Ryan Murphy Serves Us a Cup of Ambition in His New Netflix Series “The Politician”

Set in Santa Barbara, CA, The Politician is producer Ryan Murphy's first series on Netflix; and it is an enthralling one at that. Payton Hobbart (played by Ben Platt), lives with a great ordeal of wealth to his name, much like the other students at St. Sebastian High. However, behind the expensive attire and costly lifestyle, is a selection of students running to become the next student body president. 

Since the age of seven, Hobbart has fantasized about becoming President of the United States. With the belief every presidency begins in high school, he joins the running for St. Sebastian’s next school president, alongside admirable high school heartthrob River (played by David Corenswet). 

Thanks to Hobbart’s trio of comrades and operative team, including his best friend James (played by Theo Germaine), the clever and cunning McAfee Westbrook (played by Laura Dreyfuss) and “first lady-to-be,” Hobbart’s high school sweetheart, Alice Charles (played by Julia Schlaepfer), Hobbart’s win seems to be underway. However, things change and become more difficult when River suddenly exits the campaign. River’s girlfriend, the prestigious and beautiful Astrid Sloan (played by Lucy Boynton), joins the running as Hobbart’s rival in an effort to take him down indefinitely.

The storyline, which begins smoothly and slowly, spirals into a tumultuous timeline of mistakes. Hobbart, an addict of success and advocate for perfection, recruits Infinity Jackson (played by Zoey Deutch), a financially poorer student with cancer, to run as his vice-president. Jackson is the town’s favourite, and Hobbart feels as though he might gain the lead in the election by having her as his VP. 

The Politician follows Payton’s journey towards both success and failure, navigating speed bumps along the way. If you're planning on watching the series, stop reading now! There are spoilers ahead.

The series, a binge-worthy satire, suffers a tantalizing view of modern-day politics. Murphy captures a dramatic take on the high school lifestyle and includes discussion on issues such as derogatory remarks, disloyal friendships, sexual fluidity, political apathy and relationship problems. The Politician carefully unpacks controversial topics with enough plot twists to shock viewers through all eight episodes. Murphy showcases characters with many flaws and insecurities, who need to work on personal development. Throughout the show, they each become glorified for their growth and dissected in different ways. 

In many circumstances, The Politician did not take the angle I expected. Murphy’s work has always proven brilliant but it wasn’t until this show I truly began to appreciate it. Murphy makes it clear that in The Politician, no one will stop until they get what they want. The Politician works hard to project massive instances of betrayal. As the episodes go on, you watch close friends turn on each other, going so far as to have to sign non-disclosure agreements. Yup, you and your own best friends, imagine that!

Have you ever heard of the term Munchhausen by proxy? By definition, it is when the caretaker of a child makes up fake symptoms to pretend the child is ill. Infinity and her grandmother Dusty (played by Sarah Paulson) have a relationship like this, which is primarily displayed near the end of the season when a groundbreaking revelation sends them both over the edge. 

Infinity's relationship with her grandmother is not the only complicated one in her life. Ricardo (played by Benjamin Barrett) is Infinity’s boyfriend. This high school dropout works extremely hard to prove his love for Infinity but ends up kidnapping Astrid. Are you lost yet? There’s a lot to miss with this over-the-top plot that keeps on thickening, so if I were you, I wouldn’t blink. You might miss something. 

Hobbart is the main character and protagonist of the show. In hopes of attending Harvard University, he tries to remain calm in all the chaos surrounding his peers. He realizes a little too late that everyone, even people closest to him, have dirty secrets. A point comes in the season where viewers might ask themselves if Hobbart has anything else to lose since he’s already lost so much. He doesn’t intend on giving up and that was a clear point made about his character from the very beginning. 

The character with the most growth throughout the season is Hobbart, in particular, through his relationship with his mother. Georgina Hobart (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) adopted Payton at a young age. Anything she wasn’t able to teach her two biological children, she tries to instill in Payton. The bond Payton and Georgina share is beautiful and unique, but it's put to the test when choices must be made - choices that may require them to sacrifice their lives for each other, as mother and son. 

As the 2019 Canadian federal election has just passed, the timeliness of this show is uncanny. Since the show is set in America, The Politician highlights pivotal American political moments, like the assassination of John. F. Kennedy. The wealthy lifestyles of the characters also focuses on their attachment to The Republican Party, based on morals and regulations these characters live by in their upper-class neighbourhoods. 

As the plot thickens, I found the political focus swayed from time to time. Some episodes include cliche election stereotypes, like the one candidate who might not have prepared as well for their speech, or the way an undecided voter could wholly and quickly change their mind in lieu of a democratic process. 

Murphy’s references to politicians remind us to keep our focus on what is going on in our own political sphere. Throughout the season, the same themes of ambition and success are in each episode, shown through the light of each character who will in turn, stop at absolutely nothing to reach their goals. This example of drive can be used as a tool of motivation for students today, or future leaders of our country. 

Many should aspire to be like Hobbart, or at least have his attitude. He demonstrates how anything is attainable if you work hard enough for it, like getting into Harvard on his own or pulling through in the election. This is a good message that Murphy should continue to elaborate on come season two. 

Yes, you read that right — a second season. Although to tell you the truth, I’m not sure what else the show is missing. The finale ends by setting up the stage perfectly for an upcoming season to follow, showing a time jump that leads away from St. Sebastian High and all its familiarity. Hobbart decides to jump back into politics during the season finale and clearly, the stakes have been raised. 

Murphy’s show is worth more than a topic of conversation. Politics are cutthroat and always have been, but more important than that, are used every day in more than just government-related scenarios. Take a high school or a university, for example. All the cliques form a hierarchy within the school system. As much as we might try and leave our political views behind most days of the year, they follow us wherever we go. 

All in all, Murphy’s brilliant series The Politician reminds us to keep aware of politics on all levels. If you haven’t watched this dramatic show yet, I strongly recommend you do. Who knows? You might just learn something from Hobbart after all.