Netflix’s ‘The Politician’ Season 1 Episode 1 Recap: “Pilot”

Ryan Murphy‘s latest offering has arrived on Netflix. The first season of the satirical drama, The Politician, was released in full on Friday, Sept. 27. 2019. While some may have already breezed through it, we’re going to take it episode by episode, recapping one each day.

Netflix's The Politician Season 1 Premiere on September 26, 2019, in New York City.
Netflix’s The Politician Season 1 Premiere on September 26, 2019, in New York City. | Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Netflix

The show features much of the usual Murphy fanfare: over-the-top characters with immense ambitions, commentary on society (especially the wealthy), and, naturally, a musical number or two. Here’s a recap for the first episode, “Pilot.” Warning: Spoilers ahead for S1E1.

Peyton Hobart has one goal

The pilot begins with Peyton (Ben Platt) speaking to an admissions officer at Harvard. He explains that he has one goal in life: To become president. Every single thing that he does is in order to achieve that dream, which he believes he is destined to accomplish.

But before he can lead the U.S., he’ll start by being student body president at his Santa Barbara high school. The problem? Standing in his way is the affable River Barkley (David Corenswet), whose girlfriend, Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton), has convinced him to run again Peyton.

Tragedy strikes

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When Peyton learns that River is running, he confronts him and shows that there’s some kind of history between them. River goes on to give an incredibly moving speech at their first debate that earns him a leg up in the race. He also brings in a running mate, Skye Leighton (Rahne Jones), who represents the seemingly very small diverse population of the school.

Once again, Peyton goes to talk to River. He doesn’t know why someone who seemingly cares about him would do this. River apologizes, tells Peyton that he loves him — and then shoots and kills himself with a gun we saw him retrieve earlier. Peyton is in shock and goes home to wash away the blood.

The flashbacks

Peyton is, we soon learn, the adopted son of the wealthy Hobart family, and the apple of his mother Georgina’s eye (Gwyneth Paltrow). His older brothers, Luther and Martin (Trey and Trevor Eason), are dudebros who use their money to get women. Peyton, meanwhile, is singularly focused on his goal, so Georgina gets him a Mandarin tutor to help him out at school.

Enter River, in a scene from 18 months before the election. He has a gentleness about him, and encourages the always-buttoned-up Peyton to open up a bit. Then, the two share a kiss. Not long after, Astrid confronts Peyton in the library, saying that she knows what happened between them and suggesting a threesome.

A new opponent

Platt, you may be aware, is an incredible singer. He (as Peyton) performs a beautiful rendition of the song “River” as a school memorial for River. Then, Astrid announces that she will be taking over the campaign and running in River’s place. This, understandably, infuriates Peyton.

He has a lavish dinner with his own girlfriend, Alice Charles (Julia Schlaepfer), who plays the part of the dutiful first lady to a T. She proposes that they break up, earning him sympathy from the public, and he agrees to the plan. However, he fails to follow the guidelines she put into place to assure her that the break up isn’t real.

The perfect running mate

Throughout all of this, Peyton’s advisors McAfree (Laura Dreyfuss) and James (Theo Germaine), have been helping him. They advise that he picks a running mate who is a part of a disenfranchised community, such as someone with a disability. They find the perfect candidate in Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), a cancer-ridden yet cheerfully optimistic student.

It takes Peyton some time to win Infinity over. But with the help of her opportunistic grandmother, Dusty Jackson (Jessica Lange), she decides to enter. However, as soon as she takes the stage to announce her candidacy, Peyton learns that she’s not who she says she is. It looks like he has a presidential scandal on his hands.