Veep’s second episode puts a fetal spin on the old sitcom trope of a character trying and almost always failing to be in two places at once. Usually, our protagonist (the Fresh Prince comes to mind) goes on two dates in one night, or refuses to choose between conflicting personal and professional commitments.
In “The Choice,” Selina Meyer’s manipulations are strictly political—she needs to clarify her stance on abortion, pronto—but it feels more like a whirlwind series of speed-dates with a handful of pro-life and pro-choice advocates, with mixed results. The subplots lack subtlety, the episode is anticlimactic, and—most important, this being a comedy—there just aren’t quite as many laughs as there were in the premiere.
But first, the high points. “The Choice” starts strong, with Selina’s pre-campaign in full swing. She and her Veeple set up shop in a dank, less-than-swanky HQ with busted bathrooms. (Selina refers to it as a “Polish dungeon” at one point, but the space is in Maryland.) Richard is there for some reason, though not for long—Selina ditches him on her way to a Coast Guard publicity stunt. (Despite his vow to follow Selina around “like a Disney animal,” Richard doesn’t appear in Episode 3.03. Am I the only one printing up buttons and t-shirts to pre-campaign for his return?)
The boat trip is a blast. Selina looks into a still camera and says repeatedly, “The drugs stop here.” Dan is seasick, a rare and endearing moment of weakness for a cutthroat, ambition-fueled robot. Gary insists that everyone say “below deck” and not “downstairs.” The smuggler is moving not drugs, but swords. The episode is rolling right along until POTUS rocks the boat by coming out as pro-life at an Institute of Medical Ethics dinner. “I do not mean to sound paranoid,” Selina says to Amy, “but he is trying to kill me.”
The team rushes back to land to formulate a response. Dan encourages fast action—“Just pick a number,” he says, re: the acceptable cutoff week for abortions—while Gary lines up fruits representing the size of the fetus at each stage of development, and Amy and Mike arrange veritable trysts with sundry pro-life and pro-choice lobbyists (a Catholic Cardinal; a Planned Parenthood rep; and the ADCCP, whoever the hell they are).
Selina flirts and deliberates while the pro-life Maddox releases a statement that’s more of a non-statement, as to not alienate his base. (“You fill in the blahs,” he’s told an aide.) Selina’s waffling launches Dan into a rage, another uncharacteristic show of emotion brought on by his earlier nausea, Jonah’s new political blog (Ryantology), and likely the perpetual stress of vying for the campaign manager job. Gary demands a written apology, and Selina sends Dan home—a win for Amy that will prove short-lived.
Gary, who reveals to Mike early in the episode that he has ideas and ambitions beyond being “a guy in his forties carrying a bag,” is tasked with stalling the pro-choice lobbyist, and botches it. “You need to quit this job and find something that you’re halfway decent at,” she says, a little too on-the-nose given Gary’s just-revealed doubts about his career path.
Around four a.m. Selina’s other primary rival (along with Maddox), Chung, issues a statement in which he approves of abortions up until the 22-week mark, forcing Selina to either copy him or pick a bigger number and lean too far left. “Dan was right,” she concedes. With a Kent-booked appearance on Good Morning America looming, Selina orders Mike to just reword the fuzzy “pastel color shit” on abortion that Dan ghostwrote in Some New Beginnings.
Meanwhile, the bane of the District’s collective existence, Jonah, has landed a TV guest-spot of his own, thanks to the presumed popularity of Ryantology. Jonah video-blogging incendiary political puns isn’t as funny as it sounds; he’s best used as a giant punching bag for Selina and her Veeple, not in relative isolation in his laptop-lit (and littered) apartment.
When The Seven-Foot-Mouth arrives at MSNBC, a violently sleep-deprived Dan bullies him into not criticizing the Veep on air—the episode’s weakest moment. Jonah’s a coward, sure, but I doubt he’d be that physically intimidated by the much smaller Dan. (Dan throwing around some sort of professional weight and/or bribing Jonah would have made more sense.) Jonad blows a golden opportunity just because Dan pushed him against a wall and mushed a burrito into his maw.
Hard to swallow, too—or at least out of left field—is Kent’s sudden infatuation with Sue, which is bordering on heavy-handed even before Sue says outright, “That man’s in love with me.” I don’t think Veep (or any other show, for that matter) should be held to a Mad Men standard of subtlety, but one has to draw the line somewhere.
The episode’s conclusion is anticlimactic, perhaps inevitably so. (A viable presidential candidate can’t go out on a limb on this issue.) On Good Morning America, Selina rehashes her muddled, “freedom”-laden stance on abortion, prefacing at least one statement with “As a woman”—a phrase loathed by both men and women-who-hate-women (which is most women, according to Selina and Amy).
Like Maddox, Selina has said nothing. Like Jonah, she’s failed to capitalize on a sudden opportunity. “As a woman,” the Veep’s views on this issue supposedly count double; unfortunately zero times two is still zero.
—SWORD SMUGGLER: Hey! I voted for you!
SELINA: Thank you very much, sir! But I’m afraid you have to go to prison!
—SELINA (to Mike): You let that unstable piece of human scaffolding [Jonah] into your house?
BEN: You didn’t shoot him?
—SELINA: This is the President trying to tell me what to do. He can’t do that. I’m the Vice President of the United States.
—BEN (holding grape, to Gary): It would take a brain about this size to think this shit’s useful.
—SELINA: If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at the ATM.
—MIKE: Copycat Selina, that’s what they’ll say. Me Too Meyer. Shit for Brains—no, I’m sorry. They won’t say that. I’m just really tired.
—SELINA (to Gary): I value you so much… Go clean up the fruit out there.
Evan Allgood is deputy editor of Trop. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/evoooooooooooo.