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Netflix’s ‘The Politician’ Ending, Explained

September 28, 2019
11 min read

Netflix’s ‘The Politician’ is Ryan Murphy’s first offering as part of his five-year deal with the streaming platform. The show gets off to a strong start and builds up, on the elements of drama as the episodes go on. By the end of the series, it sets the stage for the upcoming season and promises a show where the political battles will be even more fierce as the stakes get bigger than ever. We will also see more seasoned politicians and perhaps a dirtier game of politics than what Season 1 of ‘The Politician’ has shown us.

That being said, the final episode of ‘The Politician’ shows a time jump and moves away from the setting of Saint Sebastian High School and the families in Santa Barbara that we have grown accustomed to, through the season. Thus, we are here to explain the ending of ‘The Politician’ to you. However, before that, it is imperative for you to know what transpires in the series, which builds up to the events seen in the final episode.

The Politician Plot Summary

‘The Politician’ starts off by introducing us to Payton Hobart, an incredibly ambitious boy who wants to become the President of the United States. He takes a meeting with the Dean of Harvard University and explains how he has studied the lives of previous presidents and come up with a composite plan of how to best become the President. Part of it involves studying and graduating from Harvard, of course. However, first, Payton needs to become the student president at Saint Sebastian High School, which is a well-to-do institute.

By this time, we are given a little background about Payton, who seems to have been born under a lucky star, because his birth mother was a working-class woman but the boy was adopted into the obscenely rich Hobart family. Payton has a wonderful relationship with his stepmother, played wonderfully by Gwyneth Paltrow, who encourages him though she admits being a bit scared by his ambition.

When Payton runs for school president, he is aided by Alice, his girlfriend who is prepared to be his First Lady when Payton makes it to the White House. Also helping him are loyal and vocal friends, James, his political advisor, and McAfee, the overall campaign manager. The drama soon begins when a popular boy, River, runs against Payton. The competition toughens as River chooses a queer, radical and colored person, Skye, to be his running mate, while Payton chooses Infinity, a student suffering from cancer, to be his.

It turns out that River cannot handle the pressure and kills himself, stunning Payton, who is shown to be in love with him, and River’s girlfriend, Astrid. However, the latter is ambitious and turns River’s death to her advantage as she decides to run against Payton. Meanwhile, Payton’s problems only increase as he realizes that Infinity might be faking her cancer, and now has to deal with Infinity’s duplicitous and manipulative grandmother, Dusty, played by Jessica Lange.

As the show goes on, the race between Astrid and Payton only get messier. Payton’s running mate’s past comes to haunt them as a tape exists of her using a gay slur. Meanwhile, Payton orchestrates a devious move where James seems to be ratting on Payton’s side, only to fool Astrid into stealing their research, which is deliberately erroneous. As a result, Astrid ends up looking like a fool in front of the students.

Things get more complicated as Infinity’s boyfriend, Ricardo, gets involved with Astrid and she runs away but stages it like a kidnapping. Payton becomes the focus of a police investigation, while Astrid and Ricardo grow closer, only for the latter to realize that he loves Infinity. Meanwhile, Payton confronts his running mate about her fake cancer but it turns out that Dusty had been poisoning Infinity like she had poisoned Infinity’s mother. Acting on the information, Infinity confronts her grandmother, eventually leading to her arrest.

Families seem to have all sorts of quirky quarrels in ‘The Politician’. The Hobart family is no exception where the wife falls in love with the person in charge of the horses. As a result, the rich husband threatens to cut her and Payton out of the will, leaving everything for his two sociopathic sons. However, the sons hatch a plot to kill the father, making him favor Payton once again, till his wife’s infidelities change his mind yet again. Astrid’s family is not happy either since her parents do not get along and she seeks validation from her father. By the end of the show, she turns her father in, to the FBI, for his shady business dealings. Ryan Murphy has created a wonderfully dramatic universe where we realize that rich families have their own dark secrets and are far from perfect.

Coming back to the school elections, that is the central storyline, Astrid backs out of the race, resulting in a pyrrhic victory for Payton. In a short while, there are two assassination attempts on his life using poison. Payton survives these. However, when the news of Payton knowing about Infinity’s fake cancer gets out, he is done for. People finally realize what he always knew about himself. He is not a good person, just someone who tries to do good things. By the time the show ends, everyone has graduated from school and are in college. However, they still cling on to their dreams while constantly trying to better themselves.

What Are the Ambitions of the Candidates Involved?

It would not be wrong to call ‘The Politician’ a dramatization of ambitions of rich high schoolers. The candidates who contested the elections include River, before he kills himself, followed by his girlfriend Astrid. We have Skye, who was their running mate before changing sides at the last moment, who was later replaced by Pierre, as the running mate to Astrid. On Payton’s side, we have the aspiring young boy who wants to be president of the United States and his running mate Infinity. For all intents and purposes, Payton’s team’s ambitions also matter, since they are instrumental to his operation. The team includes McAfee, James, and his girlfriend, Alice.

River seems to be the least ambitious of them all. He is a popular student who is forced by his girlfriend to run for the position of president. In fact, he is the most authentic as well and urges his girlfriend to be authentic rather than to pretend. River is also extremely open about his mental health and says that he feels too much, which resulted in an abandoned attempt at suicide. Later, he actually kills himself, when the election against Payton is heating up.

Astrid steps in as an ambitious white girl who seems like she wants to have her way in life. However, as the show goes on, we know that Astrid is someone who wants to escape her life, and feels for the way people without her financial and social privilege live. Though she starts off as someone seeking her father’s validation, she grows up enough to turn him in for wrongdoings. By the end, she seems to be living the normal life she always wanted, away from social pressures, working in the catering business.

Skye is the most radical member of their team. She does not conform to gender norms and is a person of color. Her wish is to take a Title IX case to the Supreme Court at one point, thus gaining prominence. Skye’s ambitions seem to work out well for her as we see her in Vassar eventually. Pierre, who joins as Astrid’s running mate is the sole Haitian in the school, which is why his representation becomes somewhat of a farce of how leaders can sometimes play the minority card too much. He does not seem to be too vocal, making empty promises before the elections. He is not shown at the end of the show.

This brings us to Payton, who had the highest ambitions of them all. His fall is the most severe since he seems to be done with politics completely after the fiasco that is his school presidency. He does not go to Harvard, opting for NYU instead. We see him playing piano in a bar and getting drunk frequently. He keeps seeing River as part of his conscience, but although he feels emotions more deeply, he seems to have lost the fire of passion that guides him in the earlier episodes.

Payton describes himself as a rudderless boat but in the final moments of the show, he seems to have found his direction yet again. His girlfriend Alice, who seems to share in his ambition at the start of the show, eventually appears to outgrow Payton and his need to be the president. He breaks up with her and we see that she is engaged to a man, and they appear to be in love. However, at the end of the show, she puts her life on hold to help Payton’s revived dreams.

As for James and McAfee, they are Payton’s friends and support systems. They always pledged to be a team, and James remains friends with Payton even in New York. McAfee’s ambitions of being a part of politics remain constant from high school and she graduates from college with degrees in political science and statistics. She is the one who revitalizes Payton’s political dreams. This brings us to Infinity, Payton’s running mate. She has the most complicated character arc since her ambitions do not exist early on, as she believes she is suffering from cancer and might die. When she realizes it was a lie fabricated by her grandmother, she wishes to experience life, which includes trips to Paris and eating macaroons. By the end of the show, she seems to be doing well for herself and has written a book about her journey, which seems to be very popular.

Finally, this brings us to what the show’s ending is all about.

The Politician Ending, Explained

The final episode of ‘The Politician’ is far removed from the student presidency race at Santa Barbara’s elite Saint Sebastian’s High School. We see that our beloved characters have graduated and are leading different lives. Payton seems to have the worst of it since he has lost his passion and all sense of direction. He spends his time playing the piano and wallowing in his feelings while drinking too much. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Senator Dede Standish and her aide, Hadassah Gold. Standish is a stellar member of the Democratic Party who has been asked to run for Vice President along with a firebrand young Senator from Texas.

While Standish’s political career seems to be skyrocketing, we are introduced to a skeleton in her closet. She is in a threeway relationship with her husband and another man. Meanwhile, Payton’s life seems to have hit rock bottom, when he receives news of Alice’s marriage. However, he decides to go and fight for her. The meeting does not go well as Alice remains committed to her fiance and says she and Payton are better off on their own.

Around the same time, we see McAfee join Standish’s campaign as a trainee and she realizes that the Senator is unprepared for the primaries since she has no competition. Realizing the vulnerability, which is followed by Gold mistreating her, McAfee goes to James with a plan to have Payton stand as the candidate opposing Standish. They realize that the MTA and its stopgap funding is one of the issues that could be brought up against the state Senator. However, Astrid provides the really explosive information as she knows of Standish’s convoluted relationship from an event where she was catering.

By the end of the show, we see Skye and Alice have joined the team, and everyone puts their lives on hold as Payton throws down the gauntlet announcing that he is going to run again Standish in the primaries. The team sees it as a chance to get Payton back in the race for President, while Payton too realizes that his desire to do good in the world is a powerful enough motive to get back in politics. Meanwhile Standish and Gold, seasoned in politics, make preparations to demolish the apparently inexperienced team.

‘The Politician’ sets the stage for a bloodier and more fierce battle with much higher stakes, by the time the show ends, and we cannot wait for Ryan Murphy to come up with the second season of the series, where the fight is only going to get more intense.

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