When we talked to the cast and showrunner of Veep last month, they all preached one resounding sentiment about the HBO comedy’s final season: It was going to go down like Veep. That’s to say, in the words of showrunner David Mandel, “fucking funny,” and, as star Julia Louis-Dreyfus warned, “crazy dark.”
“Full Game of Thrones,” joked Tony Hale, who plays Gary Walsh. “There’s a Red Wedding.” It’s a fitting comparison, given the fact that Veep shares billing with the much anticipated premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones Sunday night. And it wasn’t about to cede all the shocking twistedness to the Lannister clan.
The comedy’s third episode, “Pledge,” contains some of the most outrageous jokes about abortion that have ever aired in a TV comedy, the kind of writing that only Veep could get away with—and yet another sign that the show is determined to crack its lacerating whip at everything on its way out the door.
In the episode, Amy (Anna Chlumsky) decides to abort the baby she conceived during a one-night stand with Dan (Reid Scott). If you thought Dan’s offer to “go Dutch” on the abortion—”just hit me up on Venmo!”—was ribald, you’re not prepared for the dialogue when they make the trip to actually have the procedure.
“It’s heartwarming,” jokes Scott. “We were going to make it a Christmas special.”
The saga begins with Dan waking up after having a one-night stand with Amy’s sister, who was supposed to be taking her to the appointment. Because her sister is still passed out in Dan’s bed, she asks him to accompany her.
They arrive, perhaps unsurprisingly for the world of Veep, to a crowd of pro-life protesters, heckling them with signs as they try to break through and enter the clinic. One of them tells Amy to “think of the children,” and that’s the last straw.
“You want me to think about the children, you hog-fingering fucks?” she says. “I did think about this. I considered it and I cried and, yeah, suck my cock I even prayed a little. And here I am. So you can back the fuck off, you hypocritical cunts, before I show up to the piss-puddle that is your house and protest your husband wacking it to your daughter’s seventh grade yearbook.”
Suffice it to say, it’s language that has not been used before in a sitcom to talk about abortion.
Chlumsky worked hard writing and refining the speech with Mandel and writer Rachel Axler. “You want to say everything and you want to really get to the heart of stuff, but at the same time you don’t want this to be the writers saying something,” she says.
After venting everything they could imagine someone in Amy’s position—a fully informed (on both sides), independent career woman whose job is to politicize this very issue—saying, they edited it all down to an uproarious outburst that, Chlumsky says, “just scratches the surface of what possibly—I don’t want to speak for every single woman—most women in that predicament feel.”
She loved that, even while going through something so personal and possibly destabilizing, Amy was all business. And that perfect button on the speech, in which Amy points out to one protester that their sign is misspelled before breezing into the clinic in triumph, was actually supposed to play out differently.
It was written as Scott’s line as Dan, but then everyone on set agreed it played better from her. Instead, Dan leaves the crowd with the parting words: “Selina Now.”
Later, the duo is in the clinic getting ready for the procedure and Dan marvels over the quality of the “vadge vac” that will be used on Amy.
“When we were shooting that scene, David Mandel came to me and was like, ‘I just want to take you off the leash. Go nuts,” Scott says. “It’s so over the top, but it’s so just id for Dan that it felt right. You can’t really get mad at it, because we’ve already established he’s a horrible piece of shit. We’re tripling down on that. I don’t think it’s offensive because it’s being spewed out of the mouth of someone who is already offensive. I love that Veep has always had the bravery to run at topics in that way.”
As Louis-Dreyfus was quick to point out when I brought the episode up with her, this isn’t the first time the show has tackled the abortion issue. In the season three episode “The Choice,” Selina is forced to reevaluate and construct her political stance on abortion amid evolving cultural attitudes. Unsurprisingly, she and her team don’t arrive at it delicately.
“It’s one thing for the politician in the show, how do they broach the subject,” Scott says. “And then what is organic to the show is what are they doing behind the scenes when the cameras and the public aren’t there for a consideration.”
Still, the show has had to build up—and build the trust of its audience—to this point. As Matt Walsh, who plays Mike McClintock, says, “We couldn’t come out in season two with Dan there at that machine.” Scott starts laughing, before summarizing, in a way, how the entire series has gone on: “We had to pitch Dan to that... depth.”