Synopsis: Tak clashes with his team over a decision he makes when a surprising announcement from the Makers camp changes everything.
Local references: UW Hospital, that Ancora coffee mug.
Local landmarks: Lake Monona and the city skyline, Library Mall, Lisa Link Peace Park (blink and you'll miss it), The Fountain.
Locals seen on screen: Cold people waiting in line at a food cart; UW-Madison student and actor Molly Kunz, who plays a flighty campaign staffer and "certified wellness coach"; Madison-based playwright and actor Sam White, who plays Samuels' husband; and, WKOW anchors Greg Jeschke and Sabrina Hall.
Memorable character: Frank "D-Day" Davis, Tak's father. D-Day is a glad-handing political operative who stops by Samuels HQ for an awkward meeting. It's obvious that Tak wants desperately to win D-Day's affection. D-Day withholds it. He seems to be the kind of dad who skips his kids' baseball games.
Review: Political pros hate when people go off-message. Issuing a vague death threat definitely counts as going off-message. That's what happens in episode four of Battleground, which means Tak (Jay Hayden) has yet another fire to put out.
As the episode begins, primary candidate Deirdre Samuels (Meighan Gerachis) leads Sen. Jack Makers by two points in a WKOW poll. That's big news. Also big news: There's a nurses union dinner tonight, and it could be a giant opportunity for childlike campaign volunteer Ben (Ben Samuel) to ask out fellow volunteer Lindsey (Lindsey Payne). Union dinner = love is in the air. The event is also an opportunity for Samuels to clinch the union's endorsement, what with Makers having said something foolish about nurses.
Inside Samuels campaign HQ, Tak can't get his messages from receptionist Cassidy (Molly Kunz). Why? Because she is funny and flirty, and she may have left them in the ladies room. (Kunz's performance favorably recalls Britney Spears' cameo as a funny, flirty receptionist on How I Met Your Mother.) Exasperated, Tak gives her very specific instructions about what to do when someone calls. The strategy fails, though, because she follows them literally, like a computer. A funny, flirty computer. Meanwhile, oafish Jordan (Jordan T. Maxwell) convinces amusingly deadpan Ali (Alison) to play the Circle Game, which involves people making circles with their fingers, then hitting each other.
After last week's marital disaster, Tak's wife isn't answering the phone. That's bad, but he doesn't have time to think about it, because news is breaking on WKOW, which apparently is the only TV news outlet in town. Makers has collapsed while jogging and is in the hospital. The Samuels staffers look stricken, maybe because they're wondering the same thing I did: Does anyone still say jogging?
KJ (Teri Reeves) and Cole (Jack DeSena) say the Samuels campaign had better pull the "grandpa" ad. No, says Tak. No way do we pull the grandpa ad. But this is about so much more than the grandpa ad. It's about simmering sexual tension. These three form a romantic triangle, so whenever anyone says "grandpa ad," mentally substitute, "I would like to make love to you."
A reporter from the AP calls with bad news. In a Facebook comment, the vice president of the nurses union wrote, "Makers better hope those nurses don't give him the wrong shot." So should Samuels go to the nurses union dinner or what? She'll lose without the endorsement, but on the other hand, the union veep seems to be advocating murder. There are better ways than that to win elections.
Tak's dad shows up. He is named D-Day Davis (Ray Wise), making him the second character I know of named D-Day, after the guy in Animal House. A high-powered political operative, D-Day is cordial but distant. You can tell Tak really wants to please him, like Jane Fonda wanted to please Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond. But D-Day can't even remember his daughter-in-law's name, and he gives Tak a one-month-late birthday gift, a copy of his book. Lame. D-Day beats Jordan at the Circle Game; D-Day claims to have invented the Circle Game.
When Samuels arrives at her campaign headquarters, receptionist Cassidy tries to sell her nutritional supplements, "to help rid the body of toxins." That's the last straw. Tak cleverly gives her a promotion that's not a promotion. She will be the personal assistant to Jordan, who puts her to work managing his eBay site, where he sells comic books and blacklight posters. That's too much even for a funny, flirty computer. Cassidy quits.
Then comes the biggest news: Makers has pulled out of the campaign. Samuels is free to go to the union party. Tak calls his wife again and starts to leave a message. She picks up. I repeat: SHE PICKS UP. Apparently the Tak family still uses an authentic answering machine, complete with blinking red light. Can you still buy those?
Late at night, KJ puts the finishing touches on a political ad. She and Tak share a set of earbuds and lean over the screen. The sexual tension is overwhelming. At least it is to Tak, who makes a move. It's a mistake.
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.