just as Selina was laid to rest, Tom Hanks decided to die, thus wrecking her send-off (or stepping on her punchline). Even in death, Selina got no respect. 

If the perfect series finale is perfect because it clarifies what it was saying all along, then "Veep" managed the perfect series finale. Its indignation remained savage, its anger barely contained.

It was funny — often hilarious — but it was perfect because underneath all of that was one long howl of pain. "Veep's" surprise twist is that it was a tragedy all along, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The easy, obvious read Sunday is that "Veep's" seventh season was meant to narcotize the pain of the 2016 election, or at least narcotize it for that half of the country which voted for the other candidate. But Sunday's brutal finale was the parting salvo, aimed directly at a system, or series of interlocking systems (party politics and media) that have become the devil's handmaiden. If Selina Meyer never had a soul to begin with, then there was no soul to barter away. By stripping her completely of ideology, or so much as a minimally discernible one, she came to represent both major parties in extremis.

Nevertheless, the tragedy arrived forcibly in the closing seconds, before that flash-forward funeral, when the door of the Oval Office closed, leaving President Meyer alone — truly alone — for only the first time in the entire series' run. In those few seconds, a troubled look crosses her face. She had thrown Gary under the bus and there was no one left to shovel whatever needed to be shoveled into the bottomless pit of her ego.

But Louis-Dreyfus — destined for another Emmy this September — offered a little something else in that instance: Introspection. Like staring at the sun, Selina couldn't bear the truth for any more than a few seconds. Gary was gone, and there was no one to fill the void.

Was "Veep's" seventh season finale a commentary on Trump-style politics? Sure, but "Veep" was too good a show to play only that tired tune over and over during these last 47 minutes. Something else was going on here, or someone. That someone was Selina Meyer, a woman who hated herself and hated her sex, a card-carrying misogynist who had absorbed culture's latent misogyny by osmosis. Her instinctive calculus all along had been that for a woman to succeed, she first had to turn on herself.

But in the solitude of the Oval Office, in those final seconds, "Veep" forced us to reckon with that calculus too. Is self-abnegation and self-loathing the price a woman — any woman — must pay to become President of the United States? 

If so, what does that say about us? "Veep" was one of the great comedies, and on the flip side, ultimately, a tragedy. The closer was perfect, while Selina's fate — Tom Hanks! — was both hilarious and just.

But it does leave us with that question. A troubling one.

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