Since it debuted in 2016, The Donald Trump Show — the televised meta-commentary from hell we’ve all been living in — has been through many reinventions. Its first season was a tautly plotted election thriller that managed to make the impossible seem possible; its middling stretches were a darkly comic take on The West Wing. It even proved later on that it could continue without its main character, introducing a new president, Joe Biden, who ushered in elements of slapstick humor and cringe comedy.
Now, with last night’s episode, The Donald Trump Show has veered into Kiefer Sutherland territory.
The testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson before Congress was one of the program’s most dramatic moments yet. Just when you thought Trump had finally been written out of the script, there he was again, chewing the scenery and possibly drenching it in ketchup. The writers, via Hutchinson, introduced a side of Trump that we’d never seen before, not just chaotic but violent and even dangerous. Per Hutchinson, Trump once slung his lunch at the wall in a fit of rage and tried to choke his own Secret Service agent.
Or did he? This is the great thing about The Donald Trump Show going all the way back to the James Comey arc: it never lets you get too comfortable. No sooner had Hutchinson testified than — plot twist! — a source told reporters that the Secret Service had denied the allegations. The writers have thus put two very different and sympathetic characters on a collision course: the twenty-five-year-old civil servant and the head of the former president’s security detail. One of them has to be lying…or both? With plotting this devilish, who can be sure?
The show is now clearly channeling 24, Fox’s hit political action thriller from the aughts, where the government is constantly in chaos and everyone walks around whispering tensely at each other. Yet there is a key difference. On 24, the 25th Amendment is constantly being invoked. Possibly no president on that show has ever been elected; they just appear, get ousted by the 25th Amendment, and then plot revenge. Yet despite the behind-the-scenes mayhem revealed by Hutchinson, mayhem that was known to top White House officials, the 25th was never used against Trump.
Why? It’s a plot hole the writers will have to fill going forward. That could see them delve deeper into the lives and loyalties of some of the old gang: Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pence. And let’s be honest: it’s about time. Biden was an interesting character at first, but around the fifty-seventh time he fell down the White House stairs it began to feel too on-the-nose. Guys, we get it: he’s old. The show also seemed at risk of pulling a Lost, introducing so many disparate plot threads it could never tie them all together. Inflation! Mass shootings! Abortion! How much can one country take? This portrait of an America coming apart can be riveting but it demands a level of attention that some viewers just don’t have.
So what a relief to see the show find its focus again, and on the very characters who made us watch in the first place. The next narrative arc is already clear: an attempted indictment of its deeply polarizing former president, with Hutchinson’s testimony used as proof of intent and the January 6 Committee living up to all those Captain Ahab allusions the writers keep drawing. Throw that into an already unsettled atmosphere and who knows what will happen? A spinoff in the apocalypse survival genre? The America of the The Donald Trump Show is mesmerizing to watch; the only problem is we also have to live in it.