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The ending of The Politician season 2 explained

Contains major spoilers for The Politician season 2

The seven episodes of The Politician's sophomore season were a whirlwind — never settling on any one character, event, or moral for very long before turning the tables on itself over again. You might even feel a little spinning in your head for it, but after all the hubbub, throupling, and federal crime, Netflix's witty and only sometimes over-the-top dramedy ended in the place you might have anticipated from the outset, given the series' originally-stated goal: skirting the edges of the White House. The Presidency is still Payton Hobart's (Ben Platt) ultimate life goal, no matter the success he found in his freshman term as a New York State Senator. He had a whole premonition at the tender age of 7, remember?

Not to worry, though: We're here to round up the biggest points of the last couple episodes and discuss where they might be leading. Netflix first purchased The Politician in a two-season order up front, so we'll have to wait on official word for more, but there's no current reason to doubt there won't be more coming from the Ryan Murphy-helmed series. Let's dig into that explosive, head-turning finale and where it left Payton and his friends-slash-colleagues.

The big win of The Politician season 2

The overall thrust of The Politician season 2 focused on the state Senatorial race between Payton and Majority Leader Dede Standish (Judith Light), both vying to represent New York's 27th district. As expected, the race was rife with all kinds of double, triple, and arguably quadruple crosses all over the narrative. After election day and a series of hand-recounts, Payton and Dede officially tied, receiving the exact same number of votes. Both agreed that they would decide the winner in a most unique manner: a game of rock paper scissors (often referred to as ro-sham-bo on the show). But after realizing the kind of politician and person Payton is, Dede concedes the race to Payton before the ro-sham-bo game begins. 

There were two big twists at play, however: 1) Payton committed election fraud by not reporting a ballot box that author-turned-environmentalist — and his old high school running mate – Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch) stole; and 2) Payton did indeed win the election outright once his staff-slash-friends James Sullivan (Theo Germaine), McAfee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss), and Skye Leighton (Rahne Jones) cracked open the box and counted the stolen ballots. 

The Politician season 2 ends with the sensation that perhaps Payton was justified in breaking the law. The way it played out gave him the best starting point possible with Dede's concession, where she gave a treatise on the state of politics today and the need to let young people like Payton hold power in the face of unprecedented global challenges. It's the opposite of his circumstances at the end of season 1, where the concession robbed him of true victory and mandate (whatever mandate can exist in a school presidency).

What's more is that Payton knows he won, doubling down on the sense of vindication from the narrative for his character. Everyone he knows — including his mother Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow) — told him he did the "right" thing. Is Payton worth it as a (self-described) "terrible" person if his motivations are centered on his so-called desire to do good works? We're not sure if that expression of vindication is meant to indicate the kind of dark cynicism and eventual subterfuge inspired by House of Cards or difficult pragmatism and grayed principles sometimes seen in The West Wing – but perhaps that's what season 3 will answer for sure.

The big offer that came at the end of The Politician season 2

On The Politician's season 2 finale, we're treated to a pair of quietly bookending scenes that play out after a two-year jump forward in time.

First comes Payton on the cusp of unopposed re-election with what we can only assume is the full faith and credit of the New York state Democratic party machine behind him. He's cradling his toddler, Archie; kissing his wife, Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), who's now in medical school; and proclaiming his intent to stay within the state congressional system for a while in order to continue doing all those good works he's repeatedly stated he wants to act on. He did it, too — the rapid-fire catch-up dialogue of his staffers reveal the two years of making good on his promises to an almost unrealistic tune for the benefit of green energy. Payton is settled, accomplished, and seemingly happy.

The other half of the bookend comes with Dede's return to New York to give Payton the offer of a lifetime: a Vice Presidency candidacy at some point four-ish years in the future, when Dede runs for President. Payton's mother, Georgina, is about to take office with Dede as her VP, and has no intention to run for a second term. What she does intend to do is make amendments to the U.S. Constitution — starting with a substantial modification that will allow Payton to legally be Vice President of the United States. (Candidates for the executive branch must be at least 35 years old; Payton is approximately 23 or 24.) 

The last frame of The Politician season 2 ends with Payton having a vision of his lost lover and longtime guiding light River (David Corenswet) jogging through Central Park. Vision River gives Payton a wink, and Payton cracks a smile. He's going to tell Dede yes, of course, but that automatically calls for a shifted dynamic in the show. Payton's abandoning a humbler principle for the state Senate in favor of a new, more brilliant spotlight — and there's no guarantee his team is going to be able to come with him, either. (Dede's Chief of Staff and partner in politics Hadassah Gold, played by Bette Midler, will be by her side, though.) Vice Presidents take cues from their superior, and that also means joining a very different kind of political strategy team. Will this interpersonal crisis come to the fore next season, and with it, the trail of neglect, secrecy, and mistakes behind it?

What Astrid chose to do at the end of The Politician season 2

Of all the characters on The Politician, Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton) is the biggest wild card and of the most consistent moral presentation: an opportunist seeking a place to belong. She's on the outside of the entire narrative, and as such probably its only real truth-teller capable of seeing everyone as they are rather than what they project. After bouncing between Payton and Dede's campaigns as a fake mole and a real one, Astrid did some soul-searching after she learned that she was pregnant with Payton's child (he, Alice, and Astrid engaged in a fake-turned-somewhat-real polyamorous relationship). The later episodes of The Politician season 2 saw Astrid realize nothing will convince her to embrace motherhood, leading to her to terminate her pregnancy — depicted as a purposeful, positive choice, rather than center the woman as a victim of circumstance. Astrid has had arguably the most growth of everyone on the season, which even Alice is cognizant of in their discussion at the clinic about the respective trajectories of their lives.

We don't see Astrid beyond that moment, however, just before the election. Two years have rolled by on the season finale with no indication otherwise of Astrid's existence, and we can only assume this is purposeful. She's a keeper of many particular secrets, and no doubt Payton certainly hasn't forgotten about her or that inherent risk. We're not sure exactly where she'll be when she inevitably emerges next season (if there will be one). Will she be friend, foe, or again the uninvested opportunist? Astrid unequivocally knew then that parenthood wasn't for her, and while she wasn't sure of much else, she had found the determination to seek out the answer for herself at last. We're very interested in learning just what that purpose will lead to.

Repeating history on The Politician season 2

Seasons 1 and 2 of The Politician operate on very similar beats in both narrative conception and episodic format. They both have episodes centered on "the voters" and have repeated history more like a rhyme than out-and-out recitation. Payton has ambition, suffers fallbacks, engages in elaborate schemes and double-crosses, has a crisis of faith, but gets what he wants. The people around him have much the same experience, questioning their own morality and identity existing as part of Payton's circle, only to eventually return home again. We saw that most vividly with Alice temporarily leaving Payton, as well as with McAfee's (Laura Dreyfuss) ill-fated date trying to pull away from her "toxic" friendships with James and Skye.

The difference now is the secret of the actual ballot win: It's a double-edged sword that serves a massive ego boost ... that Payton can't divulge under any circumstances. On season 1, Payton lost more than he won on paper, which invited sympathy from both the audience and his fictional fellows, drawing them together. Is it believable to continue that narrative cycle when Payton has unequivocally won — and by duplicitous methods? Can he reasonably continue to be a plucky protagonist, breaking the rules at his leisure? The House of Cards-versus-West Wing gamut can be an oversimplification, but it's fair to ask just where will The Politician land on it when it continues to ask how and when the road of good intentions is marred by the rubber of naked deceit.

The Politician's season 2 finale leaves some unanswered questions

For as much as The Politician season 2 got into over its seven-episode run, and for as much as it wrapped up with its finale, it left a few simmering questions. 

What happened to Payton's twin brothers Martin and Luther (Trevor Mahlon and Trey Eason) is easy off the top of the head. They went to work for Georgina's then-girlfriend Alice (Kelly Fulton), whom Georgina subsequently abandoned in favor of Texas State Junior Senator-Elect Tino McCutcheon (Sam Jaeger) and the allure of his Presidential campaign. Did Martin and Luther lose their jobs in the film biz? Are they irate at Payton's success? There's little doubt it's the last we've heard of them.

We also have to ask what's become of Infinity. She gives the intro to Payton's acceptance speech on the very last episode of The Politician season 2, but she doesn't get the benefit of a catch-up two years later. Infinity made many lifestyle demands of Payton in favor of the environment under threat of divulging her own cache of secrets; surely that won't disappear now that Payton's set to acquire more power. She also committed a federal felony by stealing the ballot box. That could send Infinity to prison, sure, but it would also end a career more than any lie back in high school ever could. What will their dynamic be moving forward?

Finally, a bigger thematic question needs to be answered. In opening up Payton to the Vice Presidency the way the show has — in a campaign run immediately after his mother leaves office, with the assumption the Constitution itself will be altered by his mother so he may serve — is textbook nepotism, which is antithetical to the purpose of the American Experiment that sought to leave the idea of familial dynasty where it came from back in 18th-century England. Payton did nothing but win this season — when does the other shoe drop, and how big must the sin become before it does? We're not sure, and only another head-spinning season of The Politician — whenever that may come — can tell us.