Let today, September 27, mark the day the Ryan Murphy’s dominion over Netflix begins. The Politician is the prolific showrunner’s first Netflix Original series. It’s a seven-part pastel-colored romp through Payton Hobart’s (Platt) final year in an elite high school. Senior year is crucial for Payton’s master plan: He has to become class president so that one day, he might become the actual U.S. president.
Payton’s our main character, but it would be wrong to call him our hero. The Politician has no heroes. Murphy’s show makes fun of just about everyone and everything: rich people disconnected from real life, poor people who scam to get by, money, politics, high school, master plans, and liberals!
Read on for our recaps of this mystifying show. You get the feeling that it’s making fun of us for watching, too.
Episode One: "Pilot"
The Politician’s entire ethos be boiled down to the following line, spoken by high school senior Astrid (Lucy Boynton) to her boyfriend, River (David Corenswet). “I will do better at appearing more authentic from now on. I promise to be more real from now on.” Astrid says this without an ounce of sarcasm. It’s like Siri promising to be more human.
Astrid, like many of the characters in this show, is play-acting at being a person. The show is filled to the brim with uber-rich kids programmed to think that their real selves aren’t enough to get them to astronomic heights on the ladder to success. Don’t worry, I want to tell these well-dressed scions, your money is a perfectly sufficient means up the ladder.
But Payton, our extremely wealthy leading man, won’t accept his fortune as legitimate fuel for his political career — which is why he’s wait-listed at Harvard instead of “Varsity Blues-ing” his way in with a check. No, nepotism would be a blot on Payton’s Master Plan, which has only one final destination: The White House.
To Payton, the very insinuation that his family’s estate contributed to his rise (which it inevitably will) would derail his trek toward the U.S. presidency. With stunning naivety, Payton believes if he models his life off past presidents’ lives, his rise to power will be inevitable. Payton is supported by people who have hitched their ride to his star: James (Theo Germaine), McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss), and his girlfriend, Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) — who got into Harvard, much to Payton’s barely disguised dismay.
The Payton Posse, which seemingly congealed in elementary school, watches as their holy star starts to fracture. The Harvard waitlist is the first fault-line. The disastrous high school presidential election campaign is the second.
Not everyone at Payton’s prep school is scrambling up the ladder. With the enigmatic (and, ok, gorgeous) character River, The Politician suggests that there is another approach to life – but that it can’t sustain itself in this House of Cards-inspired high school. The year before, River had been Payton’s Mandarin tutor, then his secret lover.
Now, Payton and River are opponents. River is running against Payton in the school’s presidential election. For Payton, this is a major betrayal of their past relationship — even if River is only running as part of his girlfriend’s scheme to get him into Stanford. After all, every action in this high school is a step toward another accomplishment.
Before River abruptly takes his own life (more on that later), he delivers a rousing pièce de résistance about life in the current moment during the school debates. In front of his school, River opens about his past depression and suicide attempt. Everyone weeps as he describes jumping into his pool with a weight tied to his ankle, only surviving because the knot unravels. This golden boy has problems, too? It’s a humanizing moment.
If I were as cynical as Payton’s team, I’d say this speech was the work of a brilliant political operative. River knows that these kids crave authenticity and honesty in others because they’re too wound-up to achieve it in themselves. But that’s the point: River is real. “You’re important,” he tells the class. They’re important intrinsically – not for what they do, but for who they are.
River’s deeply empathetic heart has no place in the school's Slytherin-y hallways. In front of Payton, River takes his own life, spurring a “whydunit” strand to rival Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons Why. Lucy immediately blames Payton, but it’s not that simple. Unlike 13RW, The Politician never explains River's depression away or assigns it to concrete reasons. He was deeply depressed.
After River’s death, the candidates’ differences are heightened. Payton’s not a “real boy.” His smile looks like Geppetto fashioned it in a dim Italian workshop. So, he’s seeking a running mate to make up for that dearth of authenticity (and struggle). Someone real.
Ironically, the candidate he chooses is the opposite of genuine. Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch) is pop culture’s latest victim of Munchausen by Proxy disorder. If you’ve seen Mommie Dearest (or The Act, or Sharp Objects), you know this story already. Infinity’s West Virginia-born, blue eyeshadow-wearing grandmother, Dusty (played by an extraordinary Jessica Lange with a butterfly back tattoo), masquerades Infinity as a cancer patient to get them free perks. They’ve freeloaded their way into many-a-vacation. Is Infinity aware she’s part of the con?
Dusty tries to persuade Infinity into accepting Payton’s VP offer for the same reasons Payton is in the race: The election is a way of getting more stuff. Infinity is reluctant, as she doesn't want to be used. Eventually, after Payton “opens up” to Infinity about not being able to feel, she agrees to run with him.
The goal for VP, it seems, is to pick someone who ticks the struggle boxes. Lucy appoints Skye Leighton (Rahne Jones) as River’s VP. Sky is Black and gender non-conforming — an ace in the diversity ticket.
During River’s funeral, Astrid announces she’s taking over for River and running with Skye. Now she has the extra glow of the first “all female” ticket – not quite right, as Skye already said they are gender non-conforming. Keep in mind that Payton has also slept with Astrid during their threesome, so this is all a bit complicated.
To think, this could’ve been an uncontested race, instead of Gordian knot! Now, Payton’s personal life is braided in with political intrigue. Alice — a girlfriend as conniving as Astrid was to River — persuades Payton to break up with her to boost his image. In a public letter, Alice will tell the school she cheated on Payton. Her one condition: Payton must turn around and stare at her when she passes him in the hallway, a signal he remembers the truth of their love.
In a massive betrayal, Payton doesn’t turn around when he passes Alice. As we mentioned, the guy doesn’t know what’s “real” about him to begin with, so of course he gets lost in the charade. He’s an Orpheus who would have no trouble forgetting about Eurydice because he got to meet the King of Hell on the journey down, and isn't that cool? Maybe he can get him a job.
Clearly, aside from River, most of the relationships in Payton’s life are based on transactions. Who can use who, and how? The exception to that is his adoptive mother, Georgina Hobart (a sublime Gwyneth Paltrow), the show’s only true love story. Georgina’s biological sons, twins Martin and Luther (Trevor Eason and Trey Eason), are handsome devils, and not in the cute way: I think they may be actual demons. Cruel and unusual punishments are their pastime. But Payton is different. She adores her adopted son and accepts him unconditionally, even after he confesses he might be a sociopath.
The only time Payton displays a sliver of his raw self is while he’s mourning River at the school's memorial service and at the Jacksons'. If The Politician's legacy is giving the youth more of a connection with Joni Mitchell beyond Love Actually, then that is enough for me. In front of Dusty, Payton weeps so profoundly for River that I believed, finally, that he loved him.
WHO’S WINNING? Payton, for morbid reasons.=
Episode Two: The Harrington Commode
On paper, sweet, suffering Infinity Jackson is the perfect choice for Payton’s VP. In reality, she’s the worst. As Payton learns this episode, she’s not the angel she appears to be. With Infinity, The Politician once again points out the distance between appearances and reality.
Andrew (Ryan J. Haddad), a fellow student with cerebral palsy, has been observing Infinity for years. He reveals his suspicion to Payton’s team: She’s “faking” her illness. If Andrew’s correct in his diagnosis and Payton runs with her anyway, then the secret will haunt him all the way up to the presidency.
So, will Payton keep asking questions or cloak himself in plausible deniability? Do you even know Payton by now? He’s going to find the truth, even if it takes him right into Dusty Jackson’s lair, where opera blares and all food contains bright-orange cheese.
Less than a second after arriving at the Jackson household, Payton knows they’re lying about Infinity’s illness — even if he doesn’t have the tangible proof of a blood test. Over a tin-foil dinner table, Dusty squeezes a Disney Cruise out of Payton.
The moment Payton brings up the rumors, Dusty’s smile dissolves and she transforms into a defensive she-beast. She rains medical files on his head — all tinkered by the bribed-out medical technician.
Here’s the thing: Infinity doesn’t know her grandmother is lying. Yes, she has a secret, seedy boyfriend (Benjamin Barrett) who looks like he walked out of My So-Called Life. But Infinity is genuinely guileless. That’s how Payton convinces her to donate blood during his campaign’s blood drive as a front to find out about her cancer (and win the vote of the school’s sole Haitian student). Payton opens the blood test results: She is cancer-free, as suspected.
With the whole Infinity snafu, Payton learns an obvious lesson: The truth has consequences because the truth dissolves illusions.
His parents run into the same lesson. Georgina and Keaton (Bob Balaban) are married — and by that, we mean they’re trapped within an illusion of their own making. She married him for his enormous wealth. He married her to complete the image of a perfect life. Together, they formed a pretty picture. But lately, Georgina has been yearning for authentic connection — and Keaton notices. “I accepted I was getting a woman playing the part of a woman in love with me. But recently you’ve stopped pretending,” Keaton observes.
This myth sustains Keaton's whole life. Nothing about him is substantial. He collects books only because they look good on the shelf. When confronted by the fact his life is based on a lie, he falls apart. When Georgina announces she’s fallen in love with the stablemaster, Brigitte (professional tennis player Martina Navratilova), he vaults himself off his expensive furniture and out the window.
In The Politician, suicide is treated as an exhibitionist act; something done in front of people. River abruptly shoots himself in front of his best friend. Keaton jumps out of the window. Just wait until later episodes (no spoilers). Studios show witnessing a public suicide can be traumatic; Payton is certainly suffering from PTSD that is unexplored in the show. Since the topic is left completely unaddressed, the show’s approach to suicidal ideation feels careless. The Politician makes fun of everyone – but seems to irresponsibly make fun of mental illness, too.
Keaton survives, but barely. With Keaton’s life in limbo, Georgina and Payton find themselves trapped in a Lifetime movie-worthy family drama. The prenup stated that Georgina would be booted out of the will if she divorced him for another man. Even though he’s adopted, Payton’s an “outsider” like his mother, so he’d been excluded from the will too. So on one side are the Outsiders, the others, Martin and Luther (aka the Winklevoss Twins, aka the greatest casting decision ever).
Payton’s entire fortune is under threat. Who is Payton without that sweet, sweet cash flow? He decides he can survive without the cash and its privileges (turning down Harvard yet again), but his brothers can’t.
Payton reminds Romulus and Remus (or whatever their names are) that their dad might wake up from his coma, and then punish them for being so cruel to Payton and Georgina. They decide killing their dad is their only option. Beside his hospital bed, they openly wrestle with the ethics of killing him but ultimately decide their instant inheritance would be worth it. After all, “Patricide is so on-brand for the twins,” as Georgina says. In a twist, Hobart wakes up with a chilling: “Hello, boys.”
Twist: The assassination attempt was all part of Payton’s scheme, because he is a true politician. The father had woken up days earlier to the sound of Payton reading (something that Hobart, an avid collector of books, doesn’t ever do). Payton laid a successful trap to prove how terrible the twins were.
The little King Lear interlude ends with Payton as the sole heir to his father’s fortune, heart, and his sense of style – what’s up with those glasses? The twins are left with nothing but the Harrington Commode. There’s a catch: In order to ensure Payton gets the fortune, Georgina has to end things with Brigitte for good.
Georgina will do anything for her son, including give up love.
Payton, so long as Infinity’s secret doesn’t get out....which we know it will.
Episode Three: October Surprise
At long last, the flashback episode in which we find out what really happened between River and Payton last year. So far, this is all we know: they studied Chinese, they kissed, they ran against each other. Then, in a tragic escalation, River killed himself in front of Payton.
Now, we learn how different Payton and River were. Payton might not have principles, but at least his personality is straightforward; the guy is made of pure ambition. River, on the other hand, is elusive.
Who is River? He’s like cake recently taken out of the oven, so soft he might fall if you touch him too hard but completely nourishing. He’s like the inside of a lava cake, oozing and delicious. He is a walking weighted blanket. He is generous with compliments for his sometimes lover, but drifts away before Payton can hold him. Essentially, TV has never seen a letterman jacket-wearing jock like River.
Yet, the nature of their relationship is unclear. Was it a romantic friendship? A friendly romance? Or was it deeper? Did River unlock a previously inaccessible part of Payton? River made him feel something and Payton nudged an inch closer to being a real boy.
Though this episode, firmly ensconced in the upper, upper, .01% of echelons, Payton seems far from being all that “real.”
Overnight, Payton becomes sole heir to his father’s fortune and scores a spot in Harvard’s incoming class. Payton talks himself into thinking he earned this spot the old-fashioned way, not bought it. He’s deep in denial.
Before attending Harvard, though, he has to win the race. As Astrid becomes more serious about running, Payton’s victory is no longer guaranteed, especially when there’s a VP candidate seriously considering assassinating Payton as a viable option. I see you, Skye. Like the rest of the characters in this show, Skye’s sense of scale is way off: “Winning this election would be historic.” This is not the U.S. presidential election we’re talking about, Skye!
With Skye’s help, Astrid is coming into her own. Like Payton, she’s pretty much an unfeeling robot forged by extreme privilege. Where Georgina fears those qualities in her son, Astrid’s father (Dylan McDermott) encourages her to tap her inner glacial reserves and become a “politician.”
But Astrid is hardly the biggest threat to Payton’s campaign. Infinity is. Ricardo now suspects she’s lying about her illness. He starts looking for clues and accidentally finds proof in the strangest place.
Ricardo and Infinity film a sex tape (so Euphoria). Afterward, Infinity puts on a home video — weird juxtaposition, I know — from a sponsored trip that Dusty and Infinity took to Busch Gardens years ago. When a reporter at Busch Gardens says Infinity has leukemia, Infinity denies being sick. Suddenly, Dusty rushes Infinity off-camera. “Stay away from us, Buttmunch!” Infinity shouts, bringing out the inner Dusty.
Ricardo brings the tape to Astrid, who uploads it to YouTube. It’s a disaster for Payton. His VP seems like a scammer homophobe.
Payton faces another curveball. After getting into Harvard, Payton runs to share the good news with his kind-of ex, Alice, and catches her making out with Matthew (pearls still firmly attached). It turns out she and Matthew had been hooking up while she was dating Payton. Gasp!
Payton reacts to the betrayal like a true sociopath. He’s more upset that his friend has broken with his prescribed “role” than with the infidelity. You see, Payton is the star and Matthew is a mere planet in the solar system. Mathew can’t fall in love with Payton’s high school sweetheart because Payton and Alice, together forever, is another part of the plan. Payton doesn’t think of them as people, but as pawns.
In that, Payton has something in common with his adoptive father, who loves moving people around. Knocked out of the family will, Romulus and Remus/Martin and Luther are having money problems. When one of the twins asks Georgina for help, she makes it seem like poverty is a virtue that will cleanse their souls. That’s not how poverty works. Their souls will remain rotten, but they’ll definitely make a fortune as twinfluencers.
Most of the episode revolves around Payton and Astrid trying to out-manipulate each others’ campaigns in a dirty fight fought by unscrupulous teenagers. Payton lands on a flashy campaign platform for gun control. Astrid lands on releasing the video, much to Payton’s horror. When he finds out, he exclaims, “I’m going to kill her!” while at a diner. Not a good look.
But the warring candidates have more in common than they let on. Both of them are grieving a man they loved. And they’re both using his death fuel their presidential campaigns. Are we supposed to be rooting for them? It’s hard to root for anyone — even Infinity and Ricardo, the peons caught in the craven kids’ crosshairs.
Running through The Politician is a clumsy discussion of class. Since they’re poor, Infinity and Ricardo are not to be taken seriously, treated as the “jokes” of the school and the show. They scam to get ahead. But how are Payton and Astrid any better than Ricardo, Infinity, and Dusty? Is inheriting generational wealth more valid, more moral?
At the end of the episode, Ricardo is tired of being screwed over and manipulated. He’s smart enough to know that he’s not smart. He bursts into Astrid’s house in a stylish home intrusion ripped right from the playbook of American Horror Story. Astrid, in her Marc Jacobs sweater, looks concerned but is prepared.
When they come home to a wrecked house, Astrid’s perfectly cast parents (January Jones and Dylan McDermott) go through the motions of being upset. But who knows how concerned they really are. This is a show full phonies.
Astrid, presuming she’s coming back.
Episode Four: Gone Girl
The title of this episode is an indication that, as with Amy in Gone Girl, the disappearance of Astrid Sloane is not as straightforward as the police department thinks. Astrid wanted to disappear.
That never occurs to her parents, who are way too busy hating each other to understand their daughter. Mr. Slone met Mrs. Sloane when he hired her as an escort to a Rand Paul fundraiser. Theirs is no Pretty Woman romance. Mrs. Sloane self-medicates and Mr. Sloane coats himself in a protective layer of cruelty. (Even after one scene with the Sloanes’ toxic banter, I wanted to slip away. No wonder Astrid disappeared).
Mr. Sloane is convinced that Payton kidnapped his daughter. He’s the kind of guy who believes all of his thoughts are the Correct Thoughts. And he’s powerful enough to get the police to follow his whims, like his own personal law enforcement agents.
Obviously, we know Payton didn’t kidnap Astrid. But other people — including Georgina, who is always a bit terrified of her son — aren’t convinced. And the fact that Payton shouted, “I’m going to kill her” publicly does not help his case. In the interrogation room, everything Payton says to exonerate himself just emphasizes his single-minded narcissism and puts him further in the hole.
The arrest, combined with Infinity-gate, has sent Payton’s campaign into a tailspin. His poll numbers are plummeting like the stock market on Black Friday. But the Payton Posse knows that this is the least of their problems — fake cancer thing is the real disaster clawing at their cage.
Ultimately, the only way Payton can salvage his campaign is to fire Infinity. That’s how Payton’s social structure works: If a person is not useful, he drops ‘em. So, after his parents smuggle him out of prison, Payton dumps Infinity and tells her the truth about her blood test. Though he pompously declares he “just saved her life,” this is hardly an act of compassion. He ditches her to deal with the dangerous Dusty herself. Pathological liar that she is, Duty squirms out of all of Infinity’s accusations.
Who will replace Infinity as VP? The question is more important than ever because Astrid’s campaign is gaining traction — even if Astrid is gone. Skye uses Astrid’s disappearance as an opportunity to hold a smashing candlelit vigil addressing violence against women.
Skye’s hypocritical vigil reminds me: Who, exactly, is The Politician making fun of? Liberals? People who capitalize off tragedy for their own ends? Or, most likely, the whole world? It’s unclear what The Politician stands for — but maybe that’s a symptom of its characters not standing for anything, especially Payton.
Payton finally reveals why he longs to be president in a conversation with Georgina. His answer isn’t particularly clarifying. “I’m compelled,” he says. “I don’t know what I’ll find when I get there, but I know this is my only path.” It’s the verbal equivalent of cotton candy mixed with Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist. The world has to submit to Payton’s ethereal sense of ”purpose.” He wants to be president for his personal growth, not for more noble reasons like equality, restoring justice, or giving voice to the voiceless.
Goodbye, Payton. Time to move on to your equally craven counterpart, Astrid Sloane.
Just like Gone Girl, the episode switches to Astrid’s perspective midway-through. Here’s what, in reality,happened: Astrid kidnapped Ricardo as a way to escape the combination of a pressure-cooker, high school, warring parents, and a dramatic presidential election.
In New York, she’s liberated. She feels free in her poor person drag. But obviously, Astrid is completely misguided and shows a shallow understanding of what it’s like to be a working-class American. She finds it freeing because there’s always a way back to being rich.
Ricardo, though, does know the realities of working-class life. He leaves Astrid, but not before saying the episode’s smartest line: “Pretty rich girls like you never lose. They just don’t win sometimes.” He’s right. The school election doesn’t matter. Who wins and loses won’t make a material difference for Payton and Astrid. Their money and privilege will forever ease their lives.
Ricardo and Infinity do not have that guarantee. Their lives might be ruined because they danced, briefly, with the 1%.
Eventually, Astrid returns to her childhood bedroom, like Dorothy back in Kansas. She’s seen things. Instead of ruining her campaign, her escape into the urban jungle makes her look relatable. In front of the cameras that have been crowding her house since she disappears, Astrid weaves genuine, vulnerable speech about running away — she pulls a River.
Everyone is sold on Astrid but Skye. She abandons ship and volunteers to be VP for Payton’s campaign. Off on the side, Skye and McAfee start hooking up.
Speaking of romantic progressions: Alice and Payton are back together, after Alice heroically outsmarts a lie detector to exonerate him. Usually, Alice speaks like someone who’s seen too many 1950s noir movies. But when she and Payton reunite, her persona shifts and a bit of the real Alice emerges. Her voice literally changes when she says, “I miss you.” A squeaky voice replaces her 1950s drawl.
Like Alice, these characters on The Politician are like Russian matryoshka dolls. Each outward appearance hides another, truer self — but ultimately, they’re hollow.
The polls are neck-and-neck because Astrid and Payton are both equally disliked and distrusted. At least the student body has taste.
Episode Five: The Voter
Until now, we’ve only seen high school through the eyes of the Politician. In this episode, we get a look at what is life like for the Undecided Voter on election day.
Elliot Beachmann (Russell Posner), the Undecided Voter in question, is an Everyday American in teenage form. He’s so average that a Golden Retriever, a go-to Americana symbol, walks outside his small house at the episode’s opening.
If Payton had a polar opposite, that would be Elliott. He subsists on waffles, not meals prepared by a live-in chef. He wears whatever plaid shirt smells the least gross off his bedroom floor, not perfectly assembled designer clothing. He doesn’t care about anything, and that doesn’t bother him. All Payton does is care.
Essentially, the Voter is in the same school district as Payton, but he’s worlds away. Still, Payton is determined to find common ground with him, because he needs all the votes he can get. Unfortunately, the only thing the Voter wants is to jerk off in peace — and Payton, as ruthless as he is, can’t campaign on that platform.
This episode, Astrid and Payton desperately try to court a kid who’s more focused on checking out girls (he’s an ass man) than participating in the future of his school. Bending over backward is an unflattering posture, but it’s what the democratic process requires. Occasionally, you might get punched in the face while trying to make someone care — just ask James, whom Elliott punches.
Until now, The Politician has taken this high school campaign very seriously. Or at least as seriously as Payton, Astrid, and their wealthy friends take it – which is extremely seriously.
But when the final debate is viewed through Elliot’s apathetic eyes, Payton’s efforts look like a farce. On stage, Payton waxes on about Skye Leighton and switching sides and bravery and blah blah blah. In the back of the auditorium, Elliot and his friends are acting in their own show, a stoner comedy. Activities include: giggling inappropriately, getting high, playing first-person single-shooter video games on the iPhone.
Obviously, a lot of students are interested in the vice-presidential drama unfolding on stage. After all, there has never been a more dramatic high school election day. Pierre Toussaint, the so-called “Haitian Vote,” promises that Drake will perform! Infinity announces damning allegations about Astrid’s adventure in New York!
Elliott, though, is unfazed. He remains unchanged after the debate — he didn’t have an opinion then, and he certainly doesn’t now. “I don’t know. I just don’t really care,” he tells McAfee after the interview.
Elliott’s irritating blankness seems to incite something in Astrid, Payton, and their staff. The less he reacts, the more ridiculous they act to elicit a response. The dynamic culminates in Astrid and Payton throwing insults at each other across as lunch table as Elliott looks on with boredom. Elliott ultimately leaves for study hall, a good lunch ruined.
Following him to study hall, Payton ekes out an answer about Elliott’s desires. What Elliott wants is what he always wants: to masturbate: “I think students here should have their own bathrooms just like the teachers do. So you can lock the door.” He wants what he wants.
Here, The Politician takes a cynical view of the democratic system. A few people, like a girl at Elliott’s lunch table, will be passionate about issues. But ultimately, most people are completely apathetic. Elliot feels so far off from wielding real power that he doesn’t care about what little has. Are we meant to read Elliott as stupid, or resigned to the reality that nothing he does matter? Is this show demeaning lower-class people, or making fun of the wealthy?
Unlike his father, who believes firmly in the process, Elliot is Gen Z nihilist. He chooses not to vote. “My vote doesn’t matter anyway,’ he says.
Let’s see if he’s right.
Who’s winning? Payton? Astrid? I’d write in Andrew, the well-dressed gossip.
Episode Six: "The Assassination of Payton Hobart: Part One"
Ryan Murphy already staged the tragic assassination of a famous fashion designer in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. The Politician, a satire through and through, will feature a very different sort of assassination.
What will the meanies do to Payton, now that he’s president? In short, try to kill him — twice. First, by poisoned cupcake. Then, with a BB gun bullet laced with opossum guts. Pick your poison, Payton.
First, though, let’s go back to how all this assassination business started.
Payton wins the presidency, but not how he wants. Astrid undermines his victory by withdrawing from the race before all the votes are counted. So, he holds office — but without legitimacy. Or, as Astrid puts it, “An office with no meaning which no one can respect.” In a classic loser move, Payton demands a recount — and discovers that he lost by two votes.
Even if it was an inglorious win, Payton Hobart and Skye Leighton are officially president and VP. Immediately, Payton tries to enact Change. But all of his ideas are vague and expensive eco-friendly initiatives, like straws and water fountains — the kind of things Greta Thunberg thought of in kindergarten. It’s bracingly obvious Payton has no platform, no specific passion other than his narcissism. Again and again, he’s shot down by a round-table of adults with actual power.
Unlike Payton, Skye is confident that she deserves the presidency. She has solid policy ideas specific to their school, and she wants Payton out of the way. My Slytherin queen.
Later, the Slytherin Queen (most likely) makes Payton a poisoned cupcake when baking with McAfee. Bad, Slytherin Queen, bad! Georgina tries curing him using the Goop handbook (aka a shaman and holistic medicine) but then rushes him to a hospital. Payton thinks McAfee, who gave him the cupcake, is to blame. In the aftermath, McAfee is dumped by Skye (for accusing her) and by Payton (for sleeping with Skye).
Still, doesn’t an assassination attempt look good on Payton? Victimhood gives Payton a sense of self-importance. He’s propped up by righteous indignation up on the hospital bed. Further, he gets to indulge in his favorite dream sequence: Pretending to be a president. He acts out Reagan’s assassination attempt.
After almost dying, Payton’s ambitions ring hollow, even to him. In an effort to enjoy his life a bit more, Payton joins the school’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, along with Infinity and Ricardo. Such a Payton move. The guy wants a stage more than he wants a political platform.
It’s around here that The Politician becomes less a political show, more Glee-meets-The Sopranos. Assassins is a Sondheim musical sung by people who tried to kill presidents. An on-the-nose choice, considering Payton and Infinity’s lives are in danger. Murphy couldn’t resist a chance to have Platt and Deutch sing an entire number from the show. Did it move the plot forward? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes!
All these years, Infinity has lived with a murderer. After Infinity was born, Dusty chained Infinity’s mom up in the basement and fed her paint chips to prevent her leaving the house. Ultimately, Infinity’s mom died of kidney failure. The truth about her grandmother imbues Infinity with the negotiating power of a mafioso. For one, she’s dangerous: She can go to the police and land the adults in jail. For another, she’s brazen AF.
To escape Dusty’s kitschy dungeon, Infinity bribes the guy who helped Dusty fake her medical records, Ray, into getting her a motel room — and unlimited dessert. “From now on, I only want fancy things in my life,” Infinity says. The Politician contrasts Infinity’s idea of fancy (macaroons and a motel room) with Alice’s (pearls and a live-in masseuse), and once again seems to suggest that poorer people are inferior in taste and intelligence. Hmm…
Infinity may be on her own, but she’s not free from Dusty’s influence on her personality. Though free, Infinity’s dreams for her future still revolve solely around trips and luxury. Essentially, all she can imagine for herself is a continuation of the lifestyle her grandmother won them through a scam. In trying to sustain the lifestyle, Infinity becomes a scammer just like her grandma. She bribes Dusty for a trip to Paris, in the ultimate scammer ouroboros.
Dusty needs Infinity — and her sense of purpose – back. Just like Astrid did a few days prior, she manipulates the show’s weakest link into doing her bidding. Poor Ricardo. His face always looks like he’s still parsing a sentence he heard a minute ago. Now, poor Ricardo is set on killing Payton Hobart.
Appropriately, Ricardo plays John Hinkley Jr., a man jailed for assassination attempts, in Assassins. After rehearsal, Ricardo shoots Payton with BB gun bullet laced with possum guts. Payton immediately develops sepsis.
Throughout this episode is a discussion about what caretakers get out of raising a child. Dusty got companionship, and never wanted to let go. By adopting Payton, Georgina got a chance to “do-over” the failures with her twins and live up to an Ideal Mother persona she manufactured through a jumble of traits. “I’m only who I want to be when I’m in relation to you,” Georgina says.
Is this serene Georgina real? Or is she as manufactured as everyone else? Her lover, Brigitte, returned from Montana in a grand romantic gesture, offers a chance for Georgina to awaken her actual, independent self. But her motherly duties win out. She takes off on the propeller plane back Montana while Georgina takes Payton to the hospital.
Who’s winning? Payton’s political career is going nowhere while he goes to the hospital.
Episode 7: The Assassination of Payton Hobart: Part Two
Welcome to the future. What has Payton become, after a ruthless campaign, two assassination attempts, and the loss of his billionaire status?
Three years later, Payton is a black turtleneck-wearing New Yorker who hangs out at piano bars. In the first scene, he sings “Vienna” by Billy Joel to an adoring crowd (some things never change). The lyrics translate to, Calm the f down, young one.
Payton, a student at NYU, has calmed down. He’s also fallen apart — which is understandable, given how notorious his name has become. After the categorically insane election, Vanity Fair published an expose, sending Infinity to fame and Payton to infamy.
Infinity and Skye show up to the piano bar in the mood for reminiscing about how their lives changed. Ricardo’s in jail. Skye spent time on probation and now is at Vassar. Astrid is living her dream as a waitress at a bad restaurant. Infinity is doing the best. She’s a scammer, but the socially acceptable kind. She’s an influencer and gets lots of free stuff from her book deal.
Whereas Skye and Infinity’s lives have improved, Payton’s is frankly dismal. He comes home wildly drunk every night. He enjoys hating himself almost as much as once liked running for president. Payton’s finally let “emotion” into his life and after so many years of denial, he’s glitching a bit.
From the first scene on, this episode of The Politician weaves the disparate friends (and enemies) back together around their slightly despondent politician.
The hardest person to wrangle back in is Alice, who is — of course — getting married, because that’s a thing Alice would do at age 22. Her life is a series of check-marks. When Payton breaks up with her, she moves onto the next eligible man. Her fiance, Thad, is the quintessential “guy you marry after the love of your life breaks up with you.” His primary personality trait is that he’s there.
Payton and his shadow/crush/hallucination River head to her campus. I’m sorry to report that Payton has not gotten therapy and he is still hanging out with the apparition of the boy who took his life in front of him.
With her long hair and beret, Alice is both completely herself and utterly unrecognizable. She’s ditched the California pastel-housewife look for East Coast chic. All these years later, she’s still wounded that Payton didn’t turn around in the hallway. Sitting across from him in a cafe, it’s obvious that Alice is not over her ex-boyfriend — and that she probably shouldn’t get back together with him too quickly, either. Still, she ditches her wedding and runs to his dorm room.
After the Payton Posse congeals around its lord and savior Payton Hobart, The Politician introduces us to our new opponents going forward: State Senator Dede Standish (Judith Light) and her fast-talking chief of staff, Hadassah Gold (Bette Midler).
Light and Gold — which sounds like a good perfume ad, thank you — inject life into this show and make me excited for season 2. Any show starring Bette Midler as a woman who spends her workday getting manicures is my kind of show.
Within the world of New York politics, Dede Standish is a legend. She’s coming onto her 13th consecutive term and has run unopposed for the last three. Apparently, she’s brilliant. She turned the whole state around. But is her reign a sign that she’s beloved, or that opponents have given up? Is she good, or is she an expert at manipulating the system and relying on apathetic Elliot Beachmans sitting by? Is she moving forward or stuck in 1999?
Dede’s about to level up, big time. A charming democratic senator from Texas picks Senator Standish to be his Vice President, thinking they’ll be impossible to beat. She says yes and, in doing so, swallows the lump in her throat.
Senator Standish has a secret no one knows about. A secret potentially as damaging as Infinity’s fake cancer. But this is my kind of skeleton in the closet, people. The skeleton has two heads, two hearts, no jealousy, and lots of support for its ambitious woman. In short: Dede Standish has two husbands! And they worship her!
Let’s pause and consider Dede’s situation. So, polygamy might not be acceptable for the general public’s consumption unless it’s on Sister Wives. But why shouldn’t Dede Standish have a healthy, if unconventional, love life? The thrupple has been thriving seamlessly for a decade, a feat. Dede is the conductor of her own sex life. Her approach to politics might be questionable, but her love life? Purely admirable.
Now that we’re caught up on Dede’s proclivities, where does Payton fit into this new web of Albany political machine? McAfee connects the dots after she takes a gig working as a campaign manager for Standish, and is shocked by what she finds.
Essentially, there’s no campaign manager job because there's no campaign. Dede puts no effort into connecting with voters. Instead of campaigning, she puts her focus on the governing part of the job because her win is all but guaranteed.
What happens, though, if Dede gets an opponent? What happens if Payton gets his groove back, and jumps into the race? According to McAfee, Dede’s Goliath is vulnerable to a specific kind of David: A young, telegenic person who knows what Twitter is and has a concrete issue. All Payton has to do is arbitrarily pick something to care about, which isn’t a problem.
Payton’s convinced to jump back into the race by River. Which is Payton’s true self? Aimless yet full of genuine emotion, or fired up with a campaign and completely calculating? He has a choice about which self to be.
The Payton Posse gathers in his dorm room to goad him on because for some reason they believe in him. And they believe he can win because Astrid has the dirt on Dede that’ll make victory possible. During a catering job, she sees Dede kissing both husbands (and the husbands kissing each other).
In short, vice presidents are the ultimate liability to a presidential campaign.
In developing season 2’s showdown, Ryan Murphy was inspired by the tense race between long-time U.S. Representative Joe Crowley and disruptor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. Crowley hadn’t campaigned wholeheartedly in years. When Ocasio Cortez burst into his district, no one took her seriously. And then — you know the rest.
Here’s the thing: Why should we root for Payton over Dede? How is Payton more qualified or deserving than Dede? He’s been playing piano for the past few years. Ocasio Cortez had a platform.
Payton’s real motivation to run is because he likes the feeling of a campaign. Is that a reason to support someone?
The Politician leaves us with the guarantee of another election, with the city of New York – not a single high school — as an audience. This time around, Payton’s past and very public actions will be his liability.