Everybody Gets a Second Chance

Political Animals Episode 2 Review and Recap (Warning: spoilers ahead). 

Watching this week’s second installment in USA’s political miniseries, entitled “Second Time Around,” I was struck by a couple of things. Firstly, by how the series has started to grow and distance itself from its Clintonian source material, and achieve a thematically resounding second episode, and secondly, by what would possess anyone in any universe, real or fictional, to vote for Ciaran Hinds’ pork belly buffet of a President Bud Hammonds.

But seriously, who is this guy? I was so excited for this episode in all aspects except him. We learned a bit more about Elaine, got to see her at her most vulnerable in flashbacks to Bud’s affairs in the White House. Ellen Burstyn’s Margaret got to shine and move past the alcohol swilling cliches her character was weighed down with in the first episode. TJ’s story was fleshed out more. And it would have been so good, if not for a drawling ex-President bringing a pretty journalist to a “top-secret” meeting with the President of Iran because he wanted her to like him. But more on that later.

This episode focused with Elaine making her first true power play versus President Garcetti, in forcing him to send Bud to Iran to deal with the hostage crisis. This all of course led up to Elaine’s confession to her son, and later to Bud, that she was planning on making a primary challenge to Garcetti in the next election. Doug, both her son and chief aide, obviously thinks its crazy. His confrontation of Elaine is a perfect microcosm of the point the entire series is trying to make. First he talks about the political ramifications, dividing the Democratic party, losing, etc. Then he moves to the personal. She barely survived the 18 hours days of the last campaign, with the stress and the medication it required. Then he goes for the sucker punch, the familial. What could possibly possess her to put her family through that again?

When Doug pries out of Elaine that she slept with Bud again, the argument between them is truly heartbreaking. They’re not the first family anymore. They’re just a mother and son, with the son desperately trying to prevent the mother from being hurt again by his cheating father. It’s not a political motivation, it’s one of love. It was a humanizing moment for Doug, who has been exhibiting automaton-like qualities up until this point. I was glad to see the human side of him.

The episode was about the second time around, and not just for Elaine. The full effects of the story about his suicide have finally reached TJ, who dashes shoeless out of the window of a random lover’s apartment in his first appearance in the episode. I was excited to see his character expanding as well, as he displayed behavior that made him more than just an addict and a poor little rich boy. In a scene with Ellen Burstyn’s extremely entertaining Grandma Margaret, the duo resolves to perform at Doug’s party. After he steals a check from her she turns the tables on him, dropping her loving Grandma act to straight talk with a kid in trouble. “I know your story, and I know how it ends.” Ouch. Quite a sentiment to hear from your grandmother. (Also, three cheers for Ellen Burstyn, who was great even when the role was cliched. Note to the writers: More Grandma Margaret please!) Later in the episode he shows up at Doug’s apartment looking for a second chance. He gets it, with the condition that he gets treatment. We’ll see what he does with it.

Bud also got a second chance, in his case to make a difference in the world. His whole trip to Turkey was the most annoying part of the episode, what with his blatant come-on to Susan and then his incredibly unprofessional and unrealistic negotiation with the President of Iran. I suppose it would be hard to make realistic storylines for an unrealistic character, but still, they could try.

The best moment of the episode was at the end when Doug took a step that reversed the family’s relationship with the media. He leaked to Susan that Elaine was planning on running again. He wanted her to publish it to stop his mother from getting anywhere on her plan, to save his engagement and his younger brother. This is an interesting flip on the conceit of the first episode, where the media used the family for its benefit, instead we see members of the family using the media to change their own lives and work their relatives. Somehow it evens the scales between the family and the media, which is an interesting dynamic. We’ll see where it takes us in episode three.

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