Payton lies in a hospital bed, dying. Inside him are two tiny pellets, shining somewhere under the muck. They are shutting down his organs. Above him, his mother is terrified, defending the work her personal healer is doing. “Yes, they’re necessary,” she barks, speaking of the crystals on his forehead and presumably still in his armpits. “They’re just some shiny stones.”
They are harmless, unless you assume they’re all that’s necessary for his recovery. And that’s not her assumption. She keeps talking, suggesting they check for poisons, acknowledging that would be strange, two poisonings in one week. But it’s possible, she says. “He’s a very divisive figure.”
In “The Assassination of Payton Hobart: Part II,” he certainly is. His life is saved as his dream is dashed, he goes from liked and respected to reviled with a few words from Dusty Jackson’s mouth. There’s a lot of that kind of parallel storytelling in this episode: crystals and pellets, Ricardo turning on Dusty and Dusty on Payton, Payton’s disgrace and Skye’s arrest, Infinity’s many photocopies and Andrew’s “receipts.”
So yes, bad times reveal false friends, and that’s what Payton discovers (or will soon discover) in the penultimate episode of The Politician’s first season. But being a divisive figure means people split to different sides. James walks away. Alice draws back her hand. Skye, who for sure poisoned him, couldn’t be more thrilled to be president. And all those bedside vigils earned Payton nothing, as his mother’s failure to meet Brigitte and run away — an appointment she missed because of his collapse — resulted in the horse trainer calling Mr. Hobart and spilling her guts. So the deal is off, and the faux-Winklevii are back in the will, with both Payton and Georgina cut off for good. No class presidency, no Harvard, no team, no First Lady-To-Be, no fortune, no father, no plan, and no way to do the one thing he really wants to do: help people.
“You don’t like those parts of me, and I don’t either,” he unloads on the principal. “But that might be what I’m stuck with, so that might just be who I am.” Later, he adds: “I may not be a good person, but I wanted to do good things. I still do.”
Much of this first season, including those gorgeous credits, has concerned Payton’s two selves. There’s the person he’s building, and the person hiding inside. Peyton doesn’t seem to like either of them. But there’s another split in him, made clear by that last line. He sees a good person and a person who wants to do good things as totally separate entities, but luckily, he still has people in his circle who can see otherwise — even if one of them is a Dream Ghost.
First, there’s River. (Welcome back, David Corenswet! You were missed!) In a too-brief scene, River (and writers Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk) get a lot accomplished. Payton says River’s death makes no sense, because he had everything; River says he got all the help possible, and it just wasn’t ever going to be enough. “I feel everything. There just wasn’t enough positive emotion to balance me out.” Then he turns his attention to Payton, and gives him something vital he’s lacked all season: a reason to be president. It is Payton’s great task in life to try to restore balance, not in a crystals and essential oils kind of way, but in trying to ensure the good does not outweigh the bad.
Next is Infinity. After Ricardo, who seems like he could possibly be a little bit remorseful, tells Infinity what’s happening to Payton, she races to the hospital, no hesitation. He saved her life, though he took way too long to do so, and now she gets to return the favor — though it takes her a minute to get the doctors to the word “sepsis.” That settled, she plans to leave Dusty and Ricardo behind and head for Paris, but first she stops to tell Nana that she’s called the cops, who made her repeat it all a bunch. Dusty is going down, and the knowledge seems to prompt an apology, and the confession that she “might have some psychological problems,” a line that wouldn’t be at all funny if Jessica Lange didn’t time that pause just right. It’s gratifying to Infinity, who clearly still loves her grandmother, but as they embrace, Dusty starts going on and on about all the spa treatments that are going to help her. And that’s all she wrote.
One Ricardo arrival, two hapless suicide attempts, and an accidental shooting later, Ricardo’s trading what he knows for two Filets-O-Fish and a shake. Then Dusty’s telling tales on Payton. And while Infinity still seems to be firmly in Payton’s camp, she also inadvertently set off the chain reaction that gets him shunned by everyone, including his intended college.
It isn’t actually everyone, though. While James and Alice jump ship, the person he’d already thrown overboard seems to be holding on all the same. We learn that McAfee went dumpster diving for clues at Skye’s house, finding the evidence that Payton was poisoned, and she proves that at least one member of Team Payton has learned from their Munchausen debacle: She calls the cops. This is a great little scene, with Rahne Jones and Laura Dreyfuss both doing solid, subtle work. And what her relationship with Payton might look like moving forward is one of the more intriguing threads left dangling in this episode.
For a penultimate episode, this hour sure does feel like a finale. Astrid calls the FBI on the dad who thinks she’s a loser, thereby rendering herself a winner in his eyes. Then she packs a bag, rejects financial help, tells her mom she can’t come with her, and heads for New York and a hopeful job at Bubba Gump’s. Georgina, the fourth person still on the pro side of the Payton divide, auctions off her only remaining assets — jewels and caftans, as Payton puts it — and donates the money (spitefully thrown down by a spitting Bob Balaban) to charities helping victims of Munchausens by proxy, in Payton’s name. Then they climb in Payton’s gorgeous car and head for the train station, and Georgina heads for an ashram somewhere.
The scene in the train station is the main Paltrow event in this episode, though she does trot out a few great line readings in those early scenes. She leaves Payton with advice that can best be summed up as “be a person, starting now.” He cries as she leaves, and the most interesting moment in that cry is the moment it stops. It’s not stifled or shoved down. It just gently survives, still living with him.
Still, I’m nearly as taken with the drive itself, Paltrow and Platt side by side, Sufjan Stevens’s “Chicago” playing. That scene made me wonder if the title sequence’s seemingly inexplicable music choice makes some sense after all. Sure, all things grow, but the real power of that song isn’t the lyrics. It’s the fact that it’s a song seemingly designed for a good cry, if you’re willing to let one slip out.
• Written by Brennan and Falchuk, directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, who also directed part one.
• Costume of the episode: January Jones’s all-white sweater ensemble is great.
In crisis? The number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline in the U.S. is 1-800-273-8255, or you can visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.