August 6, 2012 - 7:45pm
BY JERUSALIEM GEBREZIABHER AND KAYLA UPADHYAYA
Senior Arts Editor Kayla Upadhyaya and Daily Arts Blogger Jerusaliem Gebreziabher discuss “Lost Boys,” the latest episode of USA’s new political miniseries “Political Animals.”
Kayla: I established last week that I’m a fan of strong flashback episodes, but now that we’re on the third installment of “Political Animals” in a row that relies on flashbacks for its central plot...I’m getting a little annoyed. I didn’t find very much of this episode exciting. That’s not to say that I hated it or that it was a poorly done episode — it just didn’t add enough to the story. There wasn’t enough going on. The episode’s strongest aspect was that it gave us a little more about TJ, and I thought that Sebastian Stan did some great work this week. I just simply wasn’t as wrapped up in the show’s main events as I have been with past episodes.
Jerusaliem: I agree. The constant flashbacks this episode felt a little bit like overkill, almost lazy, there’s got to be another form of narrative that they could have used to give us the same information.
Kayla: And what’s up with all that lens flare? That seems to be the go-to choice for establishing when we’re transitioning between time periods, but it was super distracting.
Jerusaliem: The strange smoky lighting, very dreamlike which is nice, but I don’t want to feel like I am watching a scene shot through instagram. I did like getting to view TJ’s interactions with his past lover rather than just hear him talk about it. The closeted Republican congressman he was involved has a very clear hold on TJ’s mental state still, even though significant time has passed. I predict that there will definitely be more to see out of this mystery character and his musings with the president’s son. It’s so common these days to see men of authority — usually married or seemingly “grounded” in their heterosexual ways (at least publicly) — becoming the center of sexual scandal. We see it with religious leaders and politicians alike, as well as celebrities (John Travolta scandal). I think it was a wise move to include this in TJ’s storyline. It’s completely valid and has happened numerous times in the real world. Usually the public is exposed to this kind of breakthrough of news through a court case or alleged accusations, but what “Animals” is doing is giving us a raw perspective of the actual interaction. It’s fascinating to see what’s happening on the inside lines with something like this because as common as it has been in the media, it’s still not something all people experience on a personal level. We can all relate to Susan and Elaine having issues in their relationships, or problems with work, some of us can understand the eating disorder Anne has or Doug’s vulnerability, but few of us can say we know how it feels to have an affair with a married man. Why is this going on? What made the unlikely pair gravitate towards each other? How could they withstand the guilt during their love affair? Was there guilt at all? All questions I think about in regards to the situation but nothing I could answer on my own without getting that insider perspective. I hope this develops further.
Kayla: Agreed. I liked the Congressman Sean Reeves backstory, especially because it tied in with TJ’s suicide attempt. But I really wish TJ’s larger arc was more focused on the significance of what he went through as a young boy (coming out in the White House) or even this romantic history instead of on his addiction plot, which seems to be going nowhere and hey! We only have a couple more episodes left! Every minute counts, man! TJ is becoming a little less sympathetic, especially after he coerced his babysitter/sobriety coach Gunner to break bad again. TJ is far more interesting than plain ol’ Douggie, but I feel like the writers are wasting a lot of great story opportunities on him by focusing so intently on his drugz.
Jerusaliem: Coercing someone that was there to help him, a former addict himself, into doing coke. That scene was scary and very defining in terms of how far TJ’s addiction has taken him. He had no regard for anything or anyone in that moment, he was crazed in the way he shoved Gunner down and shook him up. His behavior has spiraled out of control at this point (as we see at the end) and it definitely seemed to be sparked by the reentry of Sean and the continual rejection by his family. The kid can’t seem to win, although I don’t particularly believe that opening a nightclub and sleeping with married “hetero” men is the right solution either. He’s got a tough situation in front of him and he’s too far gone. I feel really bad for Gunner. He seemed to have come so far in his own life from the small backstory we got on him. To go from being an addict, to recovery, to wanting to aid/babysit addicts for their greater good only to be sucked back in ... sucks, that just sucks.
Kayla: Yes, I immediately wanted to know more about Gunner! Mainly because I have had enough of TJ. I am trying to be sympathetic, but it’s like he wants no one to help him. His outburst at Elaine was devastating, and you’re right, he was straight up manic in the scene with Gunner. I’m also a bit confused as to why we had to watch the scene where Elaine finds TJ in the car again. This scene was revealed in an earlier episode, and yet it was shown again this week, intercut with shots of Bud finding TJ after overdosing in the present. The symmetry was nice, but nothing was gained from seeing the same scene twice.
Jerusaliem: I think the drug storyline needs to fizzle out sooner or later, for the sake of time. I want to see more about his sexuality and whether he can sustain a normal, functional relationship. I have a feeling Gunner might fade into the background, this slip up he had with TJ overdosing is definitely enough ground for the family to fire him and thus leaving him out of the entire show, which is unfortunate.
Kayla: Exactly. Meanwhile ... where were my faves Susan and Elaine this week? They both had very peripheral presences as TJ took the spotlight. I like that we’re getting lots of sides and perspectives as the show progresses, but I must admit that I missed my superlady dream team. Elaine’s work crisis — the downing of a Chinese submarine off the coast of California — wasn’t all that interesting. It was pretty much just thrown in there to once again establish Elaine as the more morally sound member of the current administration and to give her a way to formally separate from Garcetti and his evil camp. But it didn’t come with a hearty helping of sassy Elaine one-liners or Russian diplomat arm twisting. There wasn’t much of a sense of urgency.
Jerusaliem: Elaine never seems to catch a break, and will constantly have a pile of tasks on her plate. Although it could have been foreseen that she couldn’t have serenity for too long, I feel bad for her. Garcetti seems to be on somewhat level moral ground in regards to the Chinese submarine incident in that he too doesn’t want the men to die, but Elaine’s ever exhausting role never seems to change — she’s constantly battling negligent and immoral forces to do the right thing. As a viewer, it feels easy to just sit back and say “yes, obviously do this” and “why would China ever leave their men to die” but the show helps enlighten us to the fierce reality of diplomacy: how compromising it can be just to do the right thing, no matter how seamless it appears. It’s painful to watch Elaine bear all of this on her own. She has a team behind her and of course the President, but for the most part she is acting from her sound judgment. As for Susan, I was somewhat OK with not seeing much of her. She really ticked me off during the last episode. I needed a break. I respect what she’s trying to do for her career but I can’t get past how she’s doing it. And fuck Georgia right now. I know they’re all after the same thing, they all want to be the best they can be and advance their careers but GOD DAMN, there is so much backstabbing and sneaky deals going on. My innocent college soul can’t bear it.
Kayla: I understand being frustrated with the backstabbing, but I have to say that I love all three of these women. It might be easy to want to choose sides, so to say. The writers definitely want us to have an allegiance to Elaine, but I like that they’re not painting Elaine, Susan, or Georgia as inherently good or bad. I think that all three women are intelligent and powerful, in their own ways. They’re flawed, but they’re very believable and I find myself rooting for all of them at once (which shall almost surely lead to heartbreak). Georgia would be a very easy character to write off as mindless and annoying. Susan underestimated her, and I don’t want to make that same mistake.
Jerusaliem: OK, I see what you’re saying there, I like it. I had to smile to myself when I found Susan in a compromising position when the story leaked to her amateur blogger Georgia. I am still so stung at her ability to betray Elaine, who has approached her with grace and respect despite the filth that Susan has created in regards to their family name. Looking back at the last episode I was disgusted that either of them (Doug and Susan) had the gall to conspire like they had been. I understand that there was a lot at stake — Susan is doing what she needs for her career, Douglas is trying to save his mother, but it’s still baffling. We see a glimpse of harmony and then its pounded by people consumed with their own agendas. But that’s politics I suppose. It makes my skin crawl but people do this sort of thing every day, gain your trust only to pull the rug from under you. This show can really switch their characters up from one episode to the next, I wouldn’t be surprised if I become more fond of Georgia by next episode as well.
Kayla: I did really like Doug’s line about how Elaine needs to have her dream come true before either he or Susan can have their own aspirations fulfilled. So much is hinging on Elaine’s success.
Jerusaliem: That was a great part. It really made me feel better about the whole situation, that although they are trying to advance themselves, they know Elaine is the future. She’s finally the Presidential candidate that they all wanted her to be. Also ... what if Susan and Doug get together? They had a little chemistry in that meeting .. all I’m saying is if it happened, I called it.
Kayla: I noticed some chemistry as well and wasn’t sure if it was just because Gugino and Wolk are both so pretty next to each other. A little affair could possibly spice up Doug’s otherwise bland existence.
Jerusaliem: Oh but poor Ann ...
Kayla: The thing is ... the writers have still left Ann so underdeveloped that it would be hard to muster any sympathy. Which is, you know, a problem in and of itself. A lot of her lack of depth probably (hopefully) has to do with the “limited series” restrictions, but I’d like to feel something — anything — about her! Now, switching gears a bit. Since I’m a politics person, I feel the need to discuss some of the political aspects of the show at least a little bit. I’m OK with the optimism and oversimplifications of much of the show’s politics, but some of the lines make me literally laugh out loud because they feel like they were ripped straight out of a campaign’s talking points or a fluffy opinion piece. Garcetti’s line about China’s status as a superpower was so forced and awkward. As did a lot of the things coming out of secretly gay Republican Congressman Reeves’ oh-so-pretty mouth. The characters are using a lot of buzz words and broad statements about complicated issues, and I’m mostly OK with it since this is first and foremost a soap. But every once in a while, I do roll my eyes at the dialogue. It’s borderline schmaltzy.
Jerusaliem: I agree, it’s really hard to listen to sometimes. It honestly sounds like a parody of politics sometimes, like poorly scripted SNL spoof.
Kayla: Exactly! Fortunately, it doesn’t annoy me, because the show isn’t taking itself too seriously. But the whole submarine thing was pretty convoluted. The campaigning aspects of the show have been pretty spot on so far though! Which is more than I can say for last season of "Parks and Recreation." It was painfully obvious that those writers didn’t know much about elections or local politics. Of course, that was a sitcom, but I do appreciate that the "Animals" writers appear to be doing their homework.
Jerusaliem: Same. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing poorly researched and poorly executed writing, which “Animals” seems to avoid for the most part. What did you think of Bud this episode? His celebrity guru “help?”
Kayla: The second I hear Bud had a new publicist, I knew he was sleeping with her. If nothing else, Bud is reliable ... well, you can rely on him to sleep with any young woman in sight and just about nothing else. I tend to agree with Elaine in believing that he only wants back into her life because he wants back into the White House.
Jerusaliem: He seems to kind of stand up for himself though near the end, right? He kicks his publicist to the curb, maybe his ex wife’s good attributes are finally rubbing off on him? I don’t know, I really want to have faith that Bud is making a turnaround.
Kayla: Maybe he’ll prove me wrong, but I still can only see him as a platter of shit with little awareness of those around him. He treats TJ horribly, but he was right in the end I suppose.
Jerusaliem: At this point, I have to laugh a little at Bud’s every move because his character manages to get so ridiculous. How bad does your image have to be that you need a celebrity publicist to recreate your public persona. I don’t really know how else Bud could repair the damage done by his crude and uncensored demeanor, but this is just hilarious. Whatever though, power to you Bud, maybe my new favorite character. Yes I said that. The girl that was convulsing at his every move three episodes ago. But with the nature of this show and its ability to completely 360 its characters, we’ll see how long that affection of mine lasts (see Susan’s bitchass).