Last week we told you that the fifth episode of Netflix's The Politician — Netflix and Ryan Murphy's Election-meets-Glee collaboration — is the only episode of the first season worth your time. And that's true! But what we didn't tell you is that the best episode of The Politician is the Season 2 premiere... which (stay with me here) is actually the Season 1 finale.
Confused? I was too. Let me walk you through it. (Warning for those who haven't yet completed Season 1: major spoilers ahead.)
After nearly being murdered by his former running mate's ex-boyfriend Ricardo, Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) sees his entire life in Santa Barbara fall apart. Thanks to his mom (Gwyneth Paltrow) attempting to run away with her female lover (Martina Navratilova), Payton has been completely cut out of his father's will. The whole school knows about his attempts to cover up the fact that said running mate, Infinity (Zoey Deutch), didn't actually have cancer like she claimed. Payton had to resign his student body presidency, and now his mom is leaving him to get a fresh start.
This all happens in the penultimate episode of the season, “The Assassination of Payton Hobart Part 2." Feels like a finale, no? That's because, for all intents and purposes, it is. Episode 8, “Vienna," picks up three years later in New York City. Payton is a Marie's Crisis Cafe pianist with a drinking problem, living with his friend and former campaign advisor James (Theo Germaine). At first, it looks like a sad epilogue for Payton's high school ambitions, and nothing more.
But then the show's focus suddenly and wildly shifts to a long-serving New York state senator, Dede Standish, and her chief of staff, Hadassah Gold. On paper you might think this is a lark of a scene, in which Dede meets with a newly elected U.S. senator from Texas (Sam Jaeger) about being his running-mate for the presidency in two years' time. However, Dede and Hadassah are played by none other than Judith Light and Bette Midler, respectively. This is no lark. This is The Politician introducing two new main characters.
Indeed, as the episode continues, we learn that Dede will be Payton's political adversary in Season 2. And he stands a good chance of unseating her, as it's certain she'll be running a lazy reelection campaign (having run unopposed for years). Plus, he knows her salacious secret — namely the fact that she's part of a throuple with two men, played by Joe Morton and Teddy Sears. It's full Murphian absurdity... but unlike the rest of the first season ofThe Politician, it really works. Part of it is that these are more seasoned actors, able to tear into the material with more gusto than their younger counterparts. Part of it is that it's nowhere near as earnest as the high school episodes were. And the largest part of it is that it's just plain fun.
Yes, if I wanted to be nitpicky, I could point out all the leaps and bounds The Politician takes to get to the episode's ending point, with Payton announcing his candidacy flanked by former friends and rivals. I could point out the insanity of someone like rival-turned-running mate-turned-attempted-murderer Skye (Rahne Jones) dropping everything in their life to join Payton's campaign. I could rail at the ludicrousness of Astrid (Lucy Boynton), Payton's former opponent, having the smoking gun against Dede because she once saw her kiss her husbands backstage at an event she was working. And I absolutely could question the wisdom of playing up Payton's connection with his ex-girlfriend, Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), to the point where she leaves her would-be husband at the altar to go campaign for him. (Throughout the preceding seven episodes of the season, the show very much presents deceased ex-lover River, played by David Corenswet, as Payton's true love, not Alice.)
But I prefer to forget all that, because this is what The Politician needs to be and I don't really give a damn about how we got here. Granted, it would probably have been better if the entire first season had been condensed into a two-hour prologue of sorts, so we could get to the Dede vs. Payton plot faster, but, like Macbeth, what's done is done. All we can do now is cross our fingers and hope for the speedy release of Season 2 — the rest of it, that is.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.