Netflix’s brand-new Ryan Murphy series The Politician has a lot in common with Game of Thrones. Both dramas are shows about people jockeying for power amid near unintelligible shifting alliances. Plus, there are all those terrifying blondes running around, plotting murders and lying. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) would approve.
Yet the real similarity between Netflix’s Ben Platt campfest and HBO’s iconic fantasy epic doesn’t arrive until the ending of The Politician's season 1 finale “Vienna.” The closing 2019 episode suggests the series was following the Game of Thrones playbook all along.
“Vienna” reveals the prior seven episodes are just a prequel for the true meal of The Politician ahead. It’s the same thing Thrones did when it revealed Ned Stark (Sean Bean) and his death weren’t the point of the series, but the catalyst for what it would ultimately become. Here in The Politician, the race for San Sebastian class president was the battle. Whatever looms ahead between Payton Hobart (Platt) and his new political competitor, State Senator Dede Standish (Murphyverse favorite Judith Light), is the war.
“Vienna” picks up a few years after the madness at San Sebastian High, which left Payton poor and disgraced following a lifetime of privilege and ambition. He’s a student at NYU struggling with aimlessness and alcohol abuse. His dreams of Harvard have long been thrown in the trash along with most of his self-esteem. It’s sad.
Down in D.C., circumstances are brewing that are destined to pull Payton back into the political spotlight. New York State Senator Dede, a 12-time incumbent Democrat and majority leader who hasn’t been primaried in two decades, is offered the vice president slot from a hunky Texan senator and Democrat. If Dede wants to become the Vice President of the United States, she must continue holding the state senate spot as a point of power. That is why hotshot Columbia grad McAfee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss) joins the office of Dede’s chief-of-staff Hassadah Gold (Bette Midler).
Someone needs to put address stickers on mailers.
McAfee learning the absolute decay of the Standish campaign is Politician’s first step in bringing Payton back to politics. If Dede is this weak — Windows ‘99! — he has a real shot at beating her in the primaries. Dede is so overly confident, she isn’t even prepared for a challenger in the general election, let alone a competing Democrat.
But Payton needs more to actually believe there’s a reason to put himself on the line to run again. The last time he tried to win something, he covered up a girl’s domestic abuse, lost a lover (David Corenswet), got shot, and teetered on the edge of total emotionless sociopathy, which is something Payton repeatedly reckons with over “Vienna.” Why put all of his growth on the line only to be publicly humiliated again? This is where we realize the first 90% of The Politician was crafted as an elaborate lesson for Payton to learn before his true political future took off. He had to lose everything — and understand why he lost everything — before he could even try to be a true hero. Before he even deserved to be president.
That is the future “Vienna” puts back on the table. The reemergence of Astrid (Bohemian Rhapsody’s Lucy Boynton) is the last piece of the politician puzzle. As everyone tries to convince Payton he could win — ex-girlfriend Alice (breakout Julia Schlaepfer) goes so far as to leave her $4 million wedding — it’s Astrid with the ace up her sleeve. It’s important to note here that every feud that exploded in high school has now vanished in the face of a bright future. Astrid, now a NYC waitress, saw Dede behind the scenes at a pricey fundraiser. Before going on stage, Dede kissed two men (Scandal’s Joe Morton and Masters of Sex’s Teddy Sears). Then, those men happily kissed each other. “Dede Standish is in a three-way marriage,” Astrid announces.
In a political climate as regressive as ours, that’s a liability. The next time we see Payton, he’s announcing his run for state senate, taking shots at Dede over her wealth and failure to fix the MTA. Now that Payton has lost everything, it’s a criticism he can make (he really does take public transportation!).
After Hassadah watches Payton’s speech, she unveils the mission statement for Politician season 2 (which is already reportedly a go). “This is going to be fun,” she says of the coming race, promising her boss, “We’re gonna eat him alive.”
A presidential election, a backstabbing-happy state election, and a group of 20-something enemies now united in one goal? San Sebastian who?