Episode Title: 'Pilot'
Writer: Greg Berlanti
Director: Greg Berlanti
Former First Lady, Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver) delivers her concession speech after losing the Democratic Primary to Paul Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar). Afterwards, her husband and former President of the United States, Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds) suggests that he was the reason she lost. Elaine accuses Bud of being a delusional narcissist and tells him she wants a divorce as she storms out.
Two years later, Elaine is interviewed by journalist, Susan Berg (Carla Gugino). Susan blackmailed her way into spending a week with Elaine thanks to a tip she got about Elaine's son, T.J.
Back at the office, Susan clashes with a blogger named Georgia Gibbons, who she spots flirting with her boyfriend and boss, Alex. Moments later, a call comes in about three American journalists held hostage in Iran, accused of spying. Elaine meets with the President Garcetti and his advisers and learns she's been left out the loop on the matter. Her son and chief-of-staff, Douglas (James Wolk) becomes irate, but Elaine promises to keep the press calm at the President's request. Afterwards, she scolds Doug for acting out in front of the President.
That night, Susan dines with Elaine and her family as they celebrate Doug's engagement. Later, Doug's brother, T.J. (Sebastian Stan) talks to his parents about the proposed nightclub he wants to open, but his father quickly shuts it down, claiming T.J. will just use the money for drugs. Upset, T.J. says he hates his family and leaves to do a line of coke in the bathroom
Elaine charters a plane to New York in hopes of getting a Russian Foreign Minister to arrange a meeting with the Iranian Ambassador. At the meeting, Elaine pleads her case and learns that the Iranian President is dying of cancer and wants to draft a nuclear treaty before he dies. In order to do so, he has to win over a group of ultra conservatives. Elaine brings the news to the President and suggests he negotiate to release the journalists on Iranian soil. She learns that he already knew about the Iranian President's illness and planned to do nothing, for fear of looking foolish in having a sit down with Iran.
Later, Elaine learns that the story about T.J's suicide attempt is out. Though it was written by Georgia Gibbons, Elaine takes Susan to task for it. She then calls Bud and has him meet her at a motel. Meanwhile, Susan confronts Georgia about the story. When she learns Alex approved it, she accuses him of sleeping with Georgia and giving her the story after she told him about her leverage on Elaine. Alex admits to sleeping with Georgia, but blames Susan for making it difficult to be in a relationship with her.
After sleeping with Bud, Elaine says she's going to recommend he travel to Iraq to negotiate for the hostages' release. He tells her he was thinking the same thing, making Elaine feel like he just used her for political gain. Bud, in turn, tells her their relationship is about both love and politics and that he's not going to let her go.
Angry and disgusted, Elaine leaves Bud. That night, she meets with Susan, who apologizes for her role in the story. Elaine gives Susan a tip about Bud's trip to Iran. After getting in her car, she tells her driver she plans on being the next President of the United States.
'Political Animals' isn't your average USA show. First off, it's a "limited series event" slated for six episodes. Second, it's got a much more dramatic tone than most of the network's "blue skies" programming. Fans of USA staples like 'Psych' and 'Burn Notice' might not automatically gravitate toward 'Political Animals,' which carries much more dramatic weight than either series, but they should.
'Animals' appeal relies largely on Sigourney Weaver, who plays Secretary of State, Elaine Barrish. The Academy Award nominee was able to carry a blockbuster sci-fi franchise, so a six episode mini-series shouldn't be a problem, as she demonstrated in this one-and-half-hour pilot.
On that note, the pilot episode has a made-for-TV movie feel to it. There's some great storytelling in the relationship between Barrish and her ex-husband and former United States President, Bud Hammond. Though Hammond's character borders on parody as a bloated, womanizing egomaniacal politician, he and his ex-wife make excellent foils. They couldn't be more opposite, except for their love for one another.
On the supporting end, we've got 'Lonestar's' James Wolk as Elaine's son, Doug and chief-of-staff. There's some great lines in this pilot and my favorite came at Doug's expense. When he mouths off in front of the president, Elaine reminds Doug that this is not his "floor manager at Chili's" but the President of the United States. That's right after she repeatedly whacks him on head with a stack of papers.
As he proved in the excellent but ultimately failed Fox series, Wolk is great at playing the charming golden boy with a dubious agenda. On the opposite end, we've got his twin brother, T.J, who couldn't be more of a blemish on the Secretary of State and former First Lady's family. He's openly gay, hooked on drugs and tried to kill himself. But Elaine doesn't see her son as a liability, which makes her all the more likable.
Then there's Susan Berg, the ambitious Pulitzer Prize winning journalist looking to find her next big story inside the Secretary of State's inner circle. 'Political Animal's' was a bit preachy at times and it was mostly during the scenes between Berg and Barrish. Now that these two have settled their differences, I'm looking forward to seeing where this unlikely alliance goes over the course of the next five episodes.
As a whole, 'Political Animals' is a nice change of course for USA. It's got a great cast and some strong writing. I almost forgot to mention Ellen Burstyn as Elaine's feisty, boozing mom and Adrian Pasdar as the somewhat slippery President of the United States. The ninety-minute pilot moved at a crisp pace from one punchy scene to the next. If 'Political Animals' stays the course, six episodes might just not be enough.