THE POLITICIAN SEASON 2: A New Election Sparks An Evolution

Back in 2019, creator Ryan Murphy, the architect behind the beloved American Horror Story, debuted a brand new series on Netflix. Wearing its influences, such as Wes Anderson‘s Rushmore and Alexander Payne‘s Election, on its sleeve proudly, The Politician burst out of the gate running, sporting fantastic performances from its impressive cast, especially from rising star Ben Platt. It not only proved to be a vibrant, effortlessly entertaining series, but it also wasn’t afraid to get its hands dirty, complementing its central story as a result. Though its freshman season certainly showed promise for a season two, it was hard not to be a bit apprehensive about the show’s staying power going forward.

The Politician Season Two
Source: Netflix

The last time audiences were in Payton Hobart’s company, he had moved to New York and was aimlessly going about his days, drinking himself silly and singing at a local piano bar as he drowned his sorrows. Fortunately, his political team from his high school in California swoops in to instill purpose in Payton once again, successfully persuading him to pursue a position in the New York State Senate. Now imbued with a new sense of forward momentum and drive, Payton was about to begin a battle against the district’s formidable and beloved Senator, Dede Standish (Judith Light).

New Election, New Payton

One of the main obstacles the series needed to overcome headed into season two was keeping things fresh, rather than repeating the same beats of its predecessor. Fortunately, the series has not only maintained its entertainment value from season one without skipping a beat but has been able to show new sides to Payton, a morally ambiguous character at best. In season one, Payton was a borderline sociopath hellbent on winning his high school’s presidential election at any cost. After the disastrous events of that election, particularly having to do with a shocking reveal regarding Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), Payton has dialed back his sinister tendencies in order to try and run a far cleaner campaign.

However, that’s easier said than done when his opponent is playing dirty, which causes Payton to fall back on familiar behaviors, justifying them as necessities in order to defeat Standish. Fortunately, his moral compass is well-explored in season two, and Platt is once again spectacular. He once again showcases an infectious charisma and emotional magnetism that is hard to pull away from, even at his darkest moments. Season two does a wonderful job of taking Payton on a journey of self-exploration, resulting in him finally being able to embrace the person he truly is, for better or worse. Some may see this development as a hindrance to his growth as a character, but the manner in which it’s handled shows an evolution and a necessary one at that for the character.

Ladies, Take A Bow

One of the finest aspects of season two is the attention it gives to its female characters. Not only are audiences reunited with the women from season one, including Infinity, Astrid (Lucy Boynton), McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss), Rahne (Skye Leighton), Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), and Payton’s mother, Georgina (Gwyneth Paow), but they are fully introduced to Payton’s opposition, Dede Standish and her right-hand woman, Hadassah Gold (Bette Middler). Each of these characters gets a chance to shine this season, particularly Middler and Light, who have incredible chemistry and prove to be formidable opponents throughout the season.

THE POLITICIAN SEASON 2: A New Election Sparks An Evolution
Source: Netflix

However, the character that was able to find the development she sorely needed was Boynton‘s Astrid. In season one, her character came across as far too one-note, lacking depth or any sort of emotional undercurrent. Fortunately, that is remedied in season two, where the character is revealed to be having a bit of an identity crisis. She’s torn between helping Payton and actively working against him, unsure of herself and where her allegiance truly lies. As a result, she forms an emotional bond with Payton and his girlfriend, Alice, which helps peel back her cold exterior, revealing the inner turmoil that has been perpetually eating away at her.

A Generational Divide

A show such as The Politician is inevitably going to contain social commentary about the current political climate. Unfortunately, most series tend to express their messages with the subtlety of a hammer, causing more eye-rolls than thoughtful discussions. However, The Politician manages to keep its story relevant, commenting on the political divide between the older and younger generations. Fortunately, the series manages to tackle this subject from a mostly neutral position, showcasing both points of view without talking down to the audience. This allows the show to shine a light on why there tends to be so much friction between both generations, especially when elections are on the horizon and contentious issues are at play that may affect one demographic more than the other.

The Outliers

Unfortunately, not everything about season two works effectively. The bulk of screen time is naturally dedicated to Payton’s ongoing campaign for Senator, but there is still far too much attention paid to storylines that don’t add anything worthwhile to the show. For example, Georgina and Infinity feel like outliers for the vast majority of the season. The former is a rising political star in California, while the latter is throwing her passion into climate change. Both of their respective storylines feel disconnected from the season’s central story, adding nothing of substantial value to the proceedings overall. Deutch and Paow are once again wonderful in their roles, but even their talents can’t distract from the fact the show didn’t need them this season.

THE POLITICIAN SEASON 2: A New Election Sparks An Evolution
Source: Netflix

Also, season two spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on two throuples, one involving Standish and her two lovers, William (Teddy Sears) and Marcus (Joe Morton), and one involving Payton, Astrid, and Alice. When the show shifts its focus to either polygamous relationship, it causes a noticeable decrease in narrative momentum. These scenes have entertainment value, sure, but they tend to occur when the central story is beginning to escalate and flow. Though season two only has seven episodes, these scenes feel like padding in order to bide time.

Final Thoughts

Thankfully, The Politician doesn’t suffer from the sophomore slump most series do in their second seasons. The performances, writing, direction, and overall energy remain superb, further showing a series that is as confident as it is bold. However, season two does have its fair share of growing pains, particularly in regards to its overabundance of characters and storylines. Season two, like its predecessor, beautifully sets the stage for what’s to come in a possible season three. Murphy clearly has a trajectory in mind for Payton, one that isn’t hard to discern, but that doesn’t make it any less promising or intriguing. In the case of The Politician, the journey is far more exciting than the destination, and the journey so far has been quite thrilling.

Have you watched The Politician yet? If not, are you now more interested in giving it a shot? Let us know in the comment section below!

The Politician is now streaming on Netflix.


Watch The Politician

Powered by JustWatch

 

Does content like this matter to you?


Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.

Join now!

Posted by Contributor