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'Political Animals' Season Finale Review: A Real Game-Changer

(Photo courtesy of USA Network)

Carla Gugino in 'Political Animals' (USA).
Political Animals, we barely knew ye.

After a mere six episodes, the USA Network's limited-run series ended its first season with a bang on Sunday night. Or rather, a game-changing crash. But let's start at the beginning.

The episode, entitled "Resignation Day," opens with Elaine Barrish drafting — what else? — her resignation letter to President Garcetti (a handwritten resignation letter, naturally, because Elaine's a lady). That letter becomes a lightning rod for trouble when Doug, who got himself into a wee bit of trouble last week when he cheated on his fiancé with Susan "What is Journalistic Integrity?" Berg, gives Susan the letter in an effort to end their backroom bargain.

Susan shows the letter to Georgia with the caveat that they can't run it until their larger story about Elaine is finished, but the hot to trot blogger has other ideas. In an episode that is taut with political drama, Georgia's machinations at the newspaper are by far the least interesting. After making some gains in the character development department last episode, Georgia is back to being Susan's one-note rival, both professionally and sexually. It's flat and predictable, and a waste of a character that could have been much more interesting. The only good thing about Georgia's insistence that they publish the letter is that it finally forces former golden boy Doug to come clean to his mother about his shady dealings with Susan. It's a juicy scene for James Wolk, who proves yet again that he really ought to be working more.

Meanwhile, the President also has other plans for Elaine's letter of resignation too. He asks her to join his reelection ticket as his Vice President, replacing skeezy old what's his name who called T.J. a gay slur and would have left that Chinese submarine crew at the bottom of the ocean. After a brief bout of hemming and hawing, Elaine decides to take the VP job to spare her sons the trauma of going through another hard-fought presidential campaign. It's a difficult decision and Sigourney Weaver perfectly captures the understated, weary anguish of a highly ambitious woman who is finally coming to terms with the destruction that her ambition has wrought.

But that's when Political Animals tosses out a curve ball that is truly shocking in its scope: Air Force One crashes into the ocean on its way to France, killing the President and everyone aboard. In a heartbeat, Elaine's VP deal with Garcetti is off the table and Vice President Terrible is the most powerful man in the world. It's a high stakes move, and it proves that Political Animals is capable of great, ambitious television when it stops being so concerned with who's sleeping with who. The episode ends with Bud asking, nay imploring, Elaine to run for President. Her reply? A steely Mona Lisa smile before we fade to black on the season.

Political Animals hasn't generated the kind of critical and ratings buzz that USA probably wanted, but the bold season finale certainly makes the case that it deserves a second season. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Carla Gugino, Sebastian Stan, Ciaran Hinds, and Ellen Burstyn all doing first-rate work. Sure, it hasn't been a perfect season. Political Animals stumbles into over-the-top soapy territory and has a tendency to be a bit too on-the-nose with its observations about political life. But it also takes chances and it aspires to greatness. There are worse things a show could do.

What did you think of the season finale of Political Animals? Do you think the show deserves a second season? Hit the comments below with your thoughts!

See more Carla Gugino pictures:
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  • Carla Gugino in Hollywood Foreign Press Association's 2012 Installation Luncheon - Inside
  • Carla Gugino in Carla Gugino Flew In Safely To LAX With Hubby And Pooch
  • Carla Gugino in Carla Gugino Grills on 'Live! with Kelly'
  • Carla Gugino in Celebrities Stop By The "Today" Show
  • Carla Gugino in Carla Gugino Signs Autographs in NYC
  • Carla Gugino in USA Network&squot;s "Political Animals" New York Screening
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