The Politician season 1 recap: What happened during the last campaign?

Who knew that running for high school president could be so dangerous?

Ben Platt

Ryan Murphy’s satirical drama The Politician is imminently returning for a second season, as the ambitious young Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) takes another attempt at launching his path to the White House.

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He has reason to be apprehensive given the disastrous events of season one, where a chaotic campaign to be high school president damaged his reputation and nearly saw him killed.

For those of you needing a refresher on how those wild events unfolded, here’s our summary of the key moments and characters that you’ll need to know about before watching season two.

What happened in The Politician season one?

The Politician introduces us to Payton Hobart, the adoptive son of an incredibly wealthy family, who from a young age has had his sights set on becoming President of the United States. He has a strictly mapped out life plan to achieve this lofty aspiration, which kicks off with being elected class president of his elite high school: Saint Sebastian’s.

He treats the race as if his life depends on it, which is why he is furious to find out that his popular friend River Barkley has decided to run against him. Payton storms into River’s house early in the campaign to confront him about his opposition, but finds an utterly distraught River who unexpectedly pulls out a gun and shoots himself.

The suicide rocks Payton to his core as River was someone he truly loved and respected, but for a moment it looks as if he will be running in the election unopposed. That is, until River’s former girlfriend Astrid announces she will be taking his place on the campaign trail, a privileged woman with similar levels of popularity as her late partner had.

The race is on! In a bid to make some advances in the polls, Payton announces his Vice President candidate earlier than usual, opting for a timid young woman named Infinity, who is suffering from an advanced form of cancer.

Ben Platt and Zoey Deutch in The Politician on Netflix
Payton and Infinity begin their radical campaign.

Or at least that’s what he thought when he made the announcement! But soon after, a student named Andrew, who has long been infatuated with Infinity, tells Payton that she is actually faking the illness. This sparks panic among his campaign team, comprised of dedicated girlfriend Alice, sharp political strategist McAfee and trusted adviser James, who disagree over which course of action they should take.

Ultimately, they decide that they have to test Infinity’s blood to settle the issue once and for all, as Infinity’s grandmother, Dusty, refuses to divulge information on her condition. They stage a blood drive at school with the sole purpose of securing a sample from Infinity and send it to a private lab for testing, anxiously awaiting results in the meantime.

While all this madness has been going on, Astrid’s campaign has been gradually losing its momentum in the polls, as she lacks original ideas and passion for the position she’s running for, which seriously frustrates her running mate, Skye.

Payton and his team get the blood test results back which reveal Infinity is cancer-free. They conclude that her grandmother must be making her sick somehow, but decide to keep it secret as it would throw their campaign into disarray.

Zoey Deutch and Jessica Lange in The Politician on Netflix
Dusty doesn’t want anyone to discover she is the cause of her granddaughter’s illness.

Infinity’s dim-witted boyfriend, Ricardo, fears that she is being used as a prop in Payton’s election strategy, so he steals one of her home videos in which she refers to a gay man by the homophobic slur “butt-munch,” and gives it to Astrid who releases it online.

It spreads on social media like wildfire, prompting Payton to drop and disown Infinity, but not before he tells her that she is being poisoned by her grandmother. Infinity later confronts Dusty about the accusations and although she initially denies them, it is later revealed that she has been making her granddaughter sick using small doses of lead paint for financial reasons – a form of child abuse known as Munchausen by Proxy.

She moves into a motel to start piecing her life back together and also breaks up with Ricardo, furious that he derailed her campaign to be Vice President, despite his good intentions. A heartbroken Ricardo breaks into Astrid’s house while her parents are away, feeling that she misled him when she said that Infinity wouldn’t be angry about the tape being leaked.

Astrid has been feeling increasingly bored with her materialistic lifestyle and weak presidential campaign, so rather than be intimidated by Ricardo, she kisses him and demands that they run away together. They scarper to New York City, wrecking her room as they do so in an effort to make the escape look like a kidnapping – which police then pin on Payton, believing it to be revenge for Astrid sharing the tape.

Dylan McDermott and January Jones in The Politician on Netflix
Astrid’s parents discover her missing amid signs of a struggle.

During her brief absence, fears grow among the school community that she may have been murdered, with Skye going so far as to host a candle-light vigil in her memory. As a result, when Astrid returns home and reveals she simply ran away to escape the pressures of day-to-day life, she drops in the polls amid backlash from voters – prompting Skye to join Payton as his new Vice Presidential candidate, a role that was vacant after Infinity’s firing.

Sensing defeat is on the cards, Astrid pulls out of the race on election day, securing a hollow victory for Payton, who is upset that he has no official mandate to govern. Indeed, the school board privately counted the votes cast and found that Astrid would have won the election had she not ruled herself out of contention, so they choose not to take Payton’s proposals seriously as a result.

Some weeks later, Skye has grown frustrated at Payton’s inability to turn any of his policies into a reality, deciding she wants to take the Presidency for herself and force through real change.

She makes a cupcake which she instructs McAfee to give to him, but doesn’t tell her that she has laced the icing with rat poison. That escalated quickly. Payton is violently sick later that night but recovers after a brief stint in hospital – sadly, it’s not long before another attempt is made on his life.

Dusty and Ricardo remain devastated that Infinity abandoned them and blame Payton for turning her against them, so they hatch a plan to get him out of the picture once and for all.

Benjamin Barrett as Ricardo in The Politician (Netflix)
Ricardo takes drastic action to get revenge against Payton.

Ricardo brings a BB gun into Saint Sebastian’s claiming that he plans to use it as a prop in the school play, when actually it is loaded with a pellet that has been soaked in the insides of a dead possum (gross). He shoots Payton in the buttock and the filthy projectile penetrates his skin, sending its filthy coating into his bloodstream, but Payton doesn’t seek medical attention as he isn’t aware of the severity of the attack.

However, he later falls ill for the second time in as many days, but on this occasion his condition is far more serious as the dirty pellet has caused sepsis to take hold of his body. An unconscious Payton is given medical treatment at home from top doctors, but they fail to diagnose his worsening condition – things are looking very bleak indeed.

Fortunately, when Ricardo tells Infinity what he has done, she rushes to Payton’s house to inform the doctors they need to begin treating him for sepsis immediately, effectively saving Payton’s life. She then turns Dusty and Ricardo over to the police for their terrible crimes, but during the ensuing investigation, everyone finds out that Payton withheld Infinity’s blood test results – a scandal for which he is forced to resign immediately.

The dream is over! Payton’s attempt to launch his perfect political career has been an unequivocal disaster, which has left his reputation damaged and almost cost him his life too.

Skye is arrested when McAfee turns her in for poisoning Payton and the rest of his election team go their separate ways.

Rahne Jones plays Skye in The Politician on Netflix
Skye gets a lenient sentence and later reconciles with Payton.

Three years later, Payton is a student at NYU who plays piano at a local bar and has an alcohol problem. That’s when a freshly graduated McAfee seeks him out and suggests that he launch an electoral campaign for New York State Senate.

The pitch is as follows: Dede Standish has been majority leader of New York State Senate for decades and her candidacy is so widely accepted that she always runs for re-election unopposed. As a result, her team has developed a complacency which McAfee believes could be exploited to allow a fresh voice to prevail.

He reassembles his high school election team comprised of McAfee, Alice and James, as well as enlisting the help of former rivals Skye and Astrid. They prepare for an even tougher contest with one major ace up their sleeve: State Senator Standish is in a secret polyamorous relationship with two men.

Let battle commence!

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The Politician season two arrives on Netflix on Friday 19th June. Check out our lists of the best TV shows on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide.