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Everything is on the line when Selina Meyer returns on Veep.
“I should be president because it is my God damn turn,” the campaigning narcissist emphatically tells her devoted bagman, Gary Walsh, behind closed doors. Though she can never say it publicly, Selina is unwavering in her opinion about what she deserves — not a four-year stay; she wants eight years in the White House.
The revealing conversation comes in the premiere of Veep‘s seventh and final season and serves as a scene-setter for the high-stakes seven episodes that will be the Emmy-winning HBO political comedy’s last term on television. It was also the first scene that Julia Louis-Dreyfus filmed when Veep went back into production after her cancer was in remission. The star and executive producer, returning to set nearly a year after being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, was back and better than ever: She was Selina at her most unhinged.
“Julia is taking Selina to this other place and you’re just like: Alrighty. She’s back. We’re good,” Veep showrunner David Mandel tells The Hollywood Reporter of the final season kickoff. Not only does the desperation behind Selina’s admission drive the final episodes, it’s also the reason Mandel and partner Louis-Dreyfus knew the series had to come to an end. “This is what Selina wants, the presidency. And either she’s going to get it, or it’s going to kill her. It’s one of those things where, when we laid it all out, it just felt like: Yeah, this is the end.”
In six seasons of Veep, viewers have witnessed Selina and the rest of her incompetent underlings master the art of failing upwards. The powerless veep took the Oval Office by default, lost her re-election, went to an insane asylum, and then fought to define her one-year legacy with a presidential library and memoir. When she actually got both of those things — and potential true love with Ambassador Jaffar (Usman Ally) in season six — she threw it all away and jumped back on the campaign trail in the last season’s finale; in hopes of, this time, becoming an elected president. When Mandel, Louis-Dreyfus and the writers began plotting out the seventh season, they knew “way before” their star’s diagnosis that what they had cooked up would be the end of Veep‘s run.
“The 100 percent real answer is that it had run its course. Setting up this idea of this final run, and how Selina pushed all her chips into the middle and is all in. She has thrown away her library, possibly the love of her life — this is it. The last time she ran and didn’t win, it sent her to an insane asylum, and that haunts the season,” says Mandel, who took the helm of Veep after series creator Armando Iannucci departed after season four. Admittedly, the political climate, especially compared to when Veep debuted during the Obama era in 2012, also didn’t help: “Trump made it harder. It’s harder to find the stories that I want to do that are about the modern world of politics.”
Both Mandel and Louis-Dreyfus are no stranger to the pressures of a series finale. “I lived through the Seinfeld ending, which I was a fan of, but drives Larry [David] a little crazy to this day,” says Mandel, who was a writer on Seinfeld, which famously co-starred Louis-Dreyfus. And when they began bumping up against familiar jokes and plotlines seven seasons in, Mandel revisited that experience. “We could have done more Seinfeld episodes. Jerry [Seinfeld] just said, ‘Nope, it’s time to go.’ I’m OK that when Veep is done, people are going to wish we did a little more.”
Mandel was a Veep viewer before taking charge, giving him the rare distinction of plotting a series finale as both a writer-director and a fan. “I’m aware that there’s a pressure. I try not to think about it. I hate to reduce it to this, but I made the finale that I wanted to make. One I thought would be really cool and really ‘Oh my God’ and really funny, but also sad, shocking and interesting. I know I liked it and I know Julia liked it. Someone’s going to hate it. But I think someone’s going to love it — besides us.”
Louis-Dreyfus says a lot of care was put into the final season. “We want to make an entertaining show, no doubt about it. But our goal was to not disappoint ourselves,” the Veep star tells THR. “It was very important to all of us to do service to every single character. Make sure that every storyline is followed through. Nothing is dropped. And I think we did that.”
At the top of that list was tying up the story for her Selina, whom she says “takes ambition to a new level” in the final season — a feat not to be underestimated considering what the character has given up and neglected while on her way to the Oval Office. The season begins in Iowa with Selina preparing to officially announce her candidacy, and the full-circle moment harkens back to her earlier run on the show. “One of the things I love about this show is that it’s a picture of what you reap is what you sow,” Tony Hale, who plays Gary Walsh, tells THR. “Because Selina reaps bitterness and greed and it’s never enough, Selina has no relationships and she sows isolation and sadness. If that’s what you invest, the outcome is going to be where Selina is: a really sad human being.”
The all-in stakes facing Selina produce both the drama and comedy in the final season. “It’s tense. And that makes for some good, funny stuff,” says Louis-Dreyfus. While her scenes with bagman Gary (Hale) have provided for some of the comedy’s all-time funniest moments (the duo had near-simultaneous heart attacks in season six), the toxicity in their relationship will also be spotlighted.
“It’s hard to say without giving away huge storylines, but that codependency between Selina and Gary is going to be highlighted in a very, very dysfunctional way,” says Louis-Dreyfus, being careful with her words. Hale adds, “I don’t think Gary sees a world without Selina. She’s a huge part of his identity; he’s motivated to please her. So if that was taken away, I don’t know what he would be motivated by. She knows that and she abuses that. But there’s also an intimacy there that she’s afraid of and that Gary really desires.”
Hale recalls how, in the season three finale, Selina found out the president was resigning and she was about to become the first-ever female commander in chief. “Gary was the first person she shared that with,” says Hale of the biggest news of Selina’s life at the time. Not to mention, the two are complicit in two of the biggest burning questions from Veep‘s past: the mysterious Labor Day Weekend favor Gary pulled off on her behalf and whatever was in her trash that he dove through dumpsters to retrieve. The final episodes will bring with them a hint about what really happened during Labor Day (“It blew the framework I had,” says Hale), but the trashbags, Mandel says, will remain a mystery for viewers to discuss among themselves. (Hale, meanwhile, cracks that he thinks weapons were involved.)
“People are going to get some Labor Day answers, but I can’t swear to you they’re going to get all the Labor Day answers,” Mandel says with a chuckle. “But you will have more knowledge by the time the season is done. No one has discussed behind the scenes what we thought happened, and I never asked anyone from the past, Armando [Ianucci] or any of the old writers.”
One of the biggest cliffhangers from last season’s finale is that Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) is also campaigning for the party’s vote and against Selina. Jonah, who birthed the term “Jolly Green Jizzface,” has been the target of the most scathing insults over the show’s foulmouthed run. And after a history of Selina constantly using him as a last resort, Jonah once again will become someone she can’t seem to shake as his offensive rhetoric — well-timed in the Trump era — continues to catapult him up the political ladder. In the final season, Jonah is campaigning for the support of anti-vaxxers and targeting a demo that Selina’s team describes as white males on Facebook.
“Jonah is somebody who is driven not only by an unwavering belief in himself, but also the belief that he is owed and deserves higher office — which is something Selina definitely shares,” Simons tells THR about Jonah, a character with a level of confidence that is foreign to the actor who plays him. “It probably took how insane [real-life] politics has become to make it realistic that Jonah is running for president, and especially for him to have any success and not cut his own campaign off at the knees immediately.”
Simons believes Jonah views running for the presidency as a calling. “He’s one of those people who has held grudges and is now acting on them. He’s driven by the slights and Selina definitely slights him a lot. I think he is mad whenever he gets slighted by her because, how dare she?” he says. “But whether it was Selina or not, Jonah was going to run for president. It’s not about her, it’s about people who are more powerful than him and him wanting to be one of them.”
Mandel says one of his goals for the final season was finding ways to get characters together who aren’t typical scene partners. When Gary takes on more responsibility to help the campaign, Selina’s Secret Service double and girlfriend to the first daughter, Marjorie Palmiotti (Clea DuVall), steps in to handle some of the bagman responsibilities (“It’s not the way you think it will go,” teases Mandel of the surprising plot). Expect the new combination of Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) and Dan Egan (Reid Scott), and more faceoffs between Selina and her former Press Secretary Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh), who is now working as a BuzzFeed reporter.
“It’s great to put Mike on his back foot again. He’s always been out of his league, from the pilot and now even more so,” Walsh tells THR of Mike dipping his toe in the millennial new media pool. As for getting more scenes with Louis-Dreyfus, Walsh says that having their leader back on set after her cancer fight felt, in the simplest way, like “Mom is OK. She’s a friend and she shares her life with us, so it’s very personal,” he says. “On a professional level, she’s Michael Jordan. So it felt like, ‘Thank God she’s back. Now we can start doing fucking comedy again!'”
One of the more surprising team-ups comes when Amy Brookheimer, Selina’s oft-neglected righthand woman, hitches her wagon to Jonah’s risky campaign. At the end of last season’s finale, Amy told promiscuous political operative Dan that she was carrying his baby, the result of a one-night stand. “Amy’s image of success in life, to me, was that she always wanted to be on the cover of Fortune, sitting behind a desk for the Top 50 Most Powerful Women list,” Anna Chlumsky tells THR of her character’s ambitions. “Her being pregnant with Dan’s baby sets her very far off from her goal! But I think it kickstarts this process for her in the final season of examining what she wants. Most of the series, she thought that was working with Selina. And we start to figure out maybe that’s not the case.”
As for how impending fatherhood might impact Dan, Scott tells THR that the reveal does manifest in unexpected ways when it comes to the character’s “Grinch-sized” heart. Dan, no stranger to nervous breakdowns, has “a bit of an identity crisis where he’s not really sure who he is or where he’s going with his career and what it’s all been for,” says Scott. “It’s usually been professional crisis and this is a little more personal for Dan. This is usually the most important thing of your life and he’s so cavalier about this situation — which is maddening to Amy — and leads him to wondering: ‘Why is my life so hollow and so empty?'” Whether that has a lasting impact, however, remains to be seen.
The final season will also see Richard bouncing between Selina and Jonah’s campaigns because “his heart is split,” Richardson sums up to THR. “Richard is the only character Selina is nice to, so it makes sense he sticks around. The way she speaks to other people, Richard is thinking, ‘Oh, that’s just communicating,'” he adds of his head-in-the-clouds staffer being the only one Selina compliments. As for his role as donor for Marjorie and Catherine Meyer’s (Sarah Sutherland) son, Richard is only “there in semen,” he quips. It’s Marjorie and Catherine who are in the trenches when it comes to raising a newborn and Catherine is suffering from a postpartum depression that no one — including her mother, the other half of TV’s most dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship — seems to notice.
“Catherine is innately a much more loving person than Selina is and, obviously, is much more hands-on as a mother than Selina was, and yet I perceive it as difficult for her,” Sutherland tells THR of breaking the mothering cycle Selina inherited from her late mother, MeeMaw. “Particularly now having a young baby, Catherine this season has less patience for Selina. And I think some of the unconditional love really starts to shift.”
In real life, Sutherland’s relationship with Louis-Dreyfus could not be more different. “I really feel that, by way of this job, I got to eat lunch with a legend,” says Sutherland, who was 18 when she started playing Catherine. “Julia is so funny and playful, but not at the cost of having such depth and formidable strength, which we saw in spades in the last two years. Being able to have and maintain a sense of humor amid a really punishing amount of things happening is really moving and in those times, being strong not only just for yourself but to still be a real pillar for every single one of us, it’s unparalleled. I don’t think that she’s made of the same stuff as the average person.”
While Marjorie will continue to align herself with Selina professionally — “She was originally brought in to take a bullet for Selina and I think that doesn’t go away,” says DuVall — Marjorie and Catherine remain moored amid the spinning Veep landscape, despite external factors. “They definitely go on a bit of a journey,” DuVall tells THR, “but they are so solid and strong that, even though there are a couple of hiccups along the way, they come out the other side even more clear in their feelings and in their commitment to each other.”
With Veep still in postproduction, both Mandel and Louis-Dreyfus say they haven’t discussed the possibility of revisiting the show somewhere down the line. Does the finale leave the story open-ended, if they were to explore a movie or TV spinoff? “The answer, which I know is not helpful, is yes and no,” says Mandel with a laugh.
But he does offer this: “The first couple episodes are close together and then we start speeding up. The back end of the season is about the walls closing in. It’s getting closer and closer. She wants the presidency so badly, but other things are affecting her. That’s what this season is about. The walls closing in all different ways: The walls of time, the walls of the campaign, the walls of some plot threads that get picked up from seasons past.”
When it comes to the series finale, all of the castmembers are in agreement that, despite how upset they may have been when finding out that season seven would be the end (“I blacked out and then destroyed a city block,” Richardson jokes), all of them were taken aback by the finale in the best way. “We were were three or four shows in and we all kept asking among each other, ‘How are they going to end this?'” says Gary Cole, who plays analyst Kent Davison, to THR. Kevin Dunn, the actor behind strategist Ben Cafferty, adds, “All the way up until episode five or six we were going, ‘I don’t know what they’re gonna do.’ It’s a surprise all the way to the end and that’s a testament to great writing.” Walsh adds, “For a show to be able to close on its own terms and to do it well, which I think the writers did, it really preserves your legacy.”
Richardson was “satisfied and happy” with where his character and all the others end up. Sutherland says the finale is “true to the heart and the guts of the show.” Chlumsky says she “bawled” and Simons says he “howled” with laughter. “The very last joke of this thing, I fucking screamed and howled, because it is one of the best and it’s a joke you should have seen coming the whole time. When you see it, it is the most clear thing you can ever imagine and you can’t believe you didn’t see it,” says Simons.
“We could have all kept doing this forever, but when we got to the table read of the final episode, it was just so perfect,” adds DuVall. “It’s really satisfying but bittersweet because you want to get to it and say, ‘No guys, we have to keep going.’ But it feels right.”
Scott was in disbelief that they would be able to even pull off the finale when they got the script. “While we were shooting it, it’s almost like the voice inside your head is screaming: I’m doing it! I’m doing it!” he says. “The characters become more themselves than they ever have been.” To which Walsh hints, “All the characters go pretty crazy. There’s a pattern to all their behavior so nothing that happens this season is unfounded, but it does get ramped up. I don’t think you’ll ever see where the season is headed.”
Ultimately, “it’s a love letter,” Chlumsky adds. “I just looked at Dave [Mandel] and I said, ‘Thank you.'”
The final season of Veep premieres March 31 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.
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