‘Political Animals’ Doesn’t Need Love The Way It Needs Work

There’s a lot of strategy going on in episode three of Political Animals, The Woman Problem. Doug, not wanting to go through campaign hell, has tipped off Susan to Elaine’s plan to run again so that maybe the journalist can sabotage it. President Garcetti, wising up to Elaine’s plans, tries to muscle Chief Justice Diane Nash—friend and mentor to Elaine—out of her seat in order to offer it to Elaine. Why? So she’ll be unavailable to run for president. Two years ago, Bud purposely bombed a couple of interviews on Elaine’s campaign trail so that he could shoulder the blame of her inevitable loss. Susan tips off Elaine to Garcetti’s plan, hoping to gain trust for an in to the bigger story. Everyone’s playing a game and it’s unclear who is going to win.

Doug makes some fantastic points when he rants to Anne about how Elaine shouldn’t run. She should be patient, she should wait; if she doesn’t, the public could turn on her. When people bring this argument directly to Elaine, she protests that she doesn’t care that it’s going to be hard—it’s the right thing to do. Now hold on. She says “right” like this is a moral issue—like it would be ethical to run and unethical to wait. That’s a ridiculous assertion, but when Elaine delivers her law school monologue (the monologues are still bad, by the way) to Diane, we are supposed to be inspired and won over. We are not, because she’s talking with sentiment, not logic.

More so than last week, Political Animals is slipping on its suds further down into soap opera territory. Doug, who started out so against Elaine running that he betrays her to Susan, completely changes his mind once Bud’s backwoods pollster claims she can win (On what basis, exactly? One day of polling?). Doug throws his judgment out the window as he completes this 180. It’s hard to find such extreme and swaying convictions believable. Then again, in the vein of soap opera, Doug seems a little emotionally unstable as he has a reverse Good Will Hunting moment with his dad this week (“It’s not my fault!”). Two years of monstrous pressure under his mother must be taking its toll (not to mention always having to be The Good Twin).

Sebastian Stan and James Wolk in this week’s episode of USA’s “Political Animals.”

The Bad Twin, poor kid, continues on his path of destruction, snorting blow in the barn of the pollster’s rural lodgings. We know his nightclub must be opening soon because Susan’s douche ex-boyfriend assigned it to Georgia the Blogger (this show has something against the blog medium, but I’ll let it slide). Hopefully TJ’s story will develop somewhat when the opening happens, because Sebastian Stan continues to give a bold and committed performance.

I think the ramped up perception of Garcetti’s ruthlessness was hyperbolic this week. When Susan tips off Elaine, she expresses disgust at the measures of Garcetti’s manipulation. What, like blackmailing a woman with a leak of her son’s suicide? Shut up, Susan. It’s not like you have room to judge as a great pillar of morality. And what is so awful about what Garcetti is doing anyway? He wants to remain president. It’s not worse than any other political move. It’s strategy, and the characters are discussing it like it’s genocide. Calm down, Political Animals. If you want the viewers to see Garcetti as a monster, maybe show us that in scenes instead of telling us in dialogue. Give Adrian Pasdar something to do.

Lastly, I hope they continue giving Georgia the Blogger stuff to do. It would be easy to paint her as a one-dimensional character, but by giving her that good bus story idea, they made her into a real person. This show wants to do right by women, and Georgia is the very best example of that.

And, hey. I’m loving that theme song.

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