Synopsis: The team discovers that facing Governor Creighton won't be easy as allies and enemies begin to look an awful lot alike.
Local references: Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Local landmarks: The now-standard opening sequence featuring the Lake Monona skyline, the "Lady Forward" statue, and Library Mall; Wingra Park (standing in for a fictional wetland preserve).
Locals seen on screen: Actor and director Lee Waldhart, a faculty member for Madison West High School Theater who focuses on set design and technical direction, and affiliated with the Madison Theatre Guild and the Children's Theatre of Madison; actor Judy Kimball, a regular player in Madison Theatre Guild productions; Milwaukee-based actor and playwright John Kishline, a regional alum of Public Enemies; playwright and actor Sam White; Kai Gerou; and, a classroom full of kids.
Memorable character: Jordan T. Mosley is the undisputed star of the "documentary" that is Battleground, at least in his own mind. The stepson of the candidate, he's a source of both amusement and annoyance to fellow staffers, interns, and volunteers, thanks to a steady stream of hare-brained ideas layered with self-promotion and geek culture posturing: "My blog about Firefly vs. Farscape got over 200 comments."
Review: A hard-fought political campaign is always a play with at least two acts, each preceding the primary and general elections. Whether or not the first stage of the race is contested, it's really only a warm-up for the real show. "What we just did was work," says campaign manager Tak Davis (Jay Hayden) on the victorious primary night at the end of the last episode. "Tomorrow starts a battle, and it will be the toughest thing you have ever done in your life."
The political combat starts bright and early the next morning, and it isn't limited to a single front.
Candidate Deirdre Samuels (Meighan Gerachis) emerged victorious from the three-way primary, thanks in part to incumbent Senator Jack Makers (John Kishline) dropping out of the race for health reasons, while a combination of basic organizing and political trickery helped her edge out the other candidate, Assemblywoman Grace Rudy. Now that it's time for the general, though, Samuels is facing the very popular and solidly entrenched Governor Creighton, a 12-year veteran of his office and the generalissimo of an imposing political machine.
Battleground sheds a little more of its heretofore reticence on the Blue vs. Red identity of its characters now that it's time for the big show. While the pilot opens with a flash forward that indicates the partisan arena for the campaign, and subsequent episodes offer cultural markers and oblique references to tease it further, it's now directly noted through the dialogue that Samuels is the Democratic nominee for Senate.
Tak and his protege Ben Werner (Ben Samuel) arrive at campaign HQ on the first day of Act Two, and are confronted by a pair of new challenges. One is in the form of protesters picketing a "Women's Choice Clinic" that just opened up next door -- an uncanny and timely development, to say the least. The other is a health inspector, who requests and is granted access to inspect Samuels' offices, whereupon he slaps the campaign with a $1,500 fine for using a microwave and coffeemaker without an appropriate food preparation license. Here's that titular political machine at work.
These are only two headaches among many for Tak, though, who is faced with dozens of voice mail messages, most of which are got good news. "Welcome to the majors," he tells the camera. His top priority, though, is to secure an important endorsement.
Tak therefore communicates with Corboy (Matt Corboy), his counterpart with the gay-baiting Makers campaign, about presenting a unified face for the general. These superficially friendly peers/rivals first speak on the phone, and then meet in person to negotiate the endorsement, exchanging jocular quips and setting up a joint press conference and rally for later that afternoon.
Meanwhile, work for Tak and other Samuels staffers continues, amidst intersections between their personal lives. Tak assigns campaign researcher and social media wiz Ali Laurents (Alison Haislip) the job of investigating the background of the clinic next door and the "All God's Children" group protesting it. He gets chastised by George Mosley (Sam White), the candidate's husband and assertive advisor, for the resignation of speechwriter Cole Graner (Jack De Sena). Then, in a microphones off moment acknowledging the presence of the camera, Tak learns the reason for the resignation from campaign media chief Kara "KJ" Jamison (Teri Reeves) -- Cole watched video footage of their awkward late-night kiss. The usually cool campaign manager subsequently charges and challenges documentarian J.D. (Battleground creator and showrunner J.D. Walsh), telling him to keep his lens out of their personal lives.
The camera gives the most attention in this episode, though, to Jordan T. Mosley (Jordan T. Maxwell), the Dwight Schrute-esque campaign clown who is talking at his "old alma mater" that afternoon in the hope that it will give him an inside line on the speechwriter job. "If I can nail this speech at the school today, he's gonna see he's got an ace in his bullpen, you know," he says of Tak. When Jordan isn't trying to show off to his officemate Ali (who gazes upon the fourth wall with deadpan stares in response), he's trying to attract the attention of Lindsey Cutter (Lindsey Payne), who in turn is developing a closer friendship with Ben.
Jordan's gig turns out to be a Career Day at his elementary school. He enlists Lindsey to accompany him to shoot video of the talk, who brings Ben with her as an escort. Jordan isn't happy about that, but Ben appeals to his ego, saying "we thought we could be your entourage." Suitably placated by this, Jordan warms up by listening to the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V and practicing ninja moves in full view of the classroom. Once inside, he introduces himself as the "president of strategic political strategy planning" and "interim campaign speechwriter," and, glistening with flop sweat, bloviates until shut down by an exasperated teacher (Judy Kimball).
Ali remains busy at HQ, unearthing the digital trails left by both clinic and protesters, which are of course connected, a dirty trick orchestrated by a rival. Samuels is herself focused on a post-primary Etch A Sketch moment, switching up her wardrobe in an effort to "soften" her look.
As the day lengthens, the episode's pace accelerates, with the action jumping from the school to the campaign offices and back again, round and round, building momentum in advance of the rally where Makers is set to give his endorsement.
The big moment comes soon enough. Samuels arrives at the event, accompanied by her husband, Tak, and KJ, and is greeted by Makers, who tells her, "I hope there are no hard feelings."
Everything is coming together now, as Ben and Lindsey return to the Samuels' offices, and help Ali put the final pieces of the puzzle together.
"We must face the problems of the 21st century not as Republicans or Democrats, but as people joined together in a common struggle," declares Makers, citing the Bible and his faith. "For those that stood by me during my recovery, I thank you, and for those that didn't, never doubt the heart of a Badger."
Looks like Act Two will be as complex as Act One.
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.