In the last episode, “canceled” was the word of the day. Guess a thousand different two-word combinations and you’d never land on the term that percolates throughout this episode: “spicy lube.” Want to hear Bette Midler say the words “spicy lube” again and again? Watch this episode. Its title is supposedly “Hail Mary,” but come on, anyone who’s seen it knows the truth. This is “Operation Spicy Lube,” because it’s about spicy lube, prominently features spicy lube, and sees the plot shift dramatically because of spicy lube. The election nears, the stakes rise, and the lube, it is spicy.
It’s entirely too much spicy lube. This episode is utterly obsessed with the phrase spicy lube, to say nothing of the substance itself. It’s too bad, because the fixation on spicy lube tilts an otherwise entertaining hijinks-ensue kind of hour slightly over the edge. It wobbles past absurd and tumbles into a territory one might call grating. Maybe five fewer recitations of “spicy lube” and “Hail Mary a.k.a. Operation Spicy Lube” would be simply energetic and appealingly dizzy, right up until it isn’t.
It helps quite a bit that this episode comes closer to nailing that off-kilter acidic tone that characterizes some of Ryan Murphy’s best writing than most of the rest of the season. For that, The Politician has the writers to thank, yes, but also Gwyneth Paltrow and Heather Burns, both of whom demonstrate the power of an expert line reading on more than one occasion. (Heather Burns, for the record, has demonstrated this on multiple occasions in her career, perhaps most famously here.) Between the two of them, they’re only in a handful of scenes — alas, none of them together — but they are worth all the spicy lubes in this episode combined.
Before addressing Georgina and Mrs. McCutcheon, let’s just address the spicy lube head-on. The McAfee Hail Mary pays off in a hurry, when a twitterpated Hadassah arouses the new mole’s suspicions and then asks McAfee to run out and buy warming lubricant, which she’s instructed to place in Hadassah’s nightstand. McAfee seizes the opportunity to a) gape at Hadassah’s closet and b) creepily spy on her rendezvous with William, a decision that gives the Hobart campaign a chance to reveal that the throuple is a fiction, at least at present. McAfee sets up an ambush for Hadassah, and Payton tells her that Dede will need to drop out lest they spill the beans.
The bad day for the Standish campaign just gets worse. Dede doesn’t know that at first — she’s just excited about their handsome new third — but after William finds out about the story, he heads to the Hobart campaign and offers to trade some dirt in order to keep Hadassah out of it. Those crazy kids, they’re really in love. Turns out Hamilton, the new tenant of William’s third of the bed, is actually one of Marcus’s students, something of which Dede is unaware. She’s similarly unaware of the fact that Marcus has been writing term papers for students, taking cash, and not declaring any of it. Hadassah’s hysterical, Mrs. McCutcheon unleashes on her husband, Dede goes to see Georgina and gets a bunch of throuple questions for her trouble, and all hell breaks loose in general. That sense is underlined by Midler, turned up well past 11 in this episode.
Dede knows about only some of that, but she’s totally unaware of one of the only pieces of good news she gets: Payton and company decide not to leak the story. They feel it’s both wrong to do that to Dede and will reflect poorly on Payton in future campaigns. It’s complicated, as is pretty much everything that Payton has to deal with in this episode. The two pregnancy tests on display in the title sequence come into play, as both Alice and Astrid are pregnant, and while Alice’s pregnancy is seen by Payton and Alice as both politically advantageous and a happy event, Astrid’s is, well, not.
Yikes! Double babies! Cycles synced! Tee hee! In another episode, the revelation of Astrid’s pregnancy might be played as sensational — just imagine the movie that would be made from that premise, maybe starring Seth Rogen — but when there’s spicy lube all over the place, it comes across first as relatively subdued, then somewhat disturbing. The inconsistencies in Payton as a character come out in full force here, as this person who’s demonstrated an increasing amount of emotional sensitivity has no problem talking to this woman with whom he’s in an intimate relationship as though she’s an inconvenience at best. With all the talk this season about Astrid’s allegiances and how connected they are to her insecurities, it’s a fair bet that she’ll be making trouble for Payton and Alice in a hurry.
That scene is among the episode’s best, but as stated above, the real winners here are Gwyneth Paltrow and Heather Burns. The best Georgina scenes in this show fall into one of two categories: Either they’re thoroughly absurd, often in a way that plays on Paltrow’s own public persona, or they’re startlingly grounded and honest. The latter are much rarer, and all the highlights here belong to the former category. Georgina sits in her home sauna! Georgina forgets young people, it’s a tick she has! Georgina wants to ban all plastic! Georgina philosophizes about politics! She uses the phrase “mad respect”! She asks intrusive questions about polyamory! She works unusually hard for a woman as attractive as she is, and best of all, she dumps Tino with a text she reads from her phone as held up for her by an assistant: “Loser, bye.”
Still, in two scenes, Heather Burns steals the episode right out from under everyone else involved. Her frank delivery of the things Tino whispered to Mrs. McCutcheon while she was in a coma — it’s divine. The scene would be grimly funny regardless, absurd but not out of control, stylized but human, and fueled by percolating, righteous rage. There’s something enormously appealing about someone who simply does not give a fuck, and that’s Mrs. McCutcheon. All that, and she still makes time to give some essential advice to America’s youth: “Never accept a pulled pork taco from someone you don’t know.”
Most of the best scenes and stories in The Politician share some DNA with these scenes. In the case of Mrs. McCutcheon, we’re looking at something over the top but grounded in emotion, a combination that allows the style to feel like a part of the world and not a mere affectation. With Georgina, it’s a self-aware wink and sense of fun that tends to counterbalance the show’s self-serious streak. And as for the things that don’t work — well, they’re often spicy lube. Too much, too often, without rhyme or reason, overdoing it without justifying its existence.
This is ostensibly a big episode for James, but it sure seems like they’ve forgotten to give the excellent Theo Germaine anything to do but throw stuff and pout.
Please, please don’t use meditation as a substitute for birth control.
Payton was wrong to cut off McAfee’s report on Hadassah’s shoes. I want much more about the shoes. Give us a standalone episode about the shoes.
Teddy Sears screaming into that pillow: very funny and probably a useful GIF.
Costume of the episode: Lots of great options but I particularly loved Georgina’s pink jacket and orange pants, with Alice’s “I’m pregnant” ensemble coming in a strong second.