Political Animals: Talking Points

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Political Animals S01E05: "16 Hours"

In the aftermath of TJ’s drug overdose, the Hammond gang picked partners to hang out with for the rest of the episode to use as mirrors or foils or captive comatose audiences for maudlin monologues. Elaine and President Garcetti defied the Chinese government and the American espionage community to rescue those marooned sailors, Bud waxed poetic about daddydom to a comatose TJ, Saucy Grandma Margaret and Awkward Annie smoked a bowl, and Doug joined Susan in the Mile High Club amidst flashbacks to 1997 to show us how Susan managed to alienate pretty much everyone around her with her raw ambition. Remember ladies, if you want a successful career, you have to accept that deep down inside, you will be miserable and lonely for the rest of your lives.

Upon realization that there was no way to keep TJ’s overdose out of the news, Elaine cut a deal with Susan. If Susan would print a story claiming that the whole drug thing was the result of an allergic reaction to some antibiotics and not an angst-driven coke binge, Elaine would reveal top secret intelligence information about the Chinese sub to ensure that Susan broke the story first. And let’s face it, when you’re aiming for credibility, Chinese spy sub trumps ex-first son’s mental health issues every time.

And lo, Susan Berg found herself on a private jet to the soon-to-be nuclear wasteland of California with closeted Backstreet Boys fan Doug Hammond. I say soon-to-be nuclear wasteland because when Elaine went to the Chinese government to tell them America would be rescuing their stranded sailors, she was warned that the crew was given orders to scuttle the submarine. Basically, thanks for the effort, here have some radiation poisoning. Elaine and Garcetti decide to go ahead with the rescue anyway and co-penned a ballsy speech that basically told China to sit down and shut up. Garcetti initially thought that the speech was too confrontational, which was an interesting mirror to Susan’s own experience in flashbacks.

There’s an entire field of study dedicated to gender discourse—the differences in the way men and women speak. Men and women typically have distinct patterns, word choices, and body language; even when they are saying the same thing. Women have historically been “soft spoken” and that concept includes word choice as much as it means volume. It’s the difference between a man saying, “We should take X, Y, and Z actions,” and a woman saying, “I think we should take X, Y, and Z actions” even if she is just as certain of her stance as her male counterpart. “I think,” "I believe," and “I feel” are tools used to avoid sounding too masculine in speech, an unconscious appeasement of traditional gender roles, particularly among professional women, who already run the risk of being “unfeminine” simply by working.

Susan’s early experience as a journalist was practically a textbook example of just that. Her editor was concerned about the tone of her pieces and claimed that she sounded “mean.” She argued that if her male peers had written the same piece, a harsh critique of then-first lady Elaine, it still wouldn’t have been readily published, but it would have been because a man criticizing a high-ranking woman would have appeared anti-feminist, NOT because the language itself was too harsh.

In the present day, Garcetti voiced his own concerns over a few of Elaine’s words, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been a concern if he had written them himself.

However, in “16 Hours,” those two actually appeared to get along well considering the disdain they’ve mutually harbored toward one another for most of this series. Garcetti even stood up to his vice president like the freaking commander-in-chief he’s supposed to be. Even the Chinese submarine storyline ended up being delightfully interesting in a way I think Political Animals has been struggling to acheive since the pilot. Would the sailors detonate the nuclear core and fry the entire coastline of Southern California? This is Bizzarro America, they can do whatever they want.

But they didn’t. There was a moment of panic when the American rescue teams latched onto the sub and a “confusing” message was broadcast by the sailors inside. Luckily, Elaine was able to translate the “thank you” before anyone got trigger happy. Thank GOD for Elaine. You’d think they would have had a translator on-site to make sure communication ran smoothly between the opposing forces, but no, apparently Elaine listening in from the Situation Room was good enough.

Bud wound up on bedside vigil duty since he’s the only Hammond who doesn’t really have a real job or responsibilities anymore, but we got to see more of his sensitive side, so I guess it worked. He told the unconscious TJ that he used to hide outside the East Room to listen to him play the piano and that he regretted never telling TJ that. Elaine took a break from her Savior of the California Coastline gig to do two things:

1. Tell Bud about Vice President Collier blackmailing Sean Reeves and acting totally scandalized that a Democrat would do such a thing.

2. Tell Bud that they were sucky parents for putting their careers before TJ. Remember ladies, if you work AND have children, you are guaranteed to end up with an emotionally unstable coke fiend for a son.

And then Bud went to the Oval Office to punch VP Collier in the face for that whole blackmail thing. I was hoping for an arrest, just to complete the picture of melodrama, but alas, Bud went on his merry way, content in his new role as the head of a family who actually appears to care about said family.

Doug followed in his father’s footsteps during his cross-country flight with Susan to handle the Chinese submarine situation. When their plane was grounded in Dallas due to storms, they decided to get drunk on a bottle of wine and bond over their sad love lives (Doug compared Annie to an ill-fitting suit because he’s awful), and they subsequently had squeaky clean basic cable sex all over the place. I was mostly concerned with Susan keeping her black bra (it’s black so you know this is erotic) on the entire time. I don’t know why it bothered me. I guess it was just a silly detail, I mean, she’s having crazy drunk illicit airplane sex with the Secretary of State’s engaged son and she keeps her BRA on?

While her fiance was busy cheating on her with the family’s long-time mortal enemy, Annie helped Grandma Margaret ready TJ’s room for his return. You know, the standard: Buy some new pillows, put some fresh sheets on the bed, dump his impressive drug stockpile down the toilet... except for the weed. Annie and Saucy Grandma smoked that. Then they got the munchies and talked about marriage. Annie actually seemed just as unsure about marrying Doug as he did about marrying her, but since neither of them communicate with one another terribly well—as pointed out by Grandma’s insistence that Annie talk about her bulimia with him—I predict that they’ll either end up married and slightly unhappy with one another, despite Doug’s dalliance, or it’s going to fall spectacularly apart during next week’s finale.

Speaking of which, what are your predictions?

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