'Veep' Boss Explains Game-Changing Finale: Who Wants to Go Backwards?

Showrunner David Mandel talks to THR about Sunday's twist-less finale and how season six will follow Selina Meyer, the former president of the United States (with Gary still by her side).
HBO/Lacey Terrell
'Veep'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season five finale of Veep, "Inauguration."]

Veep dashed all of Selina Meyer's hopes and dreams on Sunday night in a finale that launched her into such uncharted waters, many fans speculated if the game-changing episode served as a series ender.

In the episode, the HBO comedy, which has been picked up for a sixth season, tied up the loose end that has been hanging over the TV president's head since last year: Will Selina become the first elected female president? The answer is no — and then it got even worse.

After losing the presidency last week, Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) comes to terms that she will "eat a big bowl of shit" and agree to be Tom James’ veep. But thanks to the dependable incompetence of her staff, Tom James (Hugh Laurie) loses the Senate vote and Laura Montez (Andrea Savage) becomes the first female president elect.

"What Selina’s so sad about in the Roosevelt Room is the realization of: 'I’m not even going to be VP,'" showrunner David Mandel tells The Hollywood Reporter. And despite what seemed to be a Hail Mary from The Eagle (Martin Mull) in the episode's final moments, Mandel promises that there is no twist: She has lost and is moved out of the White House, rudderless with her staff dismantled.

So where does the show go from here?

Mandel, who took over the Emmy-winning series from creator Armando Iannucci this season, talks to THR all about his long-hatched and mischievous plan, why he never had any interest in returning Meyer to her old veep office and all the ideas he has (so far) for season six when Veep will assimilate and follow the life of a former president of the United States.

What was it like to watch your first season come to a close? 

It was weird to watch. I always knew it was sad, but it somehow seemed more real and more sad. I was struck by how bad I felt for Selina, even though she’s a horrible person and I guess I’m the one that did it to her! Yet at the same time, I’m also weirdly excited for the next step. It’s a funny night.

There were many sad moments! Selina sitting in the rain at the end, in particular. 

I could have done a half hour of Julia sitting there and staring off in the distance. Talk about her ability to do so much with nothing. You could see everything that was going on in her head. It’s the core of the Selina character and a lot of what Julia does amazingly well: to dump the crap on her and see her suffer. But it also brings out that inner fighter in Selina. When she’s sitting in the rain and makes the crack about how she hopes it ruins Montez’s parade, one person I was watching with said it was the saddest moment and another said that was the moment you could see a little bit of that fight. And that’s the beauty of Julia.

In the credits, we hear The Eagle tell Montez that Selina won the Nevada recount. Is there any hope, or is he just being delusional?

Bob "The Eagle" Bradley is certainly a crazy person of some sort. What he says probably changes from moment to moment so I want to make this as clear as humanly possible — because I just thought of it as a funny joke — she lost the election. Even if they found those votes after the fact, she lost the election. I believe they did feel that Al Gore probably won Florida. But they don’t all of a sudden go back and say, “You’re the president now.” But even if there were those votes, she’s not President of the United States.

So there's really no chance that she will remain president and in the White House?

There is no twist. From one of the early moments that they started talking to me about the show and I learned about the [season four finale] election tie, in my soul of souls, I felt like she could not win the presidency. Her winning the election would be giving her what she wants. The comedy of Veep and Selina Meyer is her never getting what she wants. The question was then: Well, who wins? The decision was made over a year ago, that she was going to lose to Montez as the surprise. I was trying to come up with her worst nightmare and to me, it's losing to another woman. If you lose to another white guy, it’s just another white guy. History is full of white guy presidents. There’s never been an elected female president. Selina is this accidental president and history will regard Montez as the winner of the 2016 election. Selina never won an election and the idea of another woman who’s confident, and a little younger with a happy family, loving husband and nice kids  that is the worst thing.

Then where does the show go from here?

Over this last week, after people knew she had lost, a lot of the things I read said, “They’ll find a way to make her veep and the show will go back to what it was.” It made me so happy that we didn’t do that. Who would want to go backwards to a show about her being vice president again? That show was done and was done great. We’re going to get to see the former president of the United States in the next stage of her career and to some extent, the quest for relevancy. How does she live in a world where, when she turns on the television, she’s going to see this other president? I’ve never been happier to not have done what people guessed.

On Twitter, people are asking if the episode was actually a series finale. Does that surprise you?

We always knew we wanted to do more, but I guess it was always the opportunity that if HBO hated what we did and if this was the end forever, it would have been a great way to go out. The fact that now you go: What is the show? That’s the fun part. We have a rich tradition in this country of the post-presidency of a lot of really interesting presidents. Starting with Nixon and his attempts at rehabilitation to some humanitarian work that Jimmy Carter has done and obviously Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. Is she going to have a library? 

Is that the last time we’ll be in the White House for a while?

For a while, probably. Though Montez is a fun character and we’ve established that Sue is working there. There is a tradition of ex-presidents being invited back for things and being sent on missions. The writers and I are just dipping our toes in, but there’s so much ex-president stuff to do. She’s not someone who deals well with loss so there's also the question of: How does she deal with it? In the documentary when Catherine asks about her nervous breakdown, you see she’s not a good loser. As a viewer, it felt like Armando quickly got her to the presidency but then took it away from her, and that was part of the reason she shouldn’t be president. The character’s too happy. If you give her four years in the White House, what’s the conflict? This season was always about resolving the story of the election in what we thought was the funniest way. It’s not like we set out to rock the world and change the show, we just wanted to take it to its next logical step.

The line where she says she doesn't have a wallet and she can't drive. Will we see her leading a "normal" life?

Without breaking confidences, a lot of people we’ve spoken to who have worked for different presidents [say] it’s a very weird existence. You have this very weird life and they complain about it, but then all of a sudden if it’s taken away from you, that’s not good either. It’s that delicate balance. Is an ex-president ever a normal person with 'round-the-clock secret service agents? And by the way, where is she going to live? What’s her money situation? MeeMaw left all her money to Catherine. What happens when an ex-president doesn’t have a lot of money? Is she going to write a book? Does anyone want another book by Selina Meyer? What does the world think of her? She was president for 12 months basically. How does the world feel about her and how does she remind the world that she’s still important? These are all things that are on the table that we’re just starting to discuss.

What is her dream now that the presidency is gone?

I guess when you’re an ex-president, you want people to think well of your presidency, you still want to be mentioned. What everyone is wondering is what Selina needs to figure out. If you see her as a shark, sharks have to keep moving or they die. She’s been this shark for all this time and it’s like, now what? That’s what some of the show will be. It’s the next stage of the show’s evolution. I guess I’m hoping one day when we’re all said and done — and I don’t think we’re almost done, by the way — you’ll get to see this fascinating complete picture of her political career. Even though the show’s called Veep, by the time we’re done I think you’re going to have a good sense of her as senator to the vice president and president and beyond.

Her staff nearly all seem better off as they head to their next phase — Mike and Ben into family lives, Amy is finally dating and Dan is offered his dream job.  What's to become of them?

There is a real truth to the fact that staffers move on. There’s a lifespan to being a staffer and at some point, these people need to take these next steps. Sometimes they can be new jobs or new candidates. But it is the end of her presidency and for most of them, the end to their jobs working for her. There will be different reincarnations of things, but it just will be different when we come back.

How will we still see everyone on the show, if they all fan out?

We have a really large cast and we always try to find a way to have everyone have a moment or two. It will be different but that’s always the challenge of Veep; it’s an unwieldy cast in a wonderful way.

Did any of your core people ask you if they still had jobs?

I don’t think anyone’s that worried. Maybe it’s blind faith at this point? Or a little earned trust. Our regulars are still our regulars. Nobody’s been fired!

Catherine got a makeover but more importantly — she got in a dig at her mom's hair. 

That was a fun moment. Sarah [Sutherland] looked wonderful but that opportunity was well earned. I don’t think that Catherine pre-Marjorie would have embraced her new look or have had the strength to even criticize her mother. This is a more well rounded, fulfilled and happier Catherine. I love Reid [Scott]’s performance when Dan sees her and doesn’t recognize that it's Catherine.

Selina's other child isn't reacting so well. Gary's meltdown was epic — did he snap?

It’s that mix of anger and sadness, and why we have such a wonderful cast. People aren’t just one thing, and he’s just shattered. It's Gary being angry and sad on her behalf in a way that she couldn’t do it. She’s never going to yell at them in that way, but he will. Veep is a show about this woman and her sometimes incompetent staff. She has sometimes fallen upward but sometimes there’s a price to pay for an incompetent staff. As he puts it: "It was all garbage." Tony [Hale] just gives it beautifully. Then Dan's reaction of “hold on, something wonderful’s happening” and Ben with maybe one of my favorite lines of the season: “That just made the whole last year worth it.” 

Selina will find a job for Gary though, right?

As Gary says in episode nine: whether they’re antiquing or on the sandy beaches of Barbuda, they will be together. I don’t know anything about season six, except I can tell you this: Gary will be by her side. That’s the only thing I do know.

What about Tom James? Was that moment with Selina a goodbye, or will we see Hugh Laurie back next season? 

It was a very interesting relationship. The show starts with her begging for Secretary of State and he gleefully wants her to be VP and when she comes back to take it, he couldn’t be more horrible. Like the worst four-year-old boy expressing his emotions by hitting. Does he want her to be VP so she’ll be near him? I couldn’t even tell you. Just almost horrific. When all is said and done, they have this sort of goodbye moment like, “Yeah we f—ed and we sort of f—ed each other and see ya around.” It was more fondly recalling the ups and downs of their relationship. Is it goodbye? I have no real answer at the moment. I’d like to believe that Tom James will ride off into the hedge-fund sunset and that if anyone is going to be a multi-millionaire, it will be him.

What prompted the moment between Selina and Richard?

This idea that on her last night at the White House, walking around a little drunk that she would have this moment with Richard, of all people. Those are two characters who haven’t spent a lot of time together, but it played off earlier in the season with her trusting him with Nevada and she really does think the world of him. At that weird moment, it’s only Richard that she could actually spill her guts to because she’s not guarded around him in a way that she would be with Gary or one of the others. I love when Gary comes in the room and she looks around, as if you’re going to see Richard’s body.

Jonah’s groping fiasco comes full circle. Are you giving him testicular cancer?

They're going to do a biopsy. A lot of really great things happened to Congressman Jonah Ryan this season and perhaps the male interns were a very lucky thing. Had they not been rough-housing, he never would have gotten hit in the balls and never would have ended up at the doctor. Sometimes the gears of the Gods grind slowly but they do grind. Maybe it’s comeuppance. But Jonah has that cockroach-like ability to survive anything and everything.

At what point did you know Montez would be a big player and when did you cast Andrea? 

It took us a while until we found Andrea. We only knew Montez by name, the first time we saw her was this season and it was toward the end that we shot all of her stuff with O’Brien, so we always knew we’d have time to find the right Montez. If you look back and re-watch the season, you are constantly seeing her as this inconsequential background person who’s sort of a joke, in the similar way we first introduced Clea DuVall as Marjorie. Right when I took the job, I knew Selina was going to lose the presidency and then my second thought was she was going to lose to Montez, who we’ve never seen, and then to come up with ideas of little peaks we’d get through the season, Then, ultimately, that Selina is undone by Doyle. Both she and Tom James are undone by Doyle, who was unceremoniously kicked off the ticket last season after a long and distinguished career in the Senate. After promising him Secretary of State during the salmonella crises, Selina then went behind his back and offered it elsewhere. In some ways, it was Doyle’s revenge.

So he’ll be a bigger player next season? 

There is this world of Washington, D.C. that Veep has created and any of these people can come back at any time. It’s our version of Springfield: Everyone is available to come in at any time.

Is Montez a formidable match for Selina?

I wouldn’t underestimate her in the smarts category. It’s one thing for her to overly embrace her married Mexican heritage. One of the things that will infuriate Selina is that Montez is quite competent. The rise was sudden and maybe we could argue that there’s a little bit of that D.C. look a la Sarah Palin, but she’s not Sarah Palin. Selina will be much more bothered by a smart female president. Someone genuinely accomplishing things is going to drive Selina Meyer far crazier. It’s too easy to hate a dumb person.

Did Montez actually broker with the Chinese for Tibet, or did she just reap Selina’s benefits?

She reaped the benefits. In the Selina’s-worst-nightmare scenario, the notion of this woman who is taking her job is also taking the credit. "Selina Meyer: the woman who freed Tibet" — it's now "Montez: the woman who freed Tibet." Salt in the wound.

Will you time-jump for season six, or pickup the day after?

I have thought about it both ways. I think there’s value the next day and value six months later. I think that’s where we’ll start our conversations.

What was it like to film in the old Veep office. Did you reconstruct it?

It was a bit of a cheat because the big office kept going and entered into the bullpen so we only had slightly less than half of the Veep office. We wanted you to think she was going to end up as VP, that was part of our goal this season: That we were going to make her Tom James’ VP. Part of sending her into that office was her stepping in there to kind of go, "I can do this." Her quest for power is so all-encompassing that her desire to be VP, the job that she had and hated, overrides all rational thought. She cannot step away. And if you think about the fact that she’s ending up not as anything, it makes that, moving forward, all the more to wonder: What does this mean for her?

THR spoke with Mandel and star Matt Walsh (Mike McClintock) during a revealing 30-minute Facebook Live chat about the finale and what's to come in season six. Watch the video below and read about the on-set secrets they dropped here.

 

Have questions about the VEEP finale? Showrunner David Mandel and Matt Walsh are answering LIVE now!

Posted by The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Check out all of THR's Veep coverage from season five here.

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