The Politician Season 1 Episode 1, “Pilot” is a cracking introduction to the satirical comedy, as Payton has a fight on his hands for Student President.
This recap of Netflix Series The Politician Season 1 Episode 1, “Pilot” contains significant spoilers. You can read our season review by clicking these words.
In the opening episode of The Politician, Payton (Ben Platt) has a Harvard interview. He discusses this singular path, this all-knowing dream that one day, he will become the President of the United States. Dean Lawrence mocks that the standards have lowered, a sly dig at Trump. But what was telling about this interview with the Dean is Payton’s inability to talk about himself, his feelings. He splurts data about his adopted life, and how he is a hybrid between rich and poor/Bush versus Obama.
In the pilot, Payton’s main issue is his objective to make it as the Student President, which is under threat by River (David Corenswet). Our introduction to River is with his girlfriend Astrid (Lucy Boynton), who tells him the sex was great. He insists that he wants sex to be genuine and intimate and not faked. Astrid tries to assure him that next time, it will be real. Moments later, Payton charges to his home and declares he feels betrayed by River’s intentions of running for Student President; Payton blackmails River, claiming he will tell everyone about their sexual relationship.
At the Student Presidential debate, Payton makes a great, politician-like speech, but then he is derailed by River’s statement. River takes the floor, moving the audience about a time he tried to kill himself. “He’s sweating like Nixon,” one of Payton’s advisors says. I loved that line.
The next tactic for Payton? Getting a sympathy vote. His advisers state he needs someone who will provide him a gain in the election — a running mate. Payton tries to pick someone disabled, but that approach fails. He turns to someone with cancer called Infinity (Zoey Deutch), but he may need to persuade her more, as her first answer was no — she felt used.
But River is always one step ahead in the pilot. He brings in a new running mate — Skye Leighton — a gender non-conforming African American. In anger, Payton confronts River. In a shocking moment, River pulls out a gun and kills himself.
Episode 1 then gives us some history behind Payton, his mother, and River. Eighteen months earlier, Payton asks his mother Georgina about the difference between adopted and biological love. His mother insists that she loves Payton more than her other sons. River arrives as Payton’s Mandarin tutor. The language class turns into a discussion about happiness which is fitting to both characters — both Payton and River struggle with happiness; they both felt they had to pretend.
In the present day, the aftermath continues after River killed himself. Payton asks his mother why he lacks so much empathy, but she assures him that he does not need to be like everyone else. At school, in memory of River, he sings to the audience. But there is another blow to Payton’s campaign — an angry Astrid makes a speech to run for President in River’s place.
And then another blow for the aspiring President! Payton is wait-listed for Harvard, but his girlfriend Alice gets in. They draw up a plan to gain Payton more points in the Student Election — a pretend-break up.
What is clear so far in this satirical comedy is that it is closer to the truth of what politics is all about –‘ gaining points, creating new stories and establishing a voter base.
The Politician Season 1 Episode 1, “Pilot” ends with Payton visiting Infinity’s house and he offers them a cash loan to join his campaign. Infinity insists that she does not believe him, and Payton breaks down, stating that he loved River. All his emotions spill out at once. Infinity accepts the running mate position, but at her speech, someone tells Payton that she is faking her cancer.
This was a cracking opening episode.
- Infinity’s mother Dusty is a character — emotionally bribing the restaurant receptionist, using Infinity’s cancer to make a scene.
- As soon as River started teaching Payton Mandarin, Astrid confronted Payton immediately, requesting a threesome.
You can read the recap of the second episode by clicking these words.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.