Episode Title: 'Second Time Around'
Writer: Greg Berlanti and Molly Newman
Director: Bethany Rooney
Previously on "Political Animals":
In a flashback to 1997, Elaine (Sigourney Weaver) confronts then President of the United States, Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds) about his alleged affair with Sarah Latham, a staffer she recently fired. Bud vehemently denies the affair, but an irate Elaine isn't convinced and smashes a vase in a fit of anger.
Back in the present, Elaine convinces the President Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar) to let Bud negotiate for the hostages' release. Doug (James Wolk) questions his mother's judgement in sending Bud to Iran, but she tells him to keep his mind on his engagement party, which now needs to be pushed up. Later that night, Doug picks up T.J. (Sebastian Stan) on the street after he makes a hasty exit from a random hook-up. He asks T.J. to try keep it together for the sake of his engagement party.
Elaine briefs Bud on the hostage situation before his plane takes off for Iran. Bud suggests they get back together after their encounter, but Elaine insists it was a one time thing. In another flashback to '97, Bud convinces Elaine he didn't sleep with Sarah Latham.
On the plane, Bud invites Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) to his seat and the two drink over a game of Words with Friends. Meanwhile, Elaine confronts the Vice President (Dylan Baker) after he all but confirms the negotiations to the press, which were supposed to be top secret. Surprised by her tone with the VP, Doug asks his mother what's going on. She tells him she's fed up with Washington's men and their egos and that she's running for President. Elsewhere, T.J. steals a check from his grandmother's wallet while the two rehearse for Doug and Anne's engagement party.
Elaine interrupts Susan and Bud's game via Skype to let him know that the negotiations need to happen in Turkey. She corners the Turkish Ambassador in a bath house and gets to him agree to make the negotiations happen in Turkey, in exchange for a dinner date. Later, Doug confronts his mother about her presidential aspirations and her relationship with Bud. He tells her he's worried about how it will affect the family and that Bud will only hurt her again. In another flashback, Elaine prepares to defend Bud in an interview when he tells her the truth. He did sleep with Sarah Latham.
In present day Turkey, Bud meets with the Iranian President, taking Susan along as his "Presidential Envoy." At first he offers nothing, but then pretends to talk with Carcetti's envoy. After some faked chit chat with Susan, Bud says the President will attend his funeral and make it known that his dying wish was to get America to come to the peace table. The Iranian President then agrees to let the hostages go.
Back in D.C., T.J. stumbles into Doug's apartment. After he explains the effect the story about his suicide has had on him, Doug agrees to float T.J. the money for his nightclub. Meanwhile on the plane, Susan sees Bud make a pass at one of the hostages. Afterwards, she has sex with a fellow journalist in the bathroom.
T.J's grandmother, Margaret (Ellen Burstyn) confronts him about stealing the check. She tells him a story about his grandfather, who also had a problem with drugs and warns him never to steal from her again. At the engagement party, Bud asks Elaine about her plans to run for President and she admits to it. In another flashback, Bud urges Elaine to leave him, as he'll only cheat on her again. However, she tells him she's now married to the country and won't leave him.
Susan finishes her piece about Elaine and thanks her in the end. Later that night, she meets Doug in a secluded parking lot, where he urges her to break the story about his mother's run for President, as he fears it will destroy their family.
"Love might be lovelier the second time around" but politics are a different story. And Bud Hammond might be the biggest joke the Oval Office has ever seen but he's one heck of a politician, as we saw in this episode. And though he''s trying to woo his way back into the White House, fully aware of his ex-wife's intentions to run for President, this "second time around," she's not falling for his charms.
If it wasn't made clear in the pilot, this second episode made it plain that everyone's got an agenda in "Political Animals." Doug wants a happy marriage, free of the political spotlight his mother's bid for the White House would bring. Thus he reaches out to Susan Berg, in hopes of sabotaging her run before it's even began. Elaine is fed up with Washington's political boys' club and all the egos involved, included Bud's. Susan wants to prove she's not a flash in the Washington journalism pan with another big story and T.J. just wants to open a nightclub. There's certainly plenty of conflict of interest here.
"Political Animals" is pacing nicely for a six-episode miniseries. Though Bud's move with Susan in the midst of a hostage negotiation at a Turkish airfield was a bit preposterous, it's exactly the kind of stunt we'd expect him to pull – and get away with.
And T.J's attempt to swipe a check from his nana showed just how desperate and resentful he is. I'm almost surprised it's Doug, not T.J. attempting to kill Elaine's Presidential prospects.
On that note, Doug's motivation to stop his mom from running for office feels a bit thin. Are we supposed to believe his concern for T.J's sobriety and his marriage to Anne are what's behind it, because if so, there's not enough there. At least not yet.
As for the use of flashback in this episode, the juxtaposition between the loyal, stalwart First Lady and the independent minded political force Elaine Barrish has evolved into was revealing. As a storytelling device, flashback is often over and/or misused, but with so much story to tell, it was put to good, efficient use in this miniseries.
Heading into the halfway point of the series, it looks like next President of the United States could come down to the discretion of an ambitious Washington journalist. As if something like that could actually happen…