TV Review: The Regime

All bark, no bite.

Following the success of “Succession,” writer Will Tracy and HBO team up again for this six-episode limited series. “The Regime” centers around Chancellor Elena Vernham. A former physician, she is seven years into her fascistic reign of an unnamed Central European country known for cobalt and sugar beets. Her advisors, an ensemble of interchangeable yes-men, are devoid of dissent. Her father, a former chancellor, died the previous year from a lung condition. Paranoid that she will succumb to the same condition, Vernham takes extensive measures to ensure her safety. They include demanding that no one breathes in her direction and having a “personal water diviner” who walks in front of her at all times to measure the humidity.

In comes Corporal Herbert Zubak, the latest humidity monitor who is a soldier with rage issues and incapacitating guilt. After thwarting an assassination attempt on the Chancellor and openly criticizing her judgment regarding their nation’s reliance on America, Vernham becomes completely under the soldier’s sway. The show spans the following year in which Vernham and Zubak develop a romantic relationship while they run the country into the ground.

“The Regime” offers an examination, albeit a shallow one, of insulated autocrats and authoritarianism. Vernham expresses a desire for reunification with a bordering nation and annexes land—a timely allusion. She imprisons Edward Keplinger, a Tony Blair-inspired left-wing opposition leader, who she uses as a scapegoat. Under Zubak’s outsized, reminiscent-of-Rasputin influence, she implements worryingly isolationist policies that jeopardize foreign relations. Additionally, Zubak’s protectionism and nationalism, and his calls to redistribute land, hearken back to many revolutions that have ended in authoritarian states.

The show also takes aim at the role of global superpowers in smaller countries. A Hillary Clinton-esque US senator, Judith Holt, visits Vernham in an attempt to hash out a deal for access to the Central European country’s cobalt mines. Holt is met with the response, “We let you dig our earth for a pittance. We provided refueling and airspace support for your wars in the Middle East. We handed you hundreds of dossiers on supposed Russian cyberterrorists working in our country. We swore off China and her Belt and Road. We let your CIA run its black sites here, right here, on our sovereign soil. You shoveled your shit on our doorstep for years and told us we were happy to eat it.” Beyond this critical summary, American foreign policy is not meaningfully explored any further.

Several more political references are infused throughout the series. The plethora of them results in a minimal observation of each one without much insight. Consequently, “The Regime” fails to take advantage of its potential to provide substantial, relevant political commentary.

Instead, the show is much more perceptive as a satire of power, namely how it is acquired and held onto, and the psychological aspects of an autocrat. Vernham has a need for her father’s approval that stems from childhood, evident in her one-sided conversations with his glass-encased corpse. In one instance, her father visits her in a dream and calls her “a vapid, feckless political whore with no principles. A comic figure bereft of vision, easily ruled. All tits and no spine.” The morning after, she decides to annex the (fictional) Faban Corridor. These deep-seated ‘daddy issues’ affect all facets of Vernham’s character, from her vanity to insecurities, shaping her decisions as chancellor.

Power also pervades the unconventional love story that unfolds between Vernham and Zubak. The evolution of their relationship is a political, psychosexual, toxic struggle for dominance, wrought with much manipulation and strife. While a compellingly twisted romance, the show does not have much to say regarding the current political landscape.

“The Regime” is entertainingly absurd and bizarre, but hollow.