Synopsis: It's Election Day and the team hopes that a last-second endorsement from the President will be enough to bring them victory.
Local references: "Is Breese blocked off?" in reference to a traffic jam near the stadium. What is clearly a crowd going to a Wisconsin Badgers football game subs for a crowd supposed to be heading to see President Obama give a speech at, and I listened to this several times... a temple? In Madison? You're kidding.
Local landmarks: Monona Terrace and the tunnel under it, the Camp Randall memorial arch, Regent Street, The Fountain restaurant on State Street.
Locals seen on screen: Theater and on-camera actor Karen Moeller, a member of the advisory company of Forward Theater and a costar of Chad Vader; Madison-based playwright and actor Sam White; numerous extras around the campaign headquarters; and, a sea of Badgers fans.
Memorable character: Campaign manager Tak Davis steals the show in this finale episode. Davis shows both his most human side, the craven opportunistic side that means he'll never be a family man, and his most flawed side, in which he'll never be a really good campaign manager, either.
Review: Deirdre Samuels (Meighan Gerachis) saved her political skin with an interview she gave last week, and now the polls show Creighton and Samuels in a dead heat as they head into election day. The episode begins with a vanful of campaign staffers, along with Samuels herself, her husband, and doofus stepson, in heavy traffic under Monona Terrace on their way to a speech President Obama is giving in town.
Speechwriter Cole Graner (Jack De Sena) is included in the bunch, too, despite the episode 12 revelation that he has a felony record due to trumped-up, classist charges from when he was a teen in Chicago. White House staffer Gretchen Cowler (Elizabeth Triplett), who narced on Cole after his revelation, is also in the van and chagrined. Cole is diffident, but forgiving, toward her.
They snake their way toward what would be Camp Randall, from the visuals. As they approach the area, they realize they have ten minutes to get to the speech site before the Secret Service shuts down all access, so they jump out and run, following volunteer Lindsey, who says she knows a shortcut. Everyone, including the camera crew, races through throngs of people clad in Badger red. They make it just in time (save Jordan -- too slow). Snippets of a televised Obama speech shown backstage create the impression of an actual rally, before Samuels goes on stage, with Tak bolstering her courage by saying: "This is your moment."
Cut to Election Day. Tak (Jay Hayden) and KJ (Teri Reeves) are following reports of voting day shenanigans, including people from Illinois voting by showing a Wisconsin pay stub and claiming residency -- these same Illinois residents who were bussed up from the Land of Lincoln by Samuels' opponents in the first place. (No wonder Republicans thought they needed that voter ID law. Pay stubs! FIBs! Voting!)
Compounding matters: a last minute PAC-funded ad telling African Americans not to vote, and some creative telephone bank rerouting which means that poor people calling the Samuels number to get a ride to the polls get disconnected. Tak plays hardball with the operative who's re-routed the phone calls, but it's not enough. When the results come in, it's clear that the reason Creighton had light advertising in Madison was that he was spending it all up north. (It does seem this is something the campaign might have tumbled to earlier....) Though Madison and Milwaukee were strong for Samuels, up north voters came out more than 30% above expectations in favor of Creighton. It's over.
Yet for some Samuels staffers, it's not over: just as it's clear Samuels will not come out on top in this election, a Congressman Donelin from Maine gets in contact with Tak, hoping to hire the team to run his presidential campaign. (He is, significantly, a Republican, although Tak rationalizes that "he's from Maine.") There is jubilation, and, awkwardly, Samuels herself comes in to find out how things are going just as Tak, Cole, KJ and company are rejoicing.
Ultimately, the finale demonstrates the heart of the Samuels campaign lay in volunteers like Ben and Lindsey (Ben Samuel and Lindsey Payne) -- maybe even stepson Jordan (Jordan T. Maxwell), despite his idiocies -- while the loyalty of professionals like Tak, KJ and Cole is much more opportunistic and likely to fluctuate. Yet betrayals can be set aright, as with the ultimate reconciliation of Cole and White House staffer Gretchen. That's not so certain with the future of Tak and his wife Sarah; the look of dismay and hurt on Sarah's face (at 20:19) as she realizes he is indeed going to leave the family for another campaign is obvious, and touching.
While we know from the interview settings that Ben and Lindsey's ultimate loyalty is to each other, and that Jordan ends up working at a Walmart, what is left hanging is why Cole Graner's exit interview shots seem to have been taken in a prison or some sort of institution. Is Cole going to be betrayed yet again? And what about Mr. and Mrs. Tak? And KJ? There are definitely enough hanging chads to carry over into a second season of Battleground.
Battleground, the first original scripted series from Hulu, was shot in Madison by Hollywood filmmaker and former Madisonian JD Walsh. New episodes premiere on Tuesdays through May 8. The dramedy follows young staffers running a Wisconsin politician's underdog campaign for U.S. Senate.
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