I like to think of the writers’ room of The Politician (which consist entirely of four people, including creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk) sitting around a table breaking the second season by setting a few markers: It will start with the throuple, and then they’ll add another throuple, and then a cheating scandal, two pregnancies, a climate-change subplot concerning Zoey Deutch’s character (who presumably filmed most of her role separately), election day, and then they’ll fill in the rest.
The problem with season 2 of The Politician is that no one ever really bothered to fill in the rest. It falls into a banal formula: One side finds oppo dirt on the other side and threatens to take it to the press to ruin the opposing campaign; the other side figures out a way to either counter it or get out ahead of it, rinse, repeat. Amid the oppo-dirt cycle, buzzwords are tossed out; pop-culture references are made; Boomers are mocked, Zoomers are teased; and everyone remains cartoonishly likable and yet also morally reprehensible.
Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow — playing some Marianne Williamson type — flits through the series in a way that suggests a year from now she will tell someone on television that she has no idea who Ben Platt is, even as she is filming season three of The Politician.
Those who watched the first season of The Politician will not be surprised by its second season: Judith Light and Bette Middler are added to the cast as Payton Hobart’s opponent for a New York State Senate seat, Dede Standish and her Chief of Staff, Hadassah Gold, respectively. They are enjoyable, except that they become such dominant presences that first-season standouts, Lucy Boynton and Julia Schlaepfer (Astrid and Alice, respectively), are pitted against each other in their own throuple with Payton and otherwise pushed to the background. Laura Dreyfuss, Theo Germaine, and Rahne Jones yet again play Payton’s campaign staffers, but are given little to do other than bicker with one another and/or exit the campaign dramatically only to return with even more drama.
Thematically, Payton Hobart continues to bang on the same drum he has since the beginning: A sort of Übermenschian ethos about committing whatever sins are necessary to serve the greater good, as long as that greater good is Payton Hobart winning elections until he’s finally President of the United States, at which point he will finally serve the greater good … right after he wins reelection, and ensures his legacy, and builds his library, and arranges his own funeral.
Still, The Politician isn’t unwatchable. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a pleasant, likable cast; Ben Platt sings a few numbers; and there’s enough farce to maintain a low hum of entertainment value. The second season is also only seven episodes, which not only excises some of the Netflix bloat but precludes another two-or-three spins through the oppo-dirt cycle. There is, too, something enjoyably comical about Gwyneth’s run for Governor of California — she manages to build a 98 percent favorability rating not through likability, hard work or even grift, but through complete transparency (she runs on a campaign of California seceding from the country, and on being very good in bed). Paltrow can be very good when she’s playing versions of herself, and I’m sure that her husband just took notes on her while she ran GOOP to come up with her platform.
All in all? I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it, either. It’s like most of Ryan Murphy’s projects: A lot of insanely fun ingredients (Judith Light! Bette Middler! Zoey Deutch!), but there’s always too much sugar and never enough flour and eggs. That said, I’ll still return for the third (and proabably final) season.
If you want to know how season two ends because you watched season one, but don’t want to bother with the second season, here’s our brief SEO-friendly rundown:
After flinging mud at each other over their respective throuples, the race between Dede and Hobart for State Senator ends in a tie. The election commission offers them an opportunity to settle the tie either with another election or a game of rock, papers, scissors. They choose the latter, and then for several days try and figure out how to rig a game of rock, paper, scissors. In the end, however, Dede decides to concede to the younger, more ambitious candidate because she believes that her constituents are hungry for new blood. Afterwards, Payton also learns that a ballot box stolen by Infinity but never turned over to authorities had given him just enough votes to officially win, anyway.
Payton successfully serves a two-year-term as State Senator and settles into a quiet family life with Alice — who is attending medical school — and their baby. Payton’s mother (Paltrow’s character) ends up running — and winning — the Presidency with Dede as her running mate. Before the inauguration, Dede approaches Payton about being her running mate for the 2024 election. The credits roll before Payton says yes, but he definitely says yes.