'Veep' Boss on Election Rigging Twist (and That Death) Being Part of a 3-Year "Master Plan"

Showrunner David Mandel tells The Hollywood Reporter "there’s no turning back" after the deadly consequences of a timely election interference plot are revealed — and with only two episodes left of the HBO political comedy.
HBO; Inset: Getty Images
Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on 'Veep'; Inset: David Mandel

[This story contains spoilers from the fifth episode of Veep's final season, "Super Tuesday."]

The timing of Veep's election interference reveal perfectly lined up with the real headline news of the Mueller report release. But the fifth episode showed the true hand of the final season of the HBO political comedy by ending Sunday's extended half-hour with Veep's big election rigging twist.

Showrunner David Mandel warned after last week's episode that Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has a tendency to go through the door without thinking about the ramifications. In this case, the door was striking a deal with the President of China in exchange for the Chinese rigging the U.S. presidential election, believing it would be in her favor. The ramifications were that Selina inadvertently gave the order to Keith Quinn (Andy Daly), the U.S-China go-between, to have her new and powerful friends kill her ex-husband Andrew Meyer (David Pasquesi) in order to make the Meyer Fund investigation disappear. As a result, Andrew was blown up on Meemaw's boat — which discerning viewers were happy to learn was named The Labor Day — after saying goodbye to Selina and planning to go on the run.

As if the murder of her ex-husband wasn't enough, Selina uncovers the true goal of the Chinese, thanks to a letter stolen from Keith's desk: They are rigging primary elections so she will win the party's ticket, but the reason they want her to go up against sitting President Laura Montez (Andrea Savage) is because she is the weaker candidate; Selina will be an easy opponent for a Montez reelection.

"Only Selina Meyer would end up taking Chinese money to find out that they want her to lose," Mandel explains to The Hollywood Reporter. "They want her to be the terrible candidate. They want her to beat Kemi so that Montez can beat her. And that is our Veep twist."

And to anyone who thought Veep might be ripping from the Trump-centered headlines, Mandel says this final season storyline has been in the works since he took over from series creator Armando Iannucci after season four. "It’s all part of a three-year process and this Meyer Fund [storyline] goes back deep into last season," he says. "Now, of course, we’re seeing the connections with the Meyer Fund and the Chinese. This is some of what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. in general; with lobbying and with foreign money. It’s all interconnected and you can trace the dots over our sort of three-year arc. Last week was just a funny coincidence."

Elsewhere in the episode, the second-biggest shocker came when Jonah Ryan (Tim Simons) learned the truth about his birth father and that he, indeed, married his half-sister — not his step-sister, as he had believed all season long. ("Genetics is a funny mistress," Mandel cracks.) Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), meanwhile, continues her campaign manager transformation and Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) rises up the ranks. Below, in a chat with THR, Mandel digs into all the fast-moving developments, explains why this week's Veep death was a fitting sendoff for Andrew Meyer, and looks ahead to Selina's chances at the presidency now: "A cornered animal is a dangerous one," he hints.

Joe Biden announced his candidacy since we last spoke. You noted on Twitter, "A former Vice President, who has previously lost the Presidency, deciding to come back and run AGAIN for President? It doesn't seem believable." 

Last week was the Mueller report and now, it’s just funny in that a former Vice President is coming back with a lot of people loving him, but also a lot of people going, “Why are you back?” It’s just very us.

Biden's announcement video recalled Trump’s “fine people on both sides” Charlottesville remarks. In last week's episode, Selina Meyer almost said there were “victims on both sides" of police brutality.

She didn’t have the courage to go through with it, though; she bailed. I’m not sure that Trump has ever actually done it in front of an audience that would not like the info. He speaks very exclusively to friendly audiences. That was Selina’s mistake. (Laughs.)

What has the reaction been this week, anecdotally, to Veep doing election collusion

It’s been interesting. It’s always the mix, which is that I think some people see it as, "Oh, it happened in the world so it’s happening in Veep." And I guess some people were a little surprised by it, because of how we don’t mine things from the papers. It was a weird coincidence that the [redacted Mueller report was being released] the week the episode was airing. As we spoke about last week, Selina's side-dealings with the Chinese have been a key part of my three-year run on the show. Two years ago, there was a lot of talk about foreign interference. When we decided to go down that path and shine a light on foreign interference, I’m not sure we did it thinking that there was going to be this Mueller report that comes out the week of the episode. For us, it was a very logical step in the world of Selina's relationship with the Chinese.

Last episode obviously connects to this one, where we’re putting a real spotlight onto the Meyer Fund and various sort of accusations. That’s been a running theme of the season that, hopefully, people have been paying attention to. But the notion of the Meyer Fund being this corrupt body and whatever Andrew [Meyer] was up to and whatnot, now these things tie together. There was a lot of reaction about Trump. But these were a lot of the issues that surrounded the Clinton foundation as well — somebody who isn’t the president of the United States. These are things that have been out there in the world of D.C. for a while and we’re mixing them all together. No, we’re not just doing Trump and Russia. This is a whole bunch of other stuff, too.

It's also very fitting with Selina's personality that she would make a deal to steal the presidency. 

That’s exactly it. And, by the way, she’s made illicit side deals with the Chinese in the past. There was a little deal when she was the president, but then she was also doing stuff when she was not the president. It’s always been in the fabric of the show, it’s just turned into this crazy thing.

How long ago did you know that the end of the show would be on this path of her reelection tampering?

We always knew China was going to be a big piece of things. We definitely knew it was going to loop around and, you’ll see next week, there is the ultimate culmination of some of the Chinese stuff that connects all the way back to the first season to Tibet. So I guess I’ll simply say, there’s a master plan and we try and stick to it. As I always like to say to you, a lot of things that come up and that seem innocent often connect to other things. In some cases, these are notes that we’ve been hitting over these three years.

Andy Daly's character, Keith Quinn, has revealed himself to be a major player in the Chinese relationship. 

We brought him in for what was ostensibly the joke of the guy that is hired accidentally. I had to pull him aside early on to say, "Here's the plan. You were hired accidentally but it’s going to turn out that you’re not a great guy." Early on, he’s playing a very likable Andy Daly kind of character, who just seems a little in over his head. You start to realize that it's his mask for a really cold-blooded operative of some sort. It was very, "Welcome to Veep. You’re going to start like this and then you’re going to turn into that."

Before digging more into Selina, let's talk about Amy Brookheimer's full-blown transformation into Kellyanne Conway.

She’s not Kellyanne Conway!

Well, she is fully committing to this Amy 2.0. Is there any going back?

She’s all in, there’s no other way of saying it. She’s all in personally and professionally. This is the road she has chosen and in some ways, it’s allowed her to break out of her shell. She’s legitimately enjoying it in a way that perhaps she never really enjoyed working for Selina. Jonah listens to Amy. He does a lot of what she says. She has some power there. She doesn’t get fired, demoted and then rehired every week the way she did with Selina. As undisciplined as Jonah is, there’s a certain discipline to him in the sense that he listens to Mr. Tanz and Tanz hired her. And, as I believe she says to Furlong, billionaire Tanz pays quite well!

How much of Amy's new career and personal makeover is motivated by revenge?

She’s seeing how she can move the needle, rightly or wrongly, with Jonah. But, it is that, too. It’s the angry daughter’s revenge with Amy and Selina. It’s all these things. It's like, "I love you and now I’m going to destroy you. I’m going to show you that letting me go is the biggest mistake." But again, it’s a good job. It’s not a bad job. And I think that’s something people don’t think about. 

During Jonah Ryan’s rallies, a person in the crowd screams “kill her!” about Selina; he calls for Selina to release her birth certificate; and then joins the anti-vax movement. How has Jonah become a vehicle for Veep to comment on shocking moments in politics?

We’ll never quite know how old Selina is. "You’re all right. You’re all correct." That’s what she says. (Laughs.) We thought it would be very funny to take the old Obama story and make it about Selina’s age and instead of “Where were you born?” to make the chant, “When were you born?” Jonah is a wonderful output for sort of the worst of America right now. There’s nothing we can’t have him say that doesn’t actually seem calmer than what some people are saying, as crazy as he is. All of this is true, but really, at the end of the day, what the episode is really about is Jonah finding out who his real dad is.

That was the second biggest shocker of the episode, that Jonah’s “half-sister" mix-up comes true after the birth certificate discovery. Jonah is a child of incest himself, since his father and his mother are cousins. How does this explain so much about Jonah?

Jonah's own obsession with his father and his stepfathers has been something that has been percolating for seven years. And then marrying what he thinks is his step-sister, only to find out he’s married his half-sister, but really to find out who his real dad is. Jonah railing about Selina’s age and talking about the anti-vax stuff, people are going to take notice. But I beg the audience to make sure that they’re taking notice in watching Tim in the scene where he looks at his own birth certificate and it dawns on him. When he goes in to talk with his mother afterwards, it’s like no Jonah we’ve ever seen. The guy who always yells can’t find it within himself to yell. This is a guy who had lived his life in the shadow of this dead dad and this beloved mom figure, and now — forget about the fact that he married his own half-sister — his world is just rocked. Tim did such a beautiful job there.

What did Jonah think happened to his dad?

That his dad died when he was very young. And then he had multiple stepdads; some of whom he liked, some of whom he hated. And now what we’re finding out is obviously that Lloyd was his real father — his dad wasn’t his dad — and then Lloyd and his mother came back together later and he was one of the stepdads he hated.

And now Jonah and his half-sister are pregnant.

It seems that way. He’s got a lot to deal with and he’s not someone who deals well, that’s how this will effect him moving forward.

Could this be the final nail in Jonah's campaign?

Or does it gender more support, who knows?

Was your intention that viewers would understand Jonah in a more emotive way?

It’s a reminder that they’re all human. To see him in a slightly different light. It adds some complexity. I don’t enjoy when people dismiss the Jonah character as simply “the Trump guy.” Because to me, it’s so much more than that and it has been so much more than that and, unlike Trump, Jonah has been working within the system for seven years. Tim himself has spoken a little bit about modeling things on Ted Cruz and some of that is a much better version of things. Someone who has risen up and is not liked, but who has risen up. That’s what’s so fascinating about Jonah, that he doesn’t stop. This is definitely another layer to him. Some of what has always driven him has been his dead dad. That he was raised as a spoiled and favored son by his mother, who waited on him hand and foot. And then he had this dead dad that he was trying to live up to. That has driven him to everything that he has accomplished, as much as we hate what he has accomplished. But now, he’s changing his origin story and, how will he deal with that? What does that do to him?

Richard Splett also seems to be rising in politics, as he's poised to become lieutenant governor. Does he have a strong future ahead of him?

He definitely seems to be on some sort of trajectory. (Laughs.) One of the things I love about Richard is that he’s the only character that still believes in government. Whether he is the mayor of a small town with his "pet issues," or where he’s now headed, to lieutenant governor — which is not exactly a great position either — this is a guy that cares. This is a guy that’s trying to do the best that he can and, sometimes, that’s a very refreshing thing in our little Veep world.

Mike McLintock calls Selina a “best friend of the show.” Is BuzzFeed a stand-in for Fox News?

Fox News has sort of become an official government wing of the news, and it just seemed very funny to us. We talked about this with Matt [Walsh] a lot when we said that Mike was going to go down this BuzzFeed path and how he would, for lack of a better word, redeem himself in her eyes by becoming this safe haven within the media for her. He’s sort of terrible, but in a way that also makes him very successful. (Laughs.)

Now, let's dig into Selina. She screams at one point, “This was just supposed to be a little simple bit of election rigging!" Then everything goes off the rails. Why is she so quick to open this door without thinking about the ramifications?

She just wants it so badly and then doesn’t think or worry about it. And, of course, everyone around her thinks and worries about it and she just doesn’t listen. That’s what you’re getting to see there, that these things do come with a price. All of it comes with a price tag and this is true of foreign donations, but really any big donation. This goes back to the Felix Wade episode [two, "Discovery Weekend."] It’s no better or worse when you’re taking money from a crazy American billionaire or a foreign power if they’re going to make you do things or insist upon their own thought processes in your presidency. But, this is how she feels like she has to do it.

When Andrew Meyer and Selina are strategizing, he suggests Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) as a fall person. Ultimately, they have no problem using Marjorie (Clea DuVall) even though it will “destroy" their daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland). Are they the worst parents ever?

They are horrific parents. I do like that they are the worst parents in the world that they were going to send Marjorie away if they could, but then they are genuinely pleased and so excited that she and Catherine are getting engaged. 

How will Catherine’s depression over her father’s death impact her and Marjorie?

Nothing is ever easy for Catherine. That’s just unfortunately true. But, forgetting about that for three seconds, we talked a little bit about when Marjorie was working with Selina and how that caused some friction in their relationship. This is them coming out of it a little bit stronger. In that moment where Catherine finds out that her dad is dead, it is Marjorie who is there to comfort her. And I do think it speaks to their relationship — as twisted as it may be — but it continues to be the one good thing in Catherine’s life.

Selina did not mean to give the kill order to murder Andrew. But, at the end of the day, she did. 

Well, or she didn’t. But she did.

Her actions lead to Andrew's death at the hands of the Chinese, vis-a-vis Keith as messenger. How will Selina grapple with having her ex-husband killed?

Selina’s ability to blame others for her own actions is superhuman. Nothing is ever her fault and things are terrible, until they’re not. Or until they’re terrible in a different way. Which, obviously at the end of the episode, they are.

Could being partly responsible for Andrew's death be the one thing to actually hit her hard?

It does impact her. I think all of it impacts her. How it actually surfaces in her, that’s always complicated. But it’s certainly impacting her. It’s not lost upon her what has happened. As we’ve been building this story, we were trying to answer, how do you make it go away? The U.S. attorney is looking into her and there’s not a lot of good ways to make it go away. She’s not fully guilty, but she’s guilty, and this gets her what she wanted. That was a lot of the talk in the writers room: what happens when it’s this awful thing, but it leads to good things? These are things that Selina Meyer has to grapple with.

The larger part of the story, though, is that at the end of the episode — and this goes back to everyone who thinks we’ve just been doing the Trump-Russia story — the reveal is that the Chinese, of course, have been promoting Selina to win the nomination because they want Montez to beat her. As I said earlier, we’re doing our Veep version of [election interference]. Only Selina Meyer would end up taking Chinese money to find out that they want her to lose. They want her to be the terrible candidate. They want her to beat Kemi so that Montez can beat her. And that is our Veep twist on any of these sort of stories. When we came up with that, it just felt perfect. They’re interfering so that she loses. So there you go, for everyone who thought it was just Trump.

She could go to jail and not even win at the end of the day. Will Selina be facing treason, tampering, bribery and election rigging?

Well, no. Technically by the end of the episode, everything is wiped clean.

After this major Veep twist, can Selina un-rig the election so she can still have a shot? 

Selina Meyer is nothing if not tenacious. She has found this out about the Chinese so, what is she going to do? I’ve got nothing left to say except that! But if you think she’s going to take it sitting down, you’re wrong.

Why was this a fitting sendoff for the character of Andrew Meyer?

Over the years, we’ve done a lot with Andrew and this really was about that final scene between him and Selina — obviously, the death takes place off stage — and it was about these two people who I think did love each other and yet, it’s been this very screwed up relationship. The chance for them, sitting among the wreckage, to just talk was a really nice opportunity. That was important to us. And it was a wonderful tour de force by Dave Pasquesi — who I think doesn’t get enough credit for the wonderful sleaze that he brings to Andrew. When he tells her that he's had a bag packed and ready to go for years, it just makes perfect sense. We’ve been dealing with the corruption of the Meyer Fund and all these things, but it was a chance for them to stroll a little bit down memory lane and to reckon with that relationship.

How did David Pasquesi, who has been a recurring character since season two, take the news? 

I think he was OK with it. He got some really good scenes at the end. And plus, the tie-in — or at least a little bit more information about the Labor Day mystery [the unexplained event that happened between Gary and Selina from season four] I think made everybody a little happy. We don’t know everything that ever happened, but now we know that whatever she and Gary did, it didn’t happen on Labor Day [the holiday] – it happened on The Labor Day. On a boat! It changes everything and nothing! (Laughs.) The second I hear "boat" I definitely think a little Natalie Wood something, but who knows.

Could Andrew have been involved in the big Labor Day secret?

We won’t know! It’s just very interesting that it was Meemaw’s boat.

At this point, Selina has sacrificed so much. Is there no turning back in terms of what she will do to win?

This is tough. How do you go forward? The very people that are supposed to be helping her are helping her to lose. And at the same time, it seems like all the other threats have gone away, which is great. But now it’s like a clear shot to losing and she doesn’t like to lose. Ben warned her. It’s hard to say that this is her getting what she deserves, but Ben did warn her about trusting them. And I’ll simply say, a cornered animal is a dangerous animal.

How much time will these final two episodes jump? 

We jump a little bit more forward to the next episode. It's a time jump, but it follows up on a lot of these pieces.

Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO. Check back in weekly for interviews with Mandel and follow along with all of THR's show coverage here.