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On Election Day, House of Cards was filming the third-to-last episode of its fifth season, which dropped in full on Netflix Tuesday. Without spoiling a key plotline that unravels at the end of the season, it’s safe to say the scene involved a vital conversation between the Underwoods and Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and was filmed in the House of Cards White House.
“There’s definitely something bizarre about spending all day on those sets that are so accurate,” co-showrunner Melissa James Gibson told The Hollywood Reporter of being on set Nov. 8, 2016. “Anyone who has spent time in the White House is blown away by how perfect the sets are and what a perfect representation they are. It was weird and intense, no question.” Her partner Frank Pugliese added that when they wrapped filming that day, they all expected Hillary Clinton to win.
Around 8 p.m. ET came the signs that the 2016 presidential election was not going as Democrats had hoped. At 8:36 p.m., the official Twitter account for House of Cards sent a simple yet scary GIF: Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) looked worried. “I hate being kept in the dark. Waiting. Speculating. Useless. #ElectionNight,” was the prior tweet.
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) November 9, 2016
That’s when the House of Cards Twitter account shifted, setting Frank’s omniscient eye on Donald Trump.
Netflix’s social media strategy for House of Cards has long merged with real-life politics. When the third season accidentally posted early to Netflix, the series tweeted, “This is Washington. There’s always a leak.” The streamer dropped a faux-campaign ad for Underwood to promote its fourth season during the commercial break of a CNN GOP presidential debate in 2015. The ad also launched his 2016 campaign site — appropriately hashtagged #FU2016.
After launching Frank’s campaign, the character, a Democrat, would go on to take the Oval only to subsequently embark on the election fight of his life in the fourth season, which ended with wife Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) becoming his running mate as he took on Republican rival Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman). That season premiered in March 2016, paralleling Trump’s rising star in the real 2016 campaign as then-frontrunner for the Republican party, as well as Clinton’s quest for the presidency — an easy comparison to Claire’s desire to break the political glass ceiling.
Many other political dramas on broadcast TV reacted to the events of Nov. 8 since their schedules allowed — ABC’s Quantico gave the show a reboot midseason to rip from the headlines, Shonda Rhimes‘ Scandal scrapped its most recent season’s ending due to Trump and The Good Fight also famously scrapped the premiere’s original opening to instead kick off with Trump’s inauguration.
The fifth season of House of Cards, however, was written long before Trump and was conceived even earlier, as the plot was set up in the fourth season. “We’re just responding to the moment we live in and trying to look at what could have happened or might happen or might be happening,” Pugliese told THR. “So we just examined it a little closer than someone else might, because they don’t have to, and came up with some of these storylines.” James Gibson added, “It’s stuff that it’s in the air.”
Spacey said, “We never really worry about keeping it topical and current. … One of the most important aspects for me is to just not go where people think we’re going. To continually have the show go down different paths and open up different doors and not end up being predictable.”
But that doesn’t mean House of Cards had any issue with using the current state of affairs to its benefit when it comes to promoting the show. Unlike HBO’s Veep, which doesn’t identify which party Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) belongs to, the Underwoods are indeed Democrats. As current events caught up to the alternate-reality controlled by the Underwoods after season four, House of Cards began to ramp up its social media footprint.
“We don’t want any rumors, only facts,” the series tweeted in early March of 2016. When mentioned by Marco Rubio on the campaign trail, the show “refused” to comment. During the Miami GOP debate, when Trump defended his claim that “Islam hates us,” House of Cards asked, “What would Frank do?” A day later, after the hostile showing between Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the Netflix account wrote, “Let’s not debate what we can’t change.” More tweets filtered through during the ensuing primaries and Super Tuesdays. When the fourth season saw a brokered convention amid speculation that the real Republican party could face its first contested convention since 1952 later that summer, House of Cards was there with a comment.
When Jeb Bush endorsed Ted Cruz, instead of Trump, in the GOP race:
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) March 23, 2016
The account made its feelings towards Trump quite clear shortly after:
You know how I feel about children. https://t.co/A7gjPNCU2j
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) March 30, 2016
When the divisive Republican contest reached a fever pitch:
Politics is no longer just theater. It’s show business. https://t.co/QQ6laxmPBU
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) April 25, 2016
After Ted Cruz, and John Kasich dropped their bids and Trump was again rising, a line Frank had said to Conway was now meant for Trump: “He aches for the spotlight. He feels almost invisible without it.” With Trump as the presumptive party nominee, House of Cards tweeted, “I don’t know how we survive this story.”
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) May 12, 2016
By June, “Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.” (Frank also claimed responsibility for Brexit.) House of Cards reacted to the Trump-Mike Pence campaign logo. By July, “Politics is no longer just theater, it’s show business.”
When Russia was first blamed for the DNC hacking of emails, a GIF of Frank eyeing House of Cards‘ Russian president Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) said it all. When Cruz announced he would vote for Trump, there were the stunned reactions of Frank and Doug. During the first presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, the show encouraged its followers to vote their conscience. As the ensuring debates got nastier, Frank got pricklier. Election Day brought with it more encouragement to vote, using Frank and Claire’s fourth-wall break in the finale:
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) November 8, 2016
The series then took a few months off before coming back with a vengeance after Trump’s inauguration.
In March, House of Cards thanked White House press secretary Sean Spicer for his devotion when he wore his American flag pin upside-down — the series’ logo — to a press briefing.
A poignant teaser for the fifth season came early May: “The American people don’t know what’s best for them … I do.” Then, after months of self-promoted Facebook addresses from Trump, there was a White House address from Claire (a moment taken from the fifth season premiere) — which the series also promoted ahead of time on its account. It’s message: “It’s terrifying, isn’t it?”
Two weeks out of their election, the campaign message rang of “fake news” propaganda. “There’s a lot of noise out there these days,” she says. “A noisy press that’s choosing to dwell in the past instead of what’s happening right now.”
I’ve been meaning to talk with you… pic.twitter.com/XN14zVvNAV
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) May 16, 2017
Within hours of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, House of Cards had its own take:
When you’re fresh meat, kill and throw them something fresher. pic.twitter.com/jp4NYsZ0Fv
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) May 9, 2017
Trump has yet to tweet about the series.
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