What if 'House of Cards' weren't about Trump, but the Clintons?


The trailer for season five of House of Cards.

OPINION: Yes, things have been even creepier than usual in the Underwood White House this spring.

(Warning: This discusses some plot points from the new season of Netflix's House of Cards.)

Mostly because the show, whose May 30 return was announced in an ominous Inauguration Day post on Twitter, doesn't seem as outlandish as it once did.

It's not only that the real-world White House seems more than usual like something dreamed up for television - "(President) Trump has stolen all of our ideas for Season 6," star and executive producer Robin Wright complained/joked before this season premiered - it's the chemical weapons attack in Syria that calls for a response from the Underwood administration, the tying of foreign money (Chinese, not Russian) to the influencing of a US election, and that amid talk of impeachment, Nathan Green (Jeremy Holm), deputy director of the FBI, is called to testify before Congress about intelligence that might have swayed the vote.

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"It's unthinkable to assume the FBI would involve itself in an election," he tells lawmakers in the tone of a faintly outraged Boy Scout.

Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey are political animals, Claire and Frank Underwood, in House of Cards.

Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey are political animals, Claire and Frank Underwood, in House of Cards.

I'm not the only viewer to notice.

What's happening this season in House of Cards is what the path to autocracy might look like. It is not normal.

But I don't think it's just about Trump. Because seen through the prism of a different presidency, it would still be disturbing.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in House of Cards season 4.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in House of Cards season 4.

As I've said before, television, and House of Cards in particular, has never seemed totally supportive of the idea of a first lady reaching for power of her own, a situation for which we so far have only one real-life example. Even Eleanor Roosevelt never ran for president.

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And this season, perhaps more than ever, the Underwoods are the people whom some of Bill and Hillary Clinton's worst enemies (and many conspiracy theorists) believe them to be: a couple with a decidedly kinky open marriage who will stop at nothing, even murder, to achieve their goals.

In the end - remember that spoiler alert! - Frank and Claire are also where some of Hillary's most ardent supporters might have dreamed of seeing the Clintons: living separately, with the former president seemingly sidelined by his now more powerful wife.


House of Card's theory of the presidency is that things get done when people with strong personalities manipulate people with weaker personalities.

Had Clinton, not Trump, taken office on January 20, we might be ticking off the parallels between this season - which was plotted, and largely completed, before Trump's election upset - and a Clinton administration. A Republican-controlled Congress wasn't, for instance, likely to lose interest in investigating her.

Vladimir Putin - or as he's known on House of Cards, Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) - would still be in the picture.

Claire, notes Vanity Fair, is even dressing a little more like Hillary this season, wearing pants more often than in the past.

House of Cards is, of course, a TV drama, not a documentary.

The Underwoods are, thank goodness, not real people. The people who put words in their mouths - this season, that's been a team led by new showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese - may be savvy about Washington, DC, but probably aren't psychic.

DC-based shows, including Scandal, with its own former first-lady candidate drama; Designated Survivor, which literally blew up Congress; and even HBO's satirical Veep, now compete with a 24/7 show headlined by a former "reality" TV star who doesn't always fact-check his tweets.

It can't be easy.

But even if politicians can't always tell the difference between fact and fiction, we should be able to.

So enjoy House of Cards responsibly, but please don't mistake it for news.


 - MCT


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