[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season- six finale of Veep, "Groundbreaking."]
After planting the seeds all season long, Sunday's finale delivered on a promise made by showrunner David Mandel. Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finally got the one thing that she wanted: another chance at the presidency.
Thanks to her recognition for freeing Tibet in the penultimate episode, Selina is no longer damaged goods. In fact, after an episode that broke format to deliver many flashbacks — from her daughter Catherine's (Sarah Sutherland) birth to Selina's time at the "spa" and her first day as Veep — the entire gang is reunited (almost) and throws their weight behind their former boss. The finale also brought the season full circle, as it ends with Selina heading into the Omaha dinner that she wanted to attend back in the first episode, signifying her run for president again. The decision, however, doesn't come without a price.
"I think it is quite sad, actually," Mandel tells The Hollywood Reporter. "She threw away the happy ending. The happy ending was steering clear of politics."
After throwing Selina into uncharted territory to track her journey as an ex-president, Mandel has explained how the point of this season was for Selina to find herself outside of the Oval. What she found was a man who made her happy, Ambassador Jaffar (Usman Ally), a finished memoir and a presidential library at Yale University — but none of it was enough. In order to launch her bid, she breaks up with Jaffar in one of the most raw moments viewers have seen from the former POTUS.
Below in a chat with THR, Mandel breaks down his second game-changing finale since he took over the HBO political comedy, explains what this means for Selina and the show heading into season seven, and details how he plans to juggle the real-life parallels of Selina heading into the early days of a presidential campaign. He also warns: "Selina is running for president because things were going well, but does 'going well' really mean people actually want her to be president?"
How exciting was it to film the gang getting back together again?
You could feel the energy in that scene. We hadn't done a scene with so many of the regulars back in the room and trying to give everyone a moment was difficult. But the moment of Selina coming through the door, wow. We were just really jazzed.
Selina finally got what she wanted — but it came with a big price. Is there simply nothing more important to her than the presidency?
That's who she is. She had the happy ending. People always complain, "Why couldn't she have a happy ending?" She could have had a happy ending. She could have had a library at Yale, very prestigious, could have been flying around the globe with Jaffar solving international issues wherever, and she could have been really, really happy. And she threw it in the garbage.
Do you view this as a sad ending?
Yes. The audience can be happy with the concept that she's throwing her hat to some degree back in the ring, but I will remind the audience that four years ago, Mitt Romney wanted to run for president and people didn't exactly want him running again. Just because she wants to run for president doesn't necessarily mean anything else. I think it's heartbreaking when she comes down that escalator after breaking things off with Jaffar. I look at Julia, at what she's doing there, and I find it heartbreaking.
Yet after that, she shows that same excitement and potential from the first episode when she wanted to run again before everyone nixed it. How did Tibet change everything and what are her chances?
What are her chances? We have a whole season seven to figure out what her chances are. I guess she got what she wanted. That's what's fascinating about her as a character, to me. This season, she did find what, even for herself. was a really good life. What she had, or what she could have had, was pretty great. We gave her the happy ending on the platter and she chose not to have it. For her, that's not what life is.
At what point did you know you wanted to lead her back to Washington, D.C.?
By the way, running for president doesn't mean you're going to be in D.C. If I was going to be hinting at next season, I would say, get ready to see more of Iowa. I'll throw that out there as a clue. It wasn't so much getting her back or not getting her back, it was the idea of: What price was she willing to pay? What was she willing to do? I think we answered some of that and that's what we really wanted to show.
You wrote and directed this episode — can you talk about pulling off all of those time jumps?
There are a million bits and pieces from everybody all around. But this was one of those things that started last year in episode nine when we did the Catherine documentary. Early in the film, when there were a couple flashbacks when Catherine fell off the stage at her Senate victory, we started talking about the idea very loosely of, what if there was a way of doing flashbacks? Like a tonal flashback. Not to invoke anything that's too incredible, but a little bit of Godfather Part II, where you're telling two stories. One in the present day and one in the past, and the past comments on the one in the future. That was our highfalutin concept. We knew we didn't want to do it in episode nine, because then two years in a row the show would have done something special in nine, so we thought we'd break format in 10 and it would piece together nicely.
But it was hard to tell two stories and keep momentum. It's hard to keep present-day momentum while you are also popping back, so structurally that was something we also played. We actually ended up cutting one other flashback and one present-day scene just to keep it moving that we'll keep in our back pocket for down the line, because they were good scenes. But it was to get the audience interested in present day with the vagibrary and also learning little bits and pieces about Selina and the choices that she made.
The flashbacks delivered several origin stories and brought the episode fill circle by ending it with Omaha. How did you pick those points in time?
In the first episode of the season she wanted to go back to Omaha and that dinner and now a year has happened and she is at the dinner she wanted to go to from episode one. That's where Omaha and running for president comes full circle. Then we got to see these moments from her campaign of her choices. When she catches Andrew cheating on the bus, that's a moment where you could break up with your husband and get a divorce and punch this woman in the face, but Selina decides to get a campaign contribution. Not everyone makes that choice, but that's just one example.
We tried with the flashbacks to have choices in them, seeing what she did in those moments. It's a credit to our amazing cast that they can jump to all these different time zones. You forget that Ben (Kevin Dunn) and she were very adversarial when they first met, even though he's become one of her closest confidantes. Things like that, where one minute you're playing the modern-day scene and the next minute you're jumping. That's a credit not only to our amazing cast, but the writing team and insane production team that was able to pull the looks, sets and all of that together. It was fun, but it was big, similar to the documentary episode last year. Costumes and looks were the larger issue. With certain people we hadn't seen their old looks, so figuring out Mike's (Matt Walsh) hippie, reporter look and putting Jonah (Timothy Simons) back to old Jonah was a blast and a half.
You showed how Selina and Gary (Tony Hale) met.
He was a candy striper. (Laughs.) Those are fun little moments. The scene is not about them meeting or about seeing Jonah, that's for us as the writers and the cast to play, and that's also for the fans. The scene with Gary in the hospital is really about seeing Selina giving birth. There's a moment there, a fork in the road, where you have that baby in your arms and you either become a loving mother or you don't.
And you finally showed proof of Selina's time at the "spa," aka the mental hospital. How did this episode also prove how far she has come?
We knew we were going to have flashback structure and that we could pop back into that missing year to get a sense of what was going on. So we saw her and how crazy she did get, and got the sense that Gary was staying near the spa and taking care of her and the origins of how she ended up living in the NYC brownstone and how Andrew came back into her life. Julia didn't wear any makeup for that scene. God bless her. Julia is not afraid to let Selina the human look ugly physically, with hair and makeup, or as a person. She is just fearless.
You were able to keep your distance from real politics this season, how do you anticipate juggling that dance for next season?
There is a large distance. Obviously, we haven't figured out everything about next season yet. But by the time we're dealing with her thinking about running for president and what that means, you're practically talking about three years ago. I wouldn't necessarily want to be doing it during an election. In some ways we'll be doing it a year before there is another one. There are some things that came out during the last campaign and the way campaigning has changed, that I think it will be very enjoyable to see Selina running from scratch and not as the incumbent president. For us as Veep, not so much talking about anything that happened in the last election, but it's for us to take a look at the American system of electing people through these various small states early on and Super Tuesday and what the system means. Super delegates and what it means to be a frontrunner or not be a frontrunner. There is so much there that if we can get there, there is a whole mountain of richness. And again, I preface it all with: Right now things are going well with Selina vis-a-vis Tibet — those things don't always last.
Is it safe to say that Ben wouldn't go along with a run this time if her chances weren't somewhat plausible?
Ben at least thinks there's a window. He cares enough for her that he would not let her do it if he hadn't thought the winds had changed.
Jonah is in her party and also plans to run for president. What does a Selina-Jonah battle look like?
I'm sure there are a lot of people running. The other party is president. In some of these early debates there will be 12 or 13 candidates and I expect the same thing on our end. She is running for president and she was president, but these are the early days. I do think we'll see a bit of Iowa next season but beyond that, it's wide open.
Will you be looking to a lot of new faces to fill the candidate slots?
On the one hand, we have a rich, interesting bench of characters, we saw Danny Chung again this episode. And one of the things that's always very interesting about politics is you get people like Obama, who came out of nowhere. Perhaps it's time for somebody new to come out of nowhere and get under Selina's skin in a different way.
Ben, Kent and Dan form "BKD" — are they only throwing their weight behind Selina and are they competent?
That's really the worst name in the world. They are as competent as sometimes yes, sometimes no. Politics is changing and that will be one of the challenges for all of them. They are working for one presidential candidate and these are the early stages.
When did BKD plot this with Selina? Were the wheels in motion last episode?
My personal thought is that Selina didn't reach out to Ben until perhaps even the morning of the library groundbreaking. When she is looking at the library and realizing one day she's going to be buried in the crypt of the library, it started to hit her that this is like a pharaoh building a pyramid for her to basically be buried alive in. In my mind, late that night or early that morning, she called Washington Post reporter Leon West and made a deal with him and called Ben and made sure he was on board. Leon started calling Yale, which is what killed the library, and even as she's at the hospital with Little Richard, you can see she's already campaigning a bit and her demeanor has changed: From condemning Yale to holding up her African-American grandchild, embracing Marjorie (Clea DuVall) and her lesbianism quite openly and claiming mental health as an issue of concern to her. All of those things at that point, she knew and Leon is in the bag. And we see at the end of the episode, Leon is now working for her as a speechwriter.
Have we ever seen her as sad as when she broke up with Jaffar?
Over the last couple episodes we've shown a real spark with them, but I do wonder: What does the audience think? It's a real credit to Usman Ally, who played the part. He was so both charming and easygoing and seemed to put up with her craziness in a good way, that my hope was that the audience would see she was happy. When this episode starts, it's been a couple of months they've been back together, you hear the paparazzi yelling things like, "Are you guys engaged?" I'm hoping at that point that it's more than just the fact that he is rich. That the audience could feel at least that she was happy.
Back in Qatar in the sixth episode, Amy questions her about his being Muslim and Selina says basically it didn't matter because her political career got driven into the ground. So as far as Selina was concerned, she could be with whoever she wants to be because her future was over. And so in the shadow of that is where she actually did find happiness, but when she does actually decide to run again for president, when Ben says to her, "There is one other thing you have to do," he is basically saying, "You have to break up with the Muslim guy."
Was this decision particularly emotional because of what it says about our current climate?
If she's going to run for president in the current United States of America, she has to break up with the Muslim guy. It's horrible, and that's sort of the point. It's horrible in the grand scheme that that would be a problem in our country, and it's also horrible that she is breaking with someone who may have been the one, or at least one of the ones. That combination of the scene of them in the hotel room, me as the writer, I felt like I was breaking up with Usman. He's really become a part of the cast, much like a lot of the great guest actors we have, he is someone we love to write for. Selina's breaking up with him and that's heartbreaking, and in a way we're breaking up with him, and also that she feels they can't be together. And unfortunately I think she's right.
An exciting last-minute delivery was Amy's (Anna Chlumsky) news that she is pregnant with Dan's (Reid Scott) baby. Will we be seeing them co-parenting?
There's no baby, there's a pregnancy. She's pregnant and that's all I'm willing to say. For Dan, who had a pretty good season in terms of his life until the end, it's always fun to find a new level of hell for him. That's always great and brings out the best in Reid, the final moments he's out there reminiscing about being with stewardesses to going, "Oh, god." For Amy, whatever the heck happens, it's going to force Amy to confront both her life and her womanhood in a way Buddy certainly didn't.
Where are her feelings for Dan, at this point?
In the night that we never saw, in my mind, they drank a lot and it was easy enough.
What are Jonah's chances at the presidency, at this point?
He managed to tap into something very special earlier in the season. He often speaks for issues we didn't know were issues, he speaks for people we didn't know had a voice. Lots of people run for president, that doesn't mean he is going to be successful or will win. It just means he's running for president and is being backed by a very passionate billionaire.
Patton Oswalt's Teddy returned to help Jonah's campaign. Will we see more of him next season?
Sherman Tanz has a lot of money and Jonah is willing to do anything he has to to be president of the United States and who are the two best worst operatives? Some combination of Teddy and Ericsson. Seeing Jonah — his desire to be president means Teddy and is Jonah willing to do it? Absolutely. It killed me watching those two guys stand there and smile and not say anything. The audience laughs just seeing them there.
Did the GOP debates of the 2016 campaign influence your ideas for next season?
A little bit. But this is not comparing Jonah to Bernie Sanders. And this is not about the Republican party. But often times when you have somebody who is the presumed frontrunner, would anyone have thought that a 70-year-old socialist Jew from Vermont was going to give Hillary Clinton such a serious run? Did anyone know much about Bernie Sanders at all before that? No. So in that grand scheme of things, why not Jonah? It speaks to our political system of how the press becomes enamored with a candidate for a while and they rise and sink and it gets into all of those ideas about, why does someone get press coverage and why is this person the frontrunner? And if you're not the frontrunner, what does that mean? You get more coverage as an underdog, and when do the other candidates start taking you seriously? if you roll all of those things up into a ball, there is a lot of fun to have with Jonah. There are also those candidates like Martin O'Malley who ran and never quite gained any traction. Maybe that's Jonah's fate, to not actually get anywhere. And if that happens, does that put Tanz into play and all of his money? How do you make sure you're holding onto your crazy billionaire who is backing you?
How do you plan to handle the Hillary Clinton comparisons with Selina campaigning?
I guess there's nothing I can do about it. If we do a scene of Selina eating dinner it's like, "Hillary ate dinner and so did Selina — they both ate food, it's clearly based on Hillary!" It is what it is, there's nothing I can do. We won't be looking to her experiences, but we know it. It's in the stew. It's not not there — how could it not be there? — but we don't sit there and say, "Hillary did this, let's have Selina do it." A key difference is that Selina was president for about a year. With Hillary, part of the narrative is that she never was. That's a big difference. She's not Hillary, she's not Jimmy Carter, she's not Bill Clinton. She's just Selina at this point.
Could there also be more female candidates in the mix?
Exactly. Who knows what will happen. She's not running against President Montez (Andrea Savage) at the beginning of next season. This is about going to Iowa in the many, many months before the first caucus.
Where do we start off next season?
We go onto before the campaign trail, we go to early days of the campaign trail. Selina is running for president because things were going well, but does "going well" really mean people actually want her to be president? That's what we're going to figure out.
And everyone is coming with her — except for Mike? We see him teaching after Selina had to "talk" to Mike and Amy.
And then Amy was there and Mike wasn't, so there you go. Why else would he be teaching in a high school? Probably some version of Leon is the new Mike, we'll see. I assume she had to talk to Amy about who she was putting in charge, because she never puts Amy in charge of anything.
What did you think of the finale and what do you hope to see in season seven from Veep? Tell THR in the comments below.