The Campaign Begins
The Politician is Ryan Murphy’s first series after signing a lucrative deal with Netflix. Boasting an impressive cast, The Politician is an enjoyable satirical drama and although the first episode does take a while to get going, the dark comedy makes for a really enjoyable watch.
The episode starts with Payton being interviewed to get into Harvard. He starts by saying he has always wanted to be President of the USA and most of his answers sound very well-rehearsed. Soon after, Payton arrives at River’s house and confronts him about running against him for student body president. He threatens to tell everyone that they slept together and that he’ll do anything to make his dream come true.
The next day, Payton and River both attend a debate where Payton gives a speech about equality in the school. River, on the other hand, seems to connect with his audience more than Payton by talking about mental health and his personal experience when he almost killed himself. The end of his speech brings a massive round of applause from the students.
Payton reconvenes with his advisors, James, Mcfee and Alice, who advise him to get a running mate (Vice President) who can humanize him; someone softer to get the sympathy vote. He chooses Infinity Jackson, a girl who has cancer and is currently going through chemo. In the evening, Infinity and her grandma Dusty try to get a table in a fancy restaurant. Dusty uses her granddaughter’s cancer to get a table and despite unwanted attention, Infinity discusses what happened at school with Payton, which leads to her grandmother to tell her she should accept the offer.
After Infinity rejects Payton once more, things are getting worse for him as he finds out River’s vice president is an African American gender non-conforming girl. This prompts Payton to confront River about his latest move. Suddenly, the screen goes black and we hear a gunshot as Payton starts screaming.
We then jump back 18 months where we see Payton’s brothers teasing him. He speaks to his mother and she tells him that despite being adopted, she loves him the most. She tells him to ignore his brothers then greets River, who will be Payton’s mandarin tutor. As the lesson begins, it quickly turns emotional and they end up kissing. The next day, River’s girlfriend Astrid confronts Payton about what happened between them.
Back in the present day, a blood-covered Payton is questioned by the police about what happened. He tells them that River pulled a gun and killed himself. During the memorial, Payton gives an emotional speech and sings a song to honour him. Astrid then comes on stage and announces that she’ll run in place of River, vowing to keep River’s memory alive but looking defiantly at Payton as she walks past him.
Unfortunately, Payton finds out that he hasn’t been accepted into Harvard but is wait-listed for now. As he discusses the news with his girlfriend Alice, she tells him that she did get in. During dinner, she asks him if he killed River. He replies that he didn’t, leading him to suggest they need to pretend to break up in order to get more votes. This seems to work too, as after she posts the fake news on social media, waves of sympathy come pouring in, even from his Chinese teacher who offers him an A.
Payton visits Dusty about the election soon after, which leads her to berate her granddaughter for turning him down again. Payton then offers to give them money in exchange. Infinity is adamant and refuses again, calling him a fake. He then changes his tone and tells them how he’s been struggling with recent events and confesses his love for River. This touches Infinity and she finally accepts the offer.
The episode ends with Payton introducing his running mate, Infinity. His advisors tell him that it’s working and getting more popular. However, Andrew, a disabled teenager, takes him aside and reveals that Infinity is faking it and isn’t actually sick.
The politician starts quite strongly offering us a glimpse of what’s to come. It has enough dark humour and drama to make it enjoyable but it’s also quite the acquired taste. Being a satire, there are a few subtle digs at society, including an obvious one about the recent college admission scandal in America when Payton’s mother mentions that she paid for Payton’s brothers to get into Harvard.
The actors do a great job at portraying their characters, with Ben Platt giving a refreshing performance alongside acting veteran Jessica Lange, excellent in the role of the overbearing grandma.
The first episode ends with a shocking twist about Infinity’s disease too. This unexpected turn of events certainly leaves you anxiously awaiting the next episode. Whether the show continues with the same pace though remains to be seen.