“Political Animals” (1.03) minicap: “The Woman Problem”

Elaine is going rogue with her decision to run for President against the incumbent in her own party. Although she’s not close to making an announcement, the press and the President’s office are starting to notice the ways in which the Secretary of State is positioning herself as an independent force.

This episode, Elaine tells the rest of her family about her plan. None of them are especially excited about the prospect of going through the stress of a campaign again, but only Margaret expresses the sentiment out loud. Elaine is not pleased with mommy dearest. (NSFW for expletives.)


What I love about the scene is realizing that the most powerful women in the world have mother issues. Think about it: Hillary Clinton‘s mom telling her to please do something with her hair; Oprah‘s mom bugging her about her weight; Michelle Obama‘s mom informing her that doing pushups on TV is not lady-like. Mother/daughter dysfunction knows no distinction.

That’s why so many of us have women in our lives to serve as mother figures. As much as we need someone to tell us the brutal truth from time to time, we want a mentor that will talk to us about important things without comment on why we’re not wearing panty hose. In Elaine’s case, that mentor is Supreme Court Justice Diane Nash (Vanessa Redgrave) — who also happens to be SCOTUS’s first openly gay justice.


After the presentation, Elaine and Diane talk. We learn that Diane’s partner Corinne has dementia and is on the decline. Diane also tells Elaine to watch out for President Garcetti, who is not too happy that the Secretary is more popular than he.

Sure enough, Garcetti makes a pre-emptive strike. He urges Diane to retire (which is not something a President is allowed to do, since the appointment is for life) to spend time with her partner — and promises to appoint Elaine as her replacement. “She’s your protégé,” he says, “it would be like having you on the bench for another 30 years.”

As usually happens in Washington, the scheme leaks to the press. Susan realizes that the SCOTUS appointment could ruin her inside story on Elaine’s run for President (Doug told her about it last episode) so she warns Elaine. Who needs ethics when an exclusive is on the line?

I wish I had a clip of the scene between Diane and Elaine. The Justice realizes that Elaine faces an uphill battle if she runs against Garcetti.

Diane: “Consider what you could accomplish. [If you run for President] you’ll be a pariah. Remember when you ran before, they branded you as an ambitious bitch. If I hadn’t known you, I would’ve believed them. If you challenge the sitting President, voters will see your motives as selfish. I know it’s unfair, but ambition looks better on men.”
Elaine: “I don’t care how it looks. I’m doing it because it’s right — I learned that from you.”
Diane: “Then take my seat. I’m offering you the chance to spend the rest of our life telling presidents what they can and can’t do.”

The women reminisce about when Elaine was Diane’s student; Diane was extra hard on her to teach her to be rigorous and brave and not to give up. And that’s why Elaine won’t give up now.

Elaine: Diane, I don’t want to be on the Supreme Court. I want to run for President again.
Diane: All right, Counselor. Convince me that you’re not doing this because it’s a still a competition to you and you didn’t come in first.
Elaine: It’s different this time. I can’t turn away because it’s hard. I can’t turn away because it will piss people off. I do have deep convictions about what’s right and what’s true and unfortunately Paul Garcetti did not have you for a teacher and he did not learn to be rigorous or brave or to stand up for his convictions So I have to run again and yes, I have to win In two years, when I become President, I will name your replacement.
Diane: Corrine will be gone in two years… You better win, Elaine.

Other things happened, of course. We learn that Bud messed up an interview when Elaine was running because she was falling behind, and if he could take blame for her loss, she could run again. We learned that Doug proposed to Anne when both were on X. And we learn that Margaret really does have Elaine’s — and the country’s — best interests at heart.

Mags: “You’d be miserable if you didn’t go for it. Besides, you’d look sh–ty in all black.”
Elaine: “Oh, Mom, I love your pep talks.”

Justice Nash announces that she’s not stepping down from the bench and Elaine, in gratitude to Susan for telling her about Garcetti’s plan, asks the reporter to accompany her on a private “power walk.” What I wouldn’t give to take a power walk with Sigourney.

Susan tells Doug that in exchange for not breaking the story of his mom’s run for POTUS, she gets the exclusive story when she announces. And President Garcetti sends Elaine to Siberia, literally, in a predictably petty move to punish her for not playing his game.

Political Animals is half over — and if the remaining episodes have the power of this one, we’re in for a real treat. What did you think of “The Woman Problem?”