While all of the attention in the entertainment world has been given to the final episodes of Game of Thrones, another HBO stalwart series, Veep, has quietly said its goodbyes. So for better or worse, its series finale (titled “Veep”), can’t help but be viewed through a Game of Thrones lens. Although truly, Veep has always been a cutthroat story of power, one where alliances and political jockeying have remained the core of its twisted story. Washington, Westeros … in the end, we’re all going to get Dracarys’d by institutional madness.
As I wrote in my review of the first episodes of Season 7, it’s been increasingly difficult for a show that satirizes the political world to exist at a time when politics is essentially a carnival on crack. For Veep to lampoon the theatrics of a country that has seemingly gone mad means that it has to go so big that it rockets out of the orbit of the show’s low-key origins about how powerless the office of the Vice-President really is. As we’ve experienced in recent years, though, that office isn’t always so powerless, which somewhat undermines the point of the show. In response to this changing landscape, Veep gave us the rise of Jonah Ryan, a character so absurd he could only be real. And while the series never seeks to bring in “ripped from the headlines” stories into its fictional world, or provide 1:1 send-ups of real-life figures, this final season felt, until its final moments, like a direct response to the rise of Trumpism.
But Veep, and showrunner David Mandel, succeeded in ultimately subverting that expectation in two ways. Firstly, it made the story personal for Selina again, and through Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ deft handling, it was a pitch-perfect and emotional conclusion. It’s second ending was then a surprisingly positive coda for the series that widened the scope from Selina to check in with the rest of the cast and where they might end up decades later. It completed everyone’s stories in ways that made total sense — something a show this caustic certainly didn’t owe fans, but it was an appreciated touch.
The lasting legacy of Veep, though, will be tied into Selina’s final moments before that coda, though. “Veep” showed former President Meyer sacrificing everything and everyone around her for the power she has always so desperately sought. We have seen over the years how Selina’s personal life is always completely interconnected with her political one, and the series finale reminded me of the Season 5 episode “Mother,” one of the show’s best. As I wrote then, “Louis-Dreyfus has always played Selina with a nervous energy, neuroticism, and a strangely likable (or at least occasionally relatable) kind of narcissism. But what she did in ‘Mother,’ and the way she was able to balance what was an exceptionally difficult episode, tonally-speaking, shows how exceptionally good she is at her craft. In this episode, both Veep and Selina stayed true to their roots (it was dark, self-involved — Selina’s prayers for her mother morphing into “and let her daughter become President” was a perfect example), but they also explored new facets of the story and character in a way that could have gone very wrong. Instead, it went very, very right. Louis-Dreyfus held it all together perfectly.”
When Selina sits at Ben’s bedside and genuinely breaks down, believing all is lost (not for Ben, but for her career), he tells her that she knows what she needs to do. If she wants to be President, she has to go scorched-earth. He doesn’t actually say this; the moment is left ambiguous. Is he telling her to pack it in? Or to be someone else’s Veep? But Selina’s actions coming out of the hospital room immediately signal that her fight is not over.
That fight is not a righteous one. Selina torpedoes her relationship with her only daughter forever, destroys Tom James’ life, undermines #MeToo with his chief-of-staff’s tearful press conference, bolsters an ignorant electorate by joining forces with Jonah, drives Ben, Kent, and Dan away from politics forever, gives Tibet back to China, and perhaps worst of all throws her most faithful ally Gary under the bus with the FBI to protect herself from the taint of the Meyer Fund scandal (she did not accidentally kill Andrew though, who got a brief cameo in the coda).
All of this added up to that powerful last scene in the Oval Office, where Selina instinctively calls out for Gary, who isn’t there, and then mutters about the incompetence of her staff to an empty room. Veep has always been defined by its bustling pace, where no one ever stops talking (and talking over one another) with quips, advice, and some of the meanest dialogue ever crafted. The silence Selina faced was deafening, most especially because it was of her own making. It was the price she had to pay to get what she wanted. So was it ultimately worth it? Veep doesn’t answer that, and it doesn’t need to. It’s the choice she made, and something the show has been building towards since it began.
And that is where we come back around to Game of Thrones, which has, in its final season, rushed its characters around in service of big moments so much that it totally lost its character development along the way. You could see Selina as analogous to the underestimated and vindictive Cersei Lannister in some ways, but in others she’s far more like Daenerys Targaryen in this final season — except that her big decisions were totally earned. Selina is willing to blow up the sept or burn the capital or just destroy all American values in service of sitting upon Washington’s Iron Throne. There was ultimately not a single person who mattered enough to her to save, or who she wasn’t willing to sacrifice to meet her goals. It made her acceptance speech line “no one has sacrificed more than I have” as she watched Gary being taken away by the feds all the more chilling. She sacrificed everything and everyone, not for the greater good, but for her own good. And we wouldn’t have expected anything less.
In the end, Veep closed things out on a somewhat hopeful note. Selina’s hated opponent Kemi ended up getting two terms as President, we’re told, as did the wonderful Richard Splett (who also solved all of the problems of the Middle East and won an actual Nobel Peace Prize for it). Selina’s choices in “Veep” set America on a path towards destruction, but ultimately it righted itself. Life has imitated art in the past with Veep — we should be so lucky that it happens again.