SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the season six finale of “Veep.”
“Veep” aired its sixth season finale in a political climate very different from when the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy premiered back in 2012, when David Mandel took over showrunner duties in season five, or even when the writers began working on this season’s batch of stories.
Mandel and his “Veep” cast were almost finished shooting the sixth season when Election Night ushered in a new regime to the White House. It was too late to try to alter any stories that might seem too ripped from the headlines by the time they aired, but Mandel was not interested in changing his art for the sake of politics anyway.
The idea for this post-presidential loss sixth season came to Mandel two years prior, when he first sat down with Louis-Dreyfus to discuss him joining “Veep.” Series creator and former showrunner Armando Iannucci had left Selina Meyers in an electoral college tie. Mandel had yet to ever outline an episode of the show, let alone write one, but the plan for Selina to lose the presidency and have to deal with the fallout for her and her staff formed in his mind almost immediately.
“I, for lack of better word, stuck to the plan,” Mandel, who wrote and directed the season six finale, tells Variety. “Yes, Hillary Clinton ran and lost, and Donald Trump won, and politics as we know it changed, but I think we got a little lucky in some ways that by following our plan, we were not exactly in office: we were sort of out of politics and it gave us some room.”
That plan went into place, he says, as he approached this season. The question was, “How would [everyone] deal with the loss of power?” he says. “And the answer, obviously was at first ‘Not great.’ But then the idea became ‘What if it all kind of works itself out one way or another?’ What really interested me was when you get to the middle of this final episode, in some ways Selina Meyer got everything she thought she ever wanted: a library at Yale, a healthy grandson, and a partner in Jaffar (Usman Ally). But this notion of actually giving her all of the things she wanted, and watching her build from the rubble of the loss a life, and then when all of a sudden the opportunity shows itself that she can run again, her willingness to just destroy [it]. She presses the self-destruct button and just blows it all up. It’s in some ways the tragedy of King Selina, I don’t know what else to call it. There’s something Shakespearean to it all.”
At one point in Selina’s saga, when she is hospitalized right after her devastating loss, she manages to acknowledge how bad politics are for her. She is at a facility in Arizona, visiting with her family, and plied with pain pills, and she blurts it out. It is a moment that she seems to recall upon breaking it off with Jaffar. Yet, it is a moment she pushes aside and ultimately ignores in order to enter the presidential race once again.
“She’s like an addict in some way,” says Mandel. “Her addiction isn’t a substance; it’s the power of politics. Addicts can sometimes learn to say the right things, and that’s an interesting area. [But] she’s obviously a super intelligent being, and I think there’s a certain amount of awareness; there are certain changes she’s able to [make]. I think this season she definitely had some moments into herself vis-a-vis the relationship with her father and Andrew and the men in her life in general, and I do think there were some good things she did in her journey to Jaffar. That being said, for all of the positive steps forward, like any addict, sometimes you’re just shocked when they throw it all away.”
Like many addicts, Selina surrounds herself with like-minded individuals and enablers, perhaps as a way to further avoid having to look too closely at what her decisions are doing to her life. The sixth season of “Veep” shone a light on these individuals separately from Selina more than ever before, as they had to go their separate ways and get new jobs without her campaign to focus on.
“Selina’s a broken person and to some extent she’s surrounded herself with broken people, so the idea that in some ways none of them could survive that well without working for her,” says Mandel. “There’s always the question of why she doesn’t fire all of them and start over with new people, and there’s some sort of a damaged relationship with all of them. I wonder if with an actual better team if she’d have to deal with certain realizations about herself that she doesn’t want to, but by keeping them employed she can always have them to blame. And if they actually tried to work for another candidate they might see themselves differently, too. It’s a reciprocal relationship with all of them.”
By the end of the season, and certainly by the end of the finale, the band had gotten back together to support Selina as she embarks upon the campaign trail yet again– a story that will pick up in year seven for the show. Though politics will once again be front and center, it will not come without changes to the team based on what they went through in their time apart. Some, like Mike (Matt Walsh) and Leon (Brian Huskey), will have new professional roles, while others will be dealing with their roles as new parents. But the biggest question is if and how Selina will do things differently and if the fourth time may be the charm for her run for the White House.
“Selina’s going to attempt to learn from her past mistakes,” says Mandel. “There’s going to be an attempt on her part to do it differently, whatever that means. If that means [trying to fix] what she thinks were actual mistakes like [replacing Mike with Leon] or something, I think we’re going to see what she considers to be a new Selina and just what that means.”
Mandel says he’s optimistic about Selina’s future — or at least the distance it offers from current headlines. “What I think will be really nice about it is we’ll be about three years from the actual primaries that we went through in this country, which is a nice amount of time to have some thoughts about what our system is, how we pick nominees, the good and the bad of it, the whole notion of being a frontrunner, the way Donald Trump changed some of the rules and the way Hillary tried to,” he says. “It’s not just about those two people, but we can come into it with a little bit of distance, and that’s the key.”