Every once in a while, a new show comes along that, after you watch it, just makes you want to call everyone you know and ask them if they’ve seen it because you just have to talk to someone about it. My dearest readers, Political Animals is one of those shows. To quote our esteemed leader, Selena, “It’s delicious.” The chemistry of the cast is incredible, and the dialogue between Sigourney Weaver’s Elaine Barrish Hammond (EBH) and Carla Gugino’s Susan Berg is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. The show is smart, funny, and sexy. It’s a show some of us have been waiting a while for.
The show follows the lives of the Hammond family – Bud, a former US president, sons TJ and Doug, and ex-wife Elaine, former presidential candidate and current Secretary of State, and all-around HIBC – the public faces, the private moments, and the mess that happens when the two intersect.
The show opens with Elaine’s concession speech, a moving message to the girls and young women in her audience: “…because I stand here, one day, one of you will become the President of the United States of America, and that is a day this woman plans on living to see.” Back in the quiet room, her husband rambles and makes her loss all about him. She tells him to shut up and says she wants a divorce.
Two years later, Elaine Barrish Hammond is the Secretary of State, kicking ass and taking names. When a Putin look-a-like grabs her ass when giving a speech, this is her response :
The engagement of her younger son and political adviser brings around a reporter, Susan Berg, who earned a Pulitzer covering Preisdent Hammond’s numerous extramarital affairs. She has information about her older son’s suicide attempt the previous year and is using that information to gain access to Elaine. They understandably have an adversarial relationship.
The pre-engagement dinner is an excellent insight into darker parts of the characters’ lives. TJ attempts to hustle his parents into fronting the money for a nightclub investment, and his past (present?) struggles with sobriety are thrown back at him.
Bud is a charismatic and incredibly charming man not too unlike a recent former President. And like President Clinton, he is a “bit of a ladies’ man.” He also still has the hots for his ex-wife, calling her “the foxiest piece of ass he’s ever laid eyes on.”
Doug is the perfect child, now with the perfect fiance. He also seems to cater to his mother’s every whim. Their engagment party with 60 people at a club turns into a party for 300 at the zoo because EBH likes elephants.
Elaine’s mom, played by Ellyn Bursten, is the comedy relief, there with a snarky reply or an inappropriately personal comment whenever the situation calls for it.
After the party, Susan rehashes her evening with her boyfriend, who also happens to be her editor. She muses about what happened to the woman who brought down the house with her college valedictorian speech and how she ended up staying with a jerk who constantly cheated on her. He asks how she got access to EBH, and she tells him about the ace in her back pocket, the medical report from TJ’s attempted suicide.
In the midst of all of this, EBH is negotiating for the release of journalists held hostage in Iran, making secret visits with Iranian ambassadors, and calling the President on his bullshit. She leaves him with, “Someday, sir, I’d like to be working for the man who beat me.”
Then the story breaks. Douglas calls TJ, who says he’s with his sponsor and is obviously lying, as he’s in the process of buying what looks like coke from a guy named Omar, who asks for an autographed picture of EBH. EBH makes a cryptic phone call to “the only person who can make her feel better.” Turns out, that person is her ex-husband. They were both using each other. He wants to get back in the game and knows she can do that, and she admits to being the world’s most powerful co-dependent. When she gets outside, she agrees to speak to Susan.
Susan is horrified that her story broke and confronts both her boyfriend/editor and Georgia, the reporter to whom he gave the story. His response to her is that he’s not sure if she’s more upset that he’s cheating on her or that he gave the story to someone else. “Oh, trust me, I’m way more upset that you’ve stuck your dick in someone else.”
When EBH and Susan meet, in front of the elephants at the zoo, Susan tells EBH how she wrote about EBH being an affront to women for staying with her husband through his affairs, but that tonight, packing her stuff was one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do. Their exchange is heartfelt and you could sense the mutual respect. EBH gives Susan a headline that should take the heat from her son: President Hammond is going to Iran to negotiate the release of the hostages. (The current President doesn’t know it yet, but he’s getting two choices: Bud Hammond goes to Iran, or EBH is resigning.) Susan tells EBH that she wants to be on that plane. If it goes awry, it’s background on her profile of EBH, and if it works, she wants that story.
EBH leaves her with some thoughts on elephants:
They’re a matriarchal society. And when the males reach their mating age, the females kick them the hell out.
When she gets in the car, she confides in her driver, “I’m going to run for President again. And this time, I’m going to win.”