Netflix's breakout original series, House of Cards, has always been strangely out-of-step with American politics. This lack of harmony, of course, depends somewhat on your political perspective. However, whether you're a left-leaning Democrat (whose party is portrayed as hijacked by scheming political elites) or a loyal conservative (whose in-fiction party is represented as idiotic and wildly ineffectual), you're very likely unsatisfied with the picture of American politics painted by House of Cards. Even those who might consider themselves outside the traditional political spectrum might find their portrayal offensive (remember that coked-up commie who gives Peter Russo info on the Secretary of State nominee?).
This season showrunner Frank Pugliese told the New York Times that the show would be taking a darker direction in the wake of far-right populism: "We were talking a little bit about a notion of some tyrannical force and some populism and what that would mean."
As is apparent from this trailer, that could not be more true. But the question is unanswered still: Will Frank and Claire win their election? Will the Underwoods become the first truly presidential couple? Let's dive into the trailer and see what we can find out.
Somebody's getting compared to Trump, that's for sure.
The thing about this trailer and the statement that Pugliese made to the Times is that they make one thing absolutely clear: Sombody's getting compared to Trump. However, given that Frank's character is a Democrat and a veteran politician, he seems more of an apt comparison to Hillary Clinton. However, given that Clinton lost the election that seems like a bit of a narrative dead-end (unless, of course, you're Veep).
Wait, isn't Conway supposed to the conservative? Why isn't he the Trump analog?
Well, there's a decent case to be made for Conway being the show's own version of Trump. First off, Conway is the Republican candidate. He's not a politician, but rather a businessman who think he's can apply those skills to government. He's also the result of a rising populist tide turning against the political establishment.
There's also this interesting bit from the trailer, which leaves two key battleground states from the actual 2016 election in-play for the show's antagonist:
Ohio and Pennsylvania still in play with a 10 vote lead for Underwood.
He's not it. It simply cannot be him. First off, he's clearly the more wholesome of the two. He's not apparently sexually aggressive (like Frank), obviously ill-motivated (also like Frank), and, most importantly, he's just not the main character.
This is ultimately a show about the relationship between corruption and power. Does the power corrupt Frank or does Frank corrupt the power? That's the kind of question most viewers hope the show will explore, not "What would it look like if a very powerful man had to retire and scheme from the inside of a hunting lodge in South Carolina?"
No, just no. I cannot bear to see Frank Underwood have his "Hillary Clinton hiking in the woods on November 9th moment."
"The American people don't know what's best for them, but I do."
Underwood is, obviously, an icon of fascism. It's an odd sort of fascism because he's not an ideologue as much as he is a megalomaniac. Underwood doesn't really care about any particular philosophy of government, he's a chameleon who changes shades to blend in with whatever the sniveling children of the populus demand. But in terms of parallels to the contemporary American political scene, does this make Underwood an allusion to Trump?
Final answer: Eh... It's probably Frank.
Look, most of the show was probably written before the outcome of the election was determined, which means that Hillary was the presumed victor. It'd be a cool, albeit somewhat toxic, parallel to explore what it looks likes when a potentially corrupt, "career politician" like Hillary or Frank is in power. Or something like that. Now, what few hints remain of Trump in the show are probably forced comparisons or broad allusions to the dangers of fascism in general.
Like these signs... "Never Underwood"
So, does that mean the show is broken or that it's gonna be trash? No, probably not. The show moved last season into less-than-subtle Shondaland territory and I loved it for that. I hope they continue with the same sort of just-above-pulpy goodness this season. It just probably isn't going to teach us any good lessons about Trump and that's fine with me.