Political Animals begins with the family around T.J.’s bed side. In addition to her concern about her son, Doug tells his mom they need to quickly address the media about T.J.’s near overdose. Consequently, Elaine asks Doug to contact her newfound friend, Susan Berg. She tells Susan a bogus story about T.J. having a reaction to an antibiotic, but Susan doesn’t buy it. Elaine then asks Susan to print the story despite its lack of truth, but Susan refuses. Still, Elaine persists and offers Susan an exclusive on the submarine rescue mission and she agrees. Meanwhile, Bud remains at the hospital with T.J., and Margaret and Anne prepare the family home for T.J.’s soon release. In addition to cleaning his room, they remove all drugs and alcohol from the house. But Margaret convinces Anne to smoke some of the drugs with her. She also tells Anne she is aware of her eating disorder.
Later in T.J.’s room, Elaine tells Bud she feels guilty about putting her political aspirations ahead of her son’s needs. She also shares the story behind T.J.’s attempted suicide with her former husband. Furious, Bud confronts and attacks Vice President Collier about his threats to expose T.J.’s affair with a politician. This is done in the White House with President Garcetti present.
To the dismay of Vice President Collier, President Garcetti sides with Elaine on the decision to continue the submarine rescue mission (or search for the lost boys) despite international tensions. He further asks her to help him write a speech about the matter. Also, Doug and Susan travel together to San Diego, and during the trip Doug opens up about his life as the child of politicians (or political animals). After several drinks, the two become intimate.
At the close of the episode, the submarine rescue is a success, and T.J. awakens.