The Politician's Intro, Unpacked

The Politician is the Netlfix show no one can seem to stop talking about — and with good reason. The show perfectly encapsulates the drama involved in the internal and external lives of high-achieving teenagers, which is something I'm sure many of us can relate to. It's funny, poignant, captivating, and it has the angelic voice and exquisite acting of Ben Platt. What's not to like? From the second I saw (and heard) the opening sequence to this show, I was hooked. As my roommate and I binged the show over three days, I consistently guarded my laptop mouse to ensure she wouldn't hit the dreaded "skip intro" button. And neither should you — I managed to pinpoint what exactly is so special about the opening to this show: the impeccable attention to detail. Here's a closer look.

warning: contains minor spoilers for episodes 1 and 2. 

  1. 1. All Things Go

    The intro starts with the opening notes of Sufjan Stevens' "Chicago." As a long-time fan, I can tell you I screamed. My roommate thought I was crazy. The camera then pans over empty boxes, suggesting that, although we don't know it yet, Payton is an empty vessel to be filled. 

  2. 2. ...A Modern Major-General?

    Next, we see two of Payton's surely numerous medals: Debate Team and Model UN. Along with this are a number of military medals and decorations, suggesting that his adoptive father is a decorated veteran, although, given he collects books and has never had to work a day in his life, this seems unlikely. Maybe it's suggesting Payton's future military career, in order to make him a better candidate for the presidency? Lastly in this shot, there is a tarot card with Payton, instead of the usual figure. The card reads "La Vittima," or "The Martyr," also known in regular tarot as the Hanged Man. However, the number on the card— 21 — represents The World in tarot. The card is shown both reversed and upright, both of which have different meanings. More on that later, though.

  3. 3. The Thing With the Power to Kill You

    This is the shot that made me realize the incredible depth of research and detail that went into this sequence. On the left side is a wasp in a jar. This could mean that Payton has a deadly allergy, but it's more likely that it's a reference to another Sufjan Stevens song: "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!" One of his more famous songs, "Predatory Wasp" is a simple anecdote about a childhood best friend that Sufjan was in love with. Their relationship seems similar to that of River and Payton's in the show; one line in particular claims, "touching his back with my hand, I kiss him/I see a wasp on the length of my arm." The wasp is a metaphor, not only for the secrecy of their relationship but also for the death that befalls both love interests. "He was my best friend," Stevens sings, and this could be Payton Hobart himself.

    Less important in this shot is another glimpse of the tarot card. The diamonds and velvet represent Payton's wealth, and the will of his father is also shown, which becomes an important plot point later on. In the top right corner, pills of various types represent Infinity's character or possibly even Payton's own mental health problems.

  4. 4. Everybody's Got the Right

    Next there are buttons from various presidential elections of yore, like Reagan and Kennedy (including a Nixon button with a...risqué slogan), as well as presidential biographies of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and...Idiot's Guide to Clowning. Very subtle, Ryan Murphy. There are also three bullets, for three of the characters in the show. Not shown is an onion (a reference to Payton's inability to cry) and a Bible (maybe to denote that he's a good Christian boy?).

  5. 5. Shelfie

    More books! An English to Mandarin dictionary (Payton's struggles with Mandarin is what introduces him to River), Unmasking the Face (a book about reading emotions in others — sociopath, much?), Rules for Radicals (discussing power, tactics, and threats in progressive politics), The Emperor's Handbook (by Marcus Aurelius), 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Make Friends and Influence People (again with the sociopathy), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (mentioned in the first presidential debate of the show). There's also a box of matches from Laconia, New Hampshire, with the title "Landing Strip." Maybe this is a hint to the location of next season? I honestly couldn't figure this one out.

  6. 6. Honors Student

    Again, that pesky will. This shot also has Payton's report card, where every class is an "A" except for Mandarin II, in which he scored a "D-." Guess he really does need a tutor. With a schedule clearly tailored for a college application, Payton also has Abnormal Psychology V, Russian Literature, American Law, Intersectional Fluidity, Politicizing Beyonce, History of Modern Sexuality, and Religious Studies.

  7. 7. A Family Affair

    Next, we're shown models of Payton's family — his mother, father and two brothers — and the brothers are pulled away offscreen, a not-so-subtle allusion to the fact that his brothers are being shut out of the will. There's also a golden alligator. I gotta admit, I'm not quite sure what this has to do with the show, other than being just another example of the Hobarts' ridiculous wealth.

  8. 8. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and...

    This shot shows a blank check with Payton's name and a silver spoon (more wealth references). There's also a bouquet of oxalis, or false shamrocks. Not only do the purple leaves look like a flower fit for mourning, but they're also called "Love's Plant." Placed right next to a lacrosse sweatband (River's sport), it's a clear reference to — again — the relationship between River and Payton.

  9. 9. Hang the Whole World

    Let's go back to that tarot card. So, it seems that Payton is a combination of the Hanged Man and the World. Upright, the Hanged Man means sacrifice, letting go and metamorphosis, close to what Payton goes through at the end of the series. Reversed, however, it more closely resembles him throughout the majority of the show: egotistical, resistant to change, and unwilling to sacrifice. What about the World? Again, upright isn't achieved until the end: success and possibilities. Reversed, it means delayed success, stagnation, and failed plans...sounds a lot like Payton's campaign. This combination of cards is so specific that it had to have been deliberate — the theme artists created a tarot card just for this shot.

  10. 10. #nofilter

    In Payton's head is a label maker printing several relevant slogans: #whatmattersrightnow, #metoo, and #resist. The politics tell Payton what to say, and with this position, it's like they're whispering in his ear. The participation trophy, which is comedically the backside of a horse, is telling as to what Payton really thinks of himself: that no matter what he achieves, he'll always be behind. But of course, at the very top is the White House, because why would he ever take his eyes off the prize?

  11. 11. Heart of Glass (and Tar)

    Here we see what's near and dear to Payton's heart: Harvard acceptance. Next to his fake-looking heart surrounded by tar is a Harvard 2021 graduation badge. Knowing him, he probably planned on graduating in two years, hence the early date. 

  12. 12. All Things Grow

    Finally: the full statue. Or is it a coffin? It certainly looks like one when it closes. The outside of Payton is chiseled, sanded, tailored, painted and lacquered, until he resembles the "real" boy we know and love. 

This is hardly the first exemplary Netflix Original intro (Daredevil, Castlevania, Stranger Things, The Crown...) But The Politician's intro is quite possibly the one that pays the most attention to detail, and is the most rewarding for fans to watch again...and again...and again... (I've seen this 15 times at least). Now that we've all been emotionally wrecked not only by this show but by its intro, let's start counting down the days until Season 2 is released. 

All images courtesy of Netflix.