'Veep': How That "Monstrosity" Sets Up the Series Finale

Showrunner David Mandel speaks to The Hollywood Reporter about where Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) stands going into the "wild" ending of the HBO comedy.
HBO; Inset: Taylor Hill/Getty Images
'Veep'; Inset: David Mandel

[This story contains spoilers from the penultimate episode of Veep's final season, "Oslo."]

The penultimate episode of Veep's final season pulled a move right out of the Selina Meyer handbook — and left viewers wondering: Will this be the end of a possible Meyer presidency?

In celebration of her biggest political victory, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) travels to Norway to collect a "second-tier" peace prize to honor her legacy-making move of freeing Tibet. While on foreign soil, however, a wedding mix-up sees Selina admitting to her old friend Minna (Sally Phillips) that a past leak about her giving a kill order that resulted in civilian casualties was, in fact, true. Minna has no choice but to report her war crimes, though the Finnish ambassador does Selina a solid by offering her asylum at her embassy.

Instead of celebrating the wedding between her daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) and Marjorie Palmiotti (Clea DuVall), Selina uses the would-be happy occasion as a diversion to escape the embassy and Norway, where a warrant has been issued for her arrest. But first, she makes a pit stop to both collect her peace prize and make a deal that even she has difficulty swallowing: In exchange for President Lu and the Chinese rigging the presidential election in Selina's favor, Selina will give Tibet back to the Chinese once she is president. After discovering that the Chinese were only colluding with Selina for a nomination win, the desperate candidate — "a cornered animal," as previously called by showrunner David Mandel — shakes Lu's hand and, by extension, throws her legacy and the people of Tibet out so she can make her way back into the White House. But then, the life of an endangered elephant changes everything.

"At the end of the episode, while America doesn’t care that she killed a Muslim terrorist, they are very upset that an endangered elephant died," Mandel tells The Hollywood Reporter of Selina's final hurdle heading into the series finale. "As Selina drives away from the tarmac at the end of the episode and is talking about the convention and who she might pick as vice president and all these things and is hit by the protestors, we’re left with her asking Kent [Davison], 'Is this going to affect me?' And he says, 'Yes.'"

Below, Mandel unpacks the "monstrosity" of Selina's choice and all the reveals of Sunday's extended half-hour — including the timely ramifications of Jonah Ryan's (Tim Simons) anti-vax plight, the surprise political rise of Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) and a visit from a character who was presumed to be dead — while also looking ahead to what will be a "wild and woolly" series finale for the Emmy-winning and critically acclaimed HBO political comedy.

This penultimate episode had a lot of work to do because it sets up Veep's series finale. How did you approach this week and what did you want to accomplish?

There were certain things that had been fluttering about the Veep universe for a couple of years and one of the big ones is Selina's freeing of Tibet, her not getting credit, her not getting a Nobel Peace Prize, watching President Montez (Andrea Savage) get a Nobel prize and then Selina's rebirth — because people find out that Selina was actually the one that freed Tibet and not Montez. But it’s always gnawed at Selina that she didn’t get the Nobel prize. We had the idea that she would want a makeup prize — even though what she gets is not exactly a Nobel prize — and that she would have to go overseas to get it. The second we go overseas that, to me, always means Minna [played by Sally Phillips].

We’ve managed to do a Minna episode all three years of my run and it’s always a blast and a half to pair Sally Phillips up with Julia [Louis-Dreyfus]. Something that goes back to last season is when people find out that Selina did free Tibet from Mike [McLintock]’s diary. There’s a joke that we say in the Tonight Show green room when the diaries are exposed and everything looks very bad. One of the things that’s mentioned is the assassination of a terrorist leader and Richard or somebody goes, “What?” And Selina moves on and doesn’t give a lot of details. That was planting the seeds for this story.

I believe it’s connected to George W. Bush where there were countries that, because of the Iraq War, tried to charge him with war crimes and there was a sense that he couldn’t go to certain countries because they’d try and arrest him. I always thought that would make a great movie: a president getting arrested. That became the idea that Selina would go overseas for something victorious — in this case, her Nobel prize — and that they would come after her for the droning of this guy that connects all the way back to Mike's diary. The seeds were planted at the end of season six and we knew we were headed here. Then, obviously, how it tied into the overall story came a little later. 

Viewers were never given much information about that note in Mike's diary that is now coming back to haunt Selina. She confesses to Minna that she did drone a terrorist leader's wedding. Can you fill some of that in?

We don’t say that much in the original episode. We just mention that it’s in Mike’s diary among all of the things that are getting exposed. We mention “killing the DRA guy” and this is now the DRA guy and has looped back around. We go into this episode and Selina has been winning the primaries left and right. On the downside, she has secretly found out that the Chinese don’t want her to win and that they want Montez to win, but Selina heads off to get this makeup Nobel prize that, as far as she is concerned, will be a Nobel prize. She wants to show the world she has foreign policy experience — something that her closest opponent Kemi [Talbot] doesn’t have. A classic running-for-president move is to take a trip overseas, especially if you’re a sitting president, to show that the other person running against you doesn’t know world leaders. She is going there, of course, secretly to try and meet with the Chinese and in classic Selina style, she solves a couple of her problems and ends up accidentally creating a new problem.

Did you toy with leaving Selina in Norway or sending her off to prison?

We definitely played with the idea of doing more, like a trial and all of that. It was a possible season-ender before we knew this was going to be the final season. We never quite figured out how far we would go.

Why was this a perfect opportunity to bring back Sally Phillips' Minna? And how does this bring about Selina's worst nightmare — even worse than prison?

The twist this time, right from the get-go, was that it was going to be Minna and that we were going to move hell and high water to make them roommates. What if she and Minna had to stay in the same room? In typical Veep world — and as you and I always talk about — we wrote ideas for this episode way back, two years ago practically, and now it was only a couple weeks ago that Julian Assange was pushed out of his embassy. We did a bunch of research into the stories of Assange and him being a messy guest and the embassy people not liking him. We don’t spend a huge amount of time on it, but that was definitely some of the influence of Selina taking refuge and being an unwanted guest where they don’t want her there and also, she’s being driven insane by Minna. At this point, what Selina has learned is that she would stick a gun in her own mouth and end it rather than spend another night with Minna. That’s kind of where we’ve gotten to at the end. (Laughs.)

This trip to Norway also gave you an opportunity to bring back Murman Shalikashvili, the former President of the Republic of Georgia played by Eugene Alper. Were you trying to bring back as many Veep friends as you could before the end?

The two Murman scenes are probably the writers’ not-so-secret favorites. Murman, his storytelling and his sort of gleeful lust for life is just very appealing to comedy writers. I could watch Murman and Selina talk about real estate for a half hour. We thought about bringing back as many of our foreign characters as we could figure out. When she needed a lawyer, we thought there might be room to bring back Steven Fry's scarred Russian Nikolai Genidze, who was Murman’s adversary and Minna’s lover. I will also admit that there was definitely a draft where Ambassador Jaffar made an appearance and it didn’t quite work for story reasons. We go into these things thinking, "Wouldn’t it be great to see everybody?" And it would, but we’re not doing cameos for fun. There needs to be a story reason. We had Jaffar in and it just unfortunately wasn’t working. It is a regret in that I would have loved to have seen Jaffar one more time and I love Usman Ally. 

Does the character of Murman come from conversations you've had about real foreign diplomats?

It’s a little bit of the boldness. Perhaps some people are bothered by it, but there’s a real sort of naked boldness to the oligarchs from that part of the world. Murman's the best of it. He’s our spin on it.

As it turns out, Americans don’t give a “flying fatwah” if Selina droned a bunch of Muslims, but they do care that she killed a bunch of elephants. Her polling numbers went from her being “practically a generic white male” to facing a very uncertain future at the end of the episode. How will her campaign be impacted going into her party's convention?

She’s damaged. It’s that simple. This has left the door open for Kemi or someone else to walk through. Look back on America’s history. Animal cruelty is a horrible, horrible thing — I am the first to agree. But it does seem sometimes like murderers get off before somebody who kicks a dog. Selina has not helped herself by killing an elephant.

Selina used Catherine’s wedding as a diversion to escape, but why did Catherine agree to get married in Europe, given what Selina explained to her about how a foreign union could benefit Catherine?

That was a favorite part of the episode for us and something we’ve played with in the past. Despite her own protestations, Catherine doesn’t fall as far from the tree as she would like to think she does. I’ll say the following: She loves Marjorie with all her heart and she loves her life with Little Richard with all her heart. But Catherine thinking, “Well, just in case something goes wrong, I’m covered" — that’s where the Selina in her pops up. Sarah Sutherland, boy, just nailed it. Her horror at the idea and then the look on her face when Selina realizes she’s going along with it, I was so happy with that as a concept. I loved a little peek under the self-righteousness of Catherine. I think it makes her, as she should be, a little more three-dimensional and a little more interesting. People are quick to dismiss Catherine as a bleeding heart with a bad haircut. But, she’s Selina’s daughter and we can’t ever forget that.

That look of recognition on Selina’s part is fleeting. A moment later, Selina is back to using her daughter for her escape. Why didn't Catherine see that coming?

That’s a tough one to see coming, I think. It’s like Selina takes some pride that her own daughter is a little bit of a monster, and then she out-monsters her. Selina, who always insults Catherine, is impressed for half a second. Which is kind of wonderful. And then all the other stuff with the wedding, you do stories because they’re interesting and because they generate comedy. This was also a real opportunity to cast Marjorie first as the groom that doesn’t care, but then somewhat surprisingly just to give Clea a chance — when she walks in and is just unbelievably stunning and put together — to give some new colors to the Marjorie character.

Are we to assume that Catherine and Marjorie get married?

As far as I’m concerned, they got married.

Will Catherine forgive Selina for missing her wedding?

Yes and no. You move onto the next thing. Believe me, in the next episode, there will be things that make Catherine upset as well!

During Selina's escape, she spots someone who looks a lot like Andrew Meyer — her ex-husband (David Pasquesi) who was thought to be killed by the Chinese when Selina unintentionally ordered them to blow up his escape boat during the last episode. Can you confirm that man on the street in Norway was Andrew?

It looked like Andrew Meyer. 

If he is indeed a last-resort card for the Chinese, could he come back to haunt Selina in the finale, given everything he knows?

Who knew he was alive! And he seems to be back. Who knows what it could be. There’s always a point to what we do, but in the original laying out of the season there was more separation, so he would have been “off screen” longer. As it turns out, it ended up being the next episode. But, as he said when he mentioned that he had the bag packed and ready to go for 20 years, Andrew is a tricky gentleman.

Selina still stops to get her peace prize. After making the deal with President Lu (Tzi Ma) to trade Tibet for the presidency, her speech seems to suggest she can't swallow the horrific deal she just made. Is she willing to destroy her legacy — and the fate of Tibet — for the presidency?

Oh, yes. That’s an uncomfortable speech, but that’s all that is. That’s a speech she didn’t enjoy giving, one that was already on the teleprompter. She's realizing what she’s done, but she’s doing it. She shook hands. Does she want to be president of the United States? That’s how you get Montez. Tibet has been the shining thing she has held up all these years and, forgetting for three seconds the true monstrosity of the act of handing Tibet back to China, it's about the willingness that, when push came to shove, that’s what she had to do to try to make the deal with Lu. And she did it.

Can she trust President Lu, given their history?

I think so. They tricked her in ways before. But you could argue sort of like a genie’s wish that when she made the initial deal to get the Chinese help, they didn’t spell it out. They agreed to help her win the nomination and they did that. The trick is that they didn’t say anything about the general election. Now, they shook hands on the general election and she and Lu have always done business together.

How will Selina being a war criminal impact things? 

I guess I will simply say: Unconvicted by a bunch of Europeans that America does not really seem to care about.

Jonah Ryan’s anti-vax to chickenpox plot is so timely to the measles outbreak that I want to ask: Do you know who is going to win the 2020 presidential election?

(Laughs.) This is something that was over two years old. This is one of the issues we definitely wanted to do in the final season that is unrelated to the current measles outbreak — though, I will say that when we wrote this episode, it was a general fear that the ongoing war on science and on facts, which has led to things like the anti-vax movement, would eventually cause problems like this. I can’t say we were planning on it happening when we did this all, but we were looking to do something on this war on science and the notion of Jonah embracing the anti-vax movement, getting infected with chickenpox and then giving it to all the anti-vax supporters, I’m sorry, puts a smile on my face.

How does Jonah getting chickenpox — and then giving them to his dad, and killing his dad —  help illustrate the whole anti-vax thing?

Yes, eventually it does have those affects on the storyline. But in the original pitch — even before the dad existed and going back to when we were thinking about this story — we asked: "What if Jonah goes to anti-vax rallies and infects people with the chickenpox?" That was the purity of the story. It’s a very misguided war on science. Studies have shown over and over again that all of this nonsense about Asperger's Syndrome and anything else is literally nonsense. And now, we’re reaping what has been sown. Which is to say that even if you had gotten the proper inoculation, it’s still only 97 percent effective. And we are hurting herd immunity. This is like the start of a zombie movie, as far as I’m concerned. So it was an opportunity to shine a light on it and sort of laugh at it, and also maybe make people see how crazy it is. Amy has the line at the beginning of the episode where she says that basically this anti-vax thing is unheard of by bringing together “Kombucha-douching yoga moms,” Orthodox Jews and uneducated fringe conspiracists.

Before Lloyd's (John Carroll Lynch) death, he told Jonah to tone down the rhetoric and Jonah listened. Then, after Lloyd's death, Jonah pushes the anti-vaxxers into being anti-immigrant ("No one in! No one out!") How will his father's death make Jonah worse?

He’s sort of doubling down on the crazy. I do believe there’s always been a little hole in Jonah’s soul and part of this has always been connected to his unresolved feelings about the death of his father, and his various stepfathers with Lloyd being one of them who he hated. And then to find out that Lloyd is his father and that he can reconnect with him, there was something very tantalizing and funny in seeing how this could be a different Jonah: A Jonah with a dad. Lloyd is a sweet, intelligent guy — even though he and Jonah’s mom are second cousins, or whatever they are — I love asking: What if Lloyd had been in Jonah's life the entire time? Or, what if Lloyd had continued to be in Jonah's life? I do think he would have had an effect. During that conversation with Lloyd, Jonah is genuine when he says, "Ok, I’ll tone it down." John Carroll Lynch was the guy I wanted for this part — I’ve always been a huge fan — and I knew he would bring a humanity that would make you care about a character, and then ultimately we would lose him. It's what might have been.

Jonah's wife, Beth (Emily Pendergast), is not pregnant (though, they’re not ruling out babies, despite their familial relation). We learn she has become addicted to opioids and is now away in rehab. How will this impact Jonah?

We thought we would fake the pregnancy and then realize that she was vomiting because she’s addicted to opioids. At some point, we played with the idea of Jonah railing against opioids and not realizing that his own wife was an addict, and that never quite worked. But the idea that she was an opioid addict seemed like an opportunity to talk about something that has been going on these last couple years and is a topic we wanted to cover. It’s in there briefly, but the point is that she was given a ridiculous number of pills for basically a punch in the nose. In terms of her going off and into rehab, it worked out well that Jonah is back alone. 

What was that end scene between Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) and Jonah’s stepson about?

That’s a two-parter. Jonah is giving the kid nothing and he misses his mother, and just wants some human comfort and contact. But I think he chose the wrong hand with Amy. (Laughs.)

Anecdotally, what have the reactions been to Amy’s transformation? She now, as we see, is also tuning into Fox News.

Everybody goes, "Kellyanne, Kellyanne, Kellyanne [Conway]." It is what it is. I can only say it isn’t so many times! But people are going to see what they want to see. It’s why Selina is "always" Hillary [Clinton]. Amy watches everything and we don’t judge. It’s a fact of life, Fox News, and we show it. We’re not making any comments. Fox News is one of the news channels that people in the different parties watch, it’s that simple. We’re trying to maintain that balance.

But to me, Amy’s change has to do with her life decisions. This is her double-down. She’s made some choices and she probably has certain regrets about the choices she made. Not that she would undo them, but no decision is easy. She decided not to be a mom and to pursue her career and now she is doing it. And she’s doing it with gusto to help convince her it was the right decision. If I go left and am worried a little bit about going right, I may just talk about going left because I want to convince myself. That’s the part that I want people to see. It’s not so much that she’s "doing Kellyanne," but she’s trying to convince herself that she went the right way. I do think people are enjoying it, even if they don’t necessarily get it.

Will Dan Egan (Reid Scott) having a girlfriend change Amy's path?

The notion of Dan dating Amy’s abortionist was an early idea that we definitely wanted to get to. When Reid comes in and sees Amy’s new look and says the horrible thing about sleeping with her and getting her fired and she takes it as a compliment, unfortunately, that’s a part of Amy. There’s going to be a part of her that’s never over Dan.

Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh), along with Richard Splett, keeps failing up. Mike gets a job promotion and a CBS News makeover. Why is this new gig as a newsman working?

The slow planning of this is some of the fun we’ve had with both Mike and Richard, which is them on their own but rising up in their own little worlds. The rise from BuzzFeed to whatever sort of crappy YouTube talk show to a slicker version, to becoming the president's mouthpiece and then to ultimately getting bought by CBS and seeing the new Mike — laying it out was a real chance to let Matt [Walsh] have some fun. Especially with his hair piece and the tan and all of that, and him looking in the wrong cameras and reading the wrong stuff about "Roll tape now" — I can’t get enough of that and could watch forever. And, of course, Selina is still calling into his show.

Tom Lennon plays the CBS boss and he says, "We have made a lot of mistakes at CBS News." What was the Les Moonves timing on that?

Tom is a good friend of mine and I’ve been trying to jam him in somewhere forever. When we knew the scene was coming, it was the opportunity to put Tom and Mike together in an office, have a script and to let them go. There’s some great improv stuff in there. I think that line was one of Tom’s [improvised] lines. And I believe we shot that in November. We did try to make it more all-encompassing about what’s going on at CBS News and weren’t looking to target any particular individual, per se.

Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) once again gets promoted up the chain when the Iowa governor (played by guest star Michael McKean) falls victim to Jonah’s chickenpox. Why are you focusing on Richard’s ascent?

The honest answer is that I’ve always loved the fact that Richard continues to be one of the few good people in the show. There aren’t a lot of them and I think he’s genuinely good. He believes in government; he believes in the power of government to help peoples’ lives. As the show has gotten somewhat darker this season, I thought it was important to show that. Even though it’s in a very-Richard way, to show that somebody who is genuinely good and believes in government can still prosper, in terms of rising up. He’s not the anti-Selina and he’s not the anti-Jonah, but within our horrible system, hopefully there’s still a chance. Richard, on the one hand, is very smart and intelligent; he has two degrees. But he’s also so guileless and in some ways, the guilelessness is almost his guile. Some people ask, "Is he wandering to success?" But then you have the thing with the governor and, obviously, Richard didn’t give him chickenpox, but even that governor is like, "You’re an evil mastermind, Splett.” And you’re not quite sure what’s going on there.

When we connected Dan with Richard, putting these two characters who are so different — arguably, the best character and one of the worst characters — together was a really fun dynamic. Someone who is so political and someone who is very much beyond politics. Dan has these secret machinations to get Richard to rise up; he doesn’t want any part of that and, in ruining Dan’s plans, often ends up rising anyway. That’s a really fun comedy machine. Dan tries something, Richard gets away with it but they end up getting where Dan wanted them to get, even though Dan didn’t do it. Michael McKean and I worked at Saturday Night Live back in the very strange ’94-’95 season and I have loved him since then, and he actually jumped in at the last second in that part and just took something that was very underwritten on the page and made it into a real character. This veteran who has seen it all and really doesn’t care for Richard Splett and has his eye on this plum of Secretary of Agriculture, which for him is the high point of being governor of Iowa. Plus, it allowed us to have yet another castmember from Better Call Saul.

Who will Richard endorse at the convention: Jonah or Selina?

We started the season with Richard working for both candidates and when you get to the end of this and the reporter asks him who he is going to support, she means of anybody but your head goes to: Jonah or Selina? They laugh and then he gives that look of, “What’s so funny? I’m confused.” In some ways, we’re right back to where we started. He has risen up to become governor and super delegate and now he’s forced to choose and, of course, Richard is not good at choosing as we saw at the beginning of the season. That was the circular journey, to get back to the higher-end version of Richard working for both candidates. Also, you cannot enjoy this episode without pausing on the LBJ swear-in photo of Richard getting sworn in as governor on the plane. We matched outfits as best we could, but we matched everybody to the LBJ photo. It’s my favorite little bonus. So please, pause and look at that and enjoy it!

You and the cast have spoken about how the series finale has an ending that viewers won't see coming. The episode is called "Veep." Is that a hint? 

Who knows? Who knows why people call episodes anything! But it’s going to be a wild and woolly end!

How does it feel going into the final week — what is the pressure like of readying to air Veep's series finale?

I’m just excited. I have no doubt many people will love it. I also have no doubt many people will hate it. Here’s what I know: I’m very happy with it. Julia’s very happy with it. The end.

Is there anything you want viewers to pay attention to or remember going into the final episode?

While some of the episodes did start to get a little longer and you got some added content — you may have noticed as they started to creep up that they were all a little thicker and bigger — it is six episodes. Rewatch them again. All the answers are in the six episodes, whether you know it or not! 

Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO. Check in next week for THR's series finale coverage with Mandel here.