David Zurawik

5 ways art imitates Trump in 'House of Cards' Season 5

Season 5 of "House of Cards" is steeped in the zeitgeist of Donald Trump's America. It tries to ride the current mood and concerns of the nation harder than the series did with any of the social realities of previous seasons.

In my season preview, I tried to show the ways in which that is a good and bad thing for the series. Bottom line, I fear the reality of Trump in the White House might be the end of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).


Here's a snapshot of five ways Season 5 drinks at the well of the political climate of today.

(I am not going to describe the full scenario of each or name certain names, because I don't want to ruin anyone's viewing pleasure. I try to avoid spoilers in all the pieces I write about a show like this. But if you are supersensitive to spoilers, stop now and come back later after you've seen the full series that arrived at 3:01 a.m. ET today.)


1. The trouble with facts.

In episode 12, Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) is telling an FBI official what the administration wants him to say at a congressional hearing about a terrorist attack.

"That's perjury," the official says.

"Perjury, huh? That's where you draw the line?" Stamper says, adding that what he's telling him to say is a fact.

"Fact? Really? Is that was it is?" the agent says sarcastically.

"If it sounds like a fact, then it is a fact," Stamper says commandingly.

At least, he didn't tell him it was an "alternative" fact.

2. There are leaks, and then there are leaks.


Trump's administration was drowning in a sea of leaks before it was even sworn in. Now, as the administration is getting pounded by revelation after revelation, like presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner's alleged attempts to set up a "back channel" of communications with the Russians, the White House says it is the leaks – not the allegations – that should be investigated.

The Underwood administration also appears to be reeling from leaks.

That conversation between Stamper and the FBI official ends with Stamper telling the FBI official that the president thinks the FBI official is the leak. It is an attempt to frighten the agent into compliance.

"I wish," the FBI official replies in a tone just as menacing as Stamper's.

The leak investigation ends with a surprising twist.

3. Syria's a problem for this White House, too.


The president is told in episode 13 that the Syrian government has used surface to surface missiles armed with sarin to gas its own people.

The Underwood administration hesitates to respond. An image from Reuters of a Syrian woman holding a dead child in her arms and looking in anguish at the heavens is handed to the president by an aide.

"Be strong," the president is urged in a key moment of episode 13. "Go to war."

We didn't go to war. But the U.S. did fire Tomahawk missiles at a selected military target in Syria in response to the most recent use of chemical warfare on civilians.

4. MSNBC is also on the case in "House of Cards."

"Underwood Under Fire" is the banner headline on MSNBC early in episode 11.


And just as it is the "real" world of cable TV, there's Rachel Maddow a few moments later hammering away on the president.

There are lots of TV news personalities included in Season 5 from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough to Bret Baier of Fox News.

5. Another back channel to Russia?

A shady figure, Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson), finds her way into the Underwood administration from what seems like out of nowhere, and suddenly it looks as if she has exactly the kind of back channel to Russia that Kushner is alleged to have been trying to establish for Team Trump.

Kind of head-spinning, no?