Kissing Your Sister
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina, Anna Chlumsky as Amy.
Who will be the president of the United States?
Instead of getting this crucial information through normal means — a straightforward Veep episode — we watch the story unfold through Catherine’s documentary, Kissing Your Sister: The Story of a Tie. No, Catherine did not choose her title because she knows the Chinese think she spent Christmas kissing her mother. (Bless her heart, she still has no idea.) She was inspired by Gary telling Selina that his bowling coach “used to say that a tie is like kissing your sister.”
It’s worth noting, before we dive into the episode, that this break from form is keeping with Veep structure: Last season, episode nine was also a deviation from the usual. The entire half-hour was dedicated to the House Judiciary Committee Hearing and the interviews Selina and her allies had to give to defend themselves against their not not-unconstitutional dealings.
One of the great joys of this season has been getting deeper into the outside-the-office lives of Selina’s staffers: Mike’s baby and job hunt; the bottomless well of Richard’s extracurricular interests and talents; Sue’s secret, superior existence. Now Catherine wants in, too. As she says in voice-over: “While the public will always remember me as the little girl who fell off the stage twice in one evening” — oh God, she’s always been this way — she has “[her] own passions,” which apparently include an atrocious modern-dance performance called “Silent Crimes // Keystone Pipeline.” Vassar 2013, everybody!
A perk of the documentary is that it actually makes sense for someone to explain exactly how this vote works; the Veep writers correctly assume we need something close to Schoolhouse Rock to walk us through the proceedings. So, in short: You need 26 votes to win the presidency. Even if you get more votes than your opponent, no dice unless you hit that sweet, magic number.
Alabama votes first. “First in the alphabet, last in every other fucking thing,” Selina says. “I believe it’s also first in ‘easiest to get away with killing a black guy,’” Ben adds. Very helpful, Ben!
As we well know, Selina has always described her “daddy” as a loving, wonderful presence in her life, and her mother as a demanding, impossible witch-lady. And Meema does not seem great. (We see her, in one clip from a few years back, getting a tour of the Oval Office and using it as an opportunity to tell Selina, “I do hope you’ll wait until your hair grows to have your portrait painted.”)
But when Selina tells Catherine about the moment she knew she wanted to get into politics, we find out that her watching-her-parents-get-killed-outside-the-opera moment is Nixon’s inaugural ball in 1973. She was her dad’s “date” and remembers Nixon as a dazzling, dashing presence for hilariously specific, odd reasons: “He had his bowtie and his eyebrows.”
She continues: “Daddy leaned into me and he said, ‘You know, a lot of people don’t like Nixon. But by God, they respect him. And that’s you, peanut.’”
Kind of a vicious thing to say to your own kid, but it is maybe the nicest thing anyone in Selina’s family ever said to her. Because here’s the killer advice Selina’s mother gave her about “negative feelings” and how to handle them: “You stuff ’em in your box, and you close it down tight, and you take that box, and you shove it way back here in the corner of your head, and swallow that key, and then, poof! They’re gone! That’s it. And it works. That’s something mother told me that works.”
Catherine also captures some candid footage of Selina’s staffers, save for Sue, who of course is too savvy to deign to participate. She visits Bill Ericsson in prison who tells her that “at night, when I dare to close my eyes, I dream about [Selina] losing,” and casually says that if he were Tom James, he’d do exactly what Tom James is doing right now. Catherine, it appears, did nothing with this very important information, and Selina had to figure out about Tom’s abstinence plan to fuck her through other means.
Interspersed throughout the documentary are these weird, intimate clips of Catherine falling in love with and, at one point, waking up next to Marjorie. She inadvertently reveals a handful of genuinely scoop-worthy stuff: Tom James taking some, ahh, Korean barbecue meetings; Selina and Tom not-abstaining at the Congressional Ball; and Gary removing the couch where it happened. Could it be? Is Catherine a not-awful filmmaker?
Then again, she has a complete breakdown after being introduced to Marjorie’s family as her “friend” and sobs in the middle of interviewing her mother. The way Selina assumes Catherine’s mammoth display of emotion is about the election is just perfect. “Honey, don’t cry! Mommy’s going to get elected!” Selina’s idea of a maternal voice is essentially talking to Catherine like her daughter has just come out of a coma.
Jonah, who literally has one job — to vote for Selina — might not be able to make it after all. He went home with a congressional “fangirl” who he thought was a Georgetown University senior, but turns out to be a Georgetown Day School senior. (Makes sense, honestly; a college senior would know better than to sleep with Jonah.) Richard goes on a mission to bring Jonah back in time. Or, as Selina threatens Jonah on the phone: “You are already dead. What you do now, you do for your family. You get yourself in there and vote for me.” (In case you’re wondering how this scene was caught on film, Catherine asked Richard to shoot some footage in exchange for teaching him how to, you know, work a camera. I can’t wait to see what this new skill will mean for Splettnet!)
Ultimately, Jonah arrives just as the third abstention rolls in. Ben delivers the most tragic line of the night: “You can’t win, ma’am.”
Selina, who for all her flaws is sometimes a remarkably quick thinker, kicks everyone but Amy out of the room. She tells Amy: Get Jonah to vote for O’Brien, and Selina can run again in four years. If Tom wins, she’ll have to wait it out for eight and then she’ll never be president. “Twelve years,” Amy corrects her, because Tom, as a technically elevated vice-president, can run again twice. “In 12 years I’m gonna be a shriveled-up can of ass!” Selina cries. “My political window just slams shut the second I can’t wear sleeveless dresses.” This reminds me of Tina Fey’s theory re: women in late night and the way to break in.
Jonah votes for Selina. No one gets 26 votes. It’s going to the Senate. Selina howls nooooooo and Catherine keeps it in the background like some irrelevant future Trivial Pursuit clue … because Marjorie is back, apologizing, and professing her love.
It’s a quiet scene, but I was so taken with what happened to Selina next: She goes to the Red Room to be alone and accidentally runs into a White House tour. The whole crazy mix of emotions — soul-crushing disappointment; glee and awe that someone, even a rando from Kansas, loves her, and voted for her twice; unwavering awkwardness in the face of normal citizens — plays out on Selina’s face and in her voice as the entire tour claps for her. Someone should really get Julia Louis-Dreyfus an Emmy for this. Is anyone on that?
And a Few Other Things…
- Like so many things, Kissing Your Sister is beneath our goddess Sue, who does not consent to having her likeness in the film and appears for one brief, blurry moment.
- Gary, on the economic crisis: “I just think they ran out of money. Should probably just print more. I don’t see why it’s such a big issue.”
- I love the evolution of Mike’s nursery to man-cave to Caps-themed nursery, especially as the rest of the staff meets multiple times to discuss how badly they want to fire him. “We went with a Winnie the Pooh knock-off. It’s made in China, so she’ll feel right at home.”
- “They called me ‘Selina Vanderbilt,’ as if the Vanderbilts had any money left.”
- Love that shot of naked Charlie Beard in the background of one of Selina’s interviews.
- I could watch outtakes from Jonah’s campaign ads all day. Something about how enormous he is makes his inability to chop wood even funnier than it should be. (Richard’s take: “I think the problem is that you lack upper-body strength.”)
- Dan Egan, family man: “All my grandparents are dead. Wait, one or two might still be alive.”
- RICHARD IN THE MIKADO.
- Selina: “That’s the least reassuring sentence I’ve ever heard since, ‘It’s okay, it’s just the tip.’”
- Every man on Selina’s staff describes Amy as “shrill.”
- Oh, Catherine: “It took an electoral-college tie for me to get to kiss the sister I never knew I had.”
Insult of the Episode:
Selina, as Catherine bursts into tears mid-interview over her breakup with Marjorie: “Do you need a tissue? Yes, you do. You look terrible. Oh, you look terrible! Honey, let me tell you something: Marjorie is insufferable.” (I also love the rest of that riff: “There are other fish in the Sapphic sea babe, seriously. There are more lesbians in the Secret Service, even.”)
Compliment of the Episode:
Richard: “I hitched my wagon to a shooting star named Jonah Ryan. Maybe I should say comet, because shooting stars burn out, and he never will.”
Jonah Shall Henceforth Be Known As:
The Hunchback of Notre Hampshire, courtesy of Dan, who can craft a solid insult even (or especially?) when under pressure.