Synopsis: Candidate Samuels struggles with her desire to run a clean campaign after racy details of an opponent's personal life fall into Tak's hands.
Local references: Tak's ever-present gold Ancora travel mug continues to garner screen time. He also refers at one point to a Rebecca Jallings with the Rudy campaign, which is the name of a West High English and theater teacher. "She's not going to like anything," says Tak. "She's an unhappy woman." It's an inside joke from series creator and West grad J.D. Walsh, who has cited Jallings as an inspiration.
Local landmarks: "Lady Forward" statue, The Fountain, Lake Monona and the city skyline.
Locals seen on screen: Stunt double and actor Amanda Borchardt; Madison West student and actor Emma Geer, who had the starring role in the Madison Rep production of The Diary of Anne Frank; regular Mercury Players actor Jamie England; UW alum and Concordia University Wisconsin theatre professor Lori Woodall; and, playwright and actor Sam White.
Memorable character: Tak passes an unnamed campaign worker wearing a hat in the hallway and tells him "No more magic tricks!" Dude in hat replies, "You're just jealous." What's that about?
Review: With incumbent Sen. Jack Makers out of the race, a poll shows Deirdre Samuels (Meighan Gerachis) behind her lone remaining opponent, Assemblywoman Grace Rudy (Lori Woodall), 44% to 40% with just three days until the primary. The lead represents a "bump" Rudy receives after Makers drops out with health issues. A photo of Samuels sipping champagne at a nurse's union dinner in apparent celebration doesn't help.
Thanks to developments in Ohio, the Democrats now need to win in Wisconsin to hold the majority in the U.S. Senate. Tak explains this is why the champagne photo has become a "thing" and theirs has become "the race." Artfully disheveled as always, Tak (when will we find out why his nickname is Tak, by the way?) is confident, but slips in some foreshadowing about the race turning ugly.
Samuels' husband, George (Sam White), continues to offer up opportunities for Tak to make him look dumb, this time stressing that the campaign should push education themes in addition to jobs. But Rudy was teacher of the year, we learn. Come on, George! Try to keep up!
At first glance, viewers are tempted to compare Battleground to The West Wing, but the love triangle between Tak, KJ (Teri Reeves) and Cole (Jack De Sena) and the comic touches feel more like Spin City, the Michael J. Fox vehicle. A short, tense exchange between Tak and KJ reminds us of the brief, awkwardly ended kiss the two shared at the end of episode four.
More tension develops as we learn the book Tak received from his dad, D-Day Davis, contained printouts of steamy text messages Rudy exchanged with the principal of her school, some of which make impossibly geeky Ben uncomfortable. Tak explains they won't do anything with them, only release them to "the blogs," which will presumably do the campaign's dirty work for them. Hence, the ugliness referred to earlier.
But KJ and, more importantly, Samuels don't like the idea, thinking it will backfire in the general election. Tak appeals to Samuels' motives and speaks what we can imagine is a political cliche: "You can't effect change if you don't get elected"
But she holds firm -- "I don't want to win this way" -- and Tak is forced to use sneakier methods to get the texts in play.
Samuels' buffoonish stepson, Jordan (Jordan T. Maxwell) is intent on replacing the assistant who bailed last week. He calls in several attractive college intern candidates for a battery of ludicrous tests, which includes listing Star Wars characters. One (Amanda Borchardt) cites (500) Days of Summer, directed by Battleground executive producer (and creator J.D. Walsh's West High classmate) Marc Webb, as her favorite film. Jordan dismisses it as overrated.
Cole reveals a little about his past by describing his parents as the kind of people who show up to Congressional hearings with their hands painted red. "Like liberal tea partiers," says KJ. "But far less reasonable," counters Cole. He floats the idea of having KJ meet them for dinner, an idea KJ dismisses by reminding him that they had agreed not to get too serious with their relationship. Cole shrugs off the invitation as a joke, but reveals to a fellow staffer that he wasn't kidding.
Characters in Battleground frequently speak to the camera as part of the documentary premise of the series, but Walsh himself also appears on camera a few times, playing the role of the documentary's director. In one of the episode's pivotal scenes, he's hanging out with Cole in the parking lot and accidentally allows him to see footage of Tak and KJ kissing. As Cole storms off, the interview scenes from earlier episodes showing Cole in prison scrubs start to make a little sense.
This happens as Tak's maneuver with the Rudy texts works as planned, earning KJ's admiration. "Your dad would be impressed," she says to a beaming Tak. But it's clear that the similarity between Tak and D-Day is as much a curse as a compliment as we see Tak leave another message for his wife, this time with an emotional confession: "It's like I'm on this path to become just like my dad."
And this time, she returns the call.
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.
Did you watch the episode? Spot more Madison references or people? Share your thoughts in the comments.