VEEP: Maybe Meyer?
If you’ve been watching HBO’s VEEP, you know Selina Meyer well as a person, but nowhere near as well as you should know her as a President. Throughout the series, we get to watch Selina behind the scenes, satiating our voyeuristic interests, but we rarely get to watch Selina in the spotlight she so desperately desires. For a show about a (Vice) President, there’s very little “Presidentin’” going on, which is an interesting thing, considering that the question the show has been making us ask ourselves for the past season and a half is “would you vote for this woman?” or rather “SHOULD you vote for this woman?” Do you want Selina Meyer to be President of the United States?
Selina Meyer, for better or worse, is President of the United States. She’s a woman that, as Dan Egan put it, “is a living metaphor of her own career” after she actually walked through a glass door. She sacrificed a Bill she was passionate about to support the President in Season 1, and killed another Bill she was passionate about to become President in Season 4. In contrast, she almost brokered peace in the Middle East. She’s the first female Vice President, and then President of the United States, so we expect her to measure up to the status of icon and hero. Every few episodes we get to see Selina herself do her actual job, rather than just continue her run of extremely reactionary decisions and riding the wave of lunacy behind the curtain. That is exactly what this show is- a look behind the curtain, but rarely a look in front of it.
Through the show we are shown glimpses of what makes Selina tick. Twice in Season 4 we get to see how her team truly affects her ability to govern and lead. During the episode “Storms and Pancakes” we see Selina’s Running Mate, the overwhelming charming Tom James (played be Hugh Laurie) remember every single detail about the people he’s in the room with. While this is certainly information that even her bagman, Gary, would have difficulty keeping up with, just a fraction of it is more than Selina is capable of due to her reliance on her team and seeming self-absorbed nature. You better believe she feels that disconnect during the scene in the breakfast line where she and Tom are serving food to supporters and Tom remembers someone’s dietary restrictions. Julie Louis-Dreyfus delivers an amazing performance balancing awe, envy and epiphany in a single look. While the actual depth to which Tom remembers things is perhaps over-the-top, the point the show is making is that he’s doing it all without a team behind him. This also happens to be one of the few times Selina doesn’t have Gary literally standing behind her whispering into her ear like Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Later, in the episode “Testimony” we get to see, definitively, during a series of testimonies about the (reluctantly intentional) failing of her Family’s First Bill, how reliant Selina is on her team in almost every situation. We also see what’s happening in even the most personal aspects of her life. Selina herself, is asked to give a deposition about the matter at hand, and she’s prepared for only that matter. Her strength and confidence fades away when she’s asked about something off-topic, in this case, her daughter’s engagement to an older man she discovers (during that very interview) is a lobbyist. While she’s handled unexpected questions and situations well in the past, like during her trip to Tehran where she confronts reports, she’s only as strong and as knowledgeable as the people around her. In this case, they have (yet again) all failed her. If any of them had done their jobs properly, they would have vetted her daughter Catherine’s fiancé rather than all just taken her at her word that there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, when Selina was Vice President and Catherine was dating someone with a Middle Eastern background, she specifically tells her staff to vet him and his family. This time around, she’s far too distracted with the election, as is everyone else, that she completely drops the ball.
Despite the fact that you may care for Selina’s whole staff, you know full well that she should have fired every single one of them long ago for their litany of mistakes and selfishness. Selina is like a sponge, expertly soaking up the elements and knowledge of those around her, but she surrounds herself with fools. Each of them have made so many blunders, especially her Press Secretary, the lovable Mike McClintok. They could each change their last name to Bluth and fit right into the family. While we see a lot of Selina’s personal life behind the scenes in VEEP, we only see her staff’s professional life. We get small glimpses into them, like meeting Mike’s wife, Amy’s sister, and references to Dan’s family life. Like, “I apologized less when I banged my brother’s fiancé.” We mainly see them attempting to do their jobs.
The argument could be made that, as President, you have very little privacy and personal time to yourself, and that’s probably true, but as far as actual Presidential duties and actions, we see very little with Selina Meyer. When looking at a Presidential Candidate, [normally] you want to see their record, what they voted on in the past, what they’ve done for the country, how they handle themselves in public, but we get very little of that from Selina here. The most we get to see of this is during the episodes “Tehran” and “Debate”.
In “Debate” we actually get a sense of the confidence and competence that Selina Meyer is truly capable of. Even better, we see what she stands for as President; rebuilding the middle class, supporting families in need, clean energy, equal pay for women, revitalizing the economy with an actual economic plan and maintaining a good image for the country around the globe with the actions to back it up. By comparison, we actually get to see what a good candidate she actually is. In contrast, however, we are also given a possible glimpse into how ineffective Selina is as President when Amy, her Campaign Manager and closest aide, quits. Due to Selina’s reluctance to listen to her advice in choosing Tom James as her running mate, and listening to her Yes-Man-Friend Karen’s idiocy over Amy’s informed and opinionated decisions. This leaves Selina with the most painful words she’s possibly ever heard: “You have two settings: no decision and bad decision! You are the worst thing that has happened to this country since food in buckets, and maybe slavery. I’ve had enough. I’m gone. You have achieved nothing, apart from one thing: The fact that you are a woman means we will have no more women Presidents because we tried one, and she fucking sucked. Good-bye, ma’am.”
Those are not easy words to hear. Due to the circumstances of them being said in anger and rage, while we may suspect they’re true from what we’ve seen of Selina’s life, we can’t be sure if they’re entirely accurate. They were certainly made to hurt Selina and we aren’t shown much of her Presidency by the show to support them. This is also the only other time in which Selina and another staffer are completely emotionally naked with each other. The first time being when Gary had an argument that would make anyone who witnessed it more uncomfortable than watching a shouting match between their parents in a Bennigans. Gary had actually pointed out how vital he was to Selina’s success and day-to-day operations, something that the reactionary and constantly defensive Selina doesn’t take well. As the argument goes on, she realizes that the knowledgeable fool is right, just as she realizes Amy is right about both Tom James and her Yes-Man-Friend Karen, resulting in her bringing Tom James on as her Running Mate and removing Karen from her circle. All it took was her losing someone close to her.
While this situation may cast doubts on Selina’s capability as President, the Season 4 episode “Tehran” does not. In it, Selina visits Tehran to free an American journalist from imprisonment while on a tour that, according to everyone else in the episode, has been wildly successful. She started to lay groundwork for brokering actual peace in the Middle East. Obviously this doesn’t go unnoticed by Selina herself as she couldn’t be happier with the situation and soaks up enough attention, making her ego so strong that it could have left it’s parents on Krypton. Selina has actually accomplished something here, something that Presidents, according to her, are rarely able to do. Given our current political system, I’d say she’s very right.
The evidence the shows gives us through its run makes the question of whether or not Selina Meyer is a candidate that we’d vote for difficult to answer. Most people would probably lean towards voting no, but its important to remember that we’re basing that off of what we see. What we see on this show is very little of Selina actually being President. Her desperation to maintain the Presidency causes her to make many mistakes. Mistakes that could otherwise be avoided by getting an entirely new staff full of Sues, the one staff member she’s had all along that is actually capable of doing her job, but has the least amount of influence over Selina.
Viewers are not sure whether or not Selina should be re-elected as President. The show seems to agree since the finale ends with a tie between her and her opponent. This may result in her running mate becoming President and her once again becoming Vice-President. While I’d love to see more of Selina handle the Presidency and dodge Dave Foley’s awkward sexual advances all over the globe, the show is called “VEEP”, after all, not “POTUS”. I wouldn’t be surprised if we come back to Season 5 with Selina Meyer becoming VEEP once again.