Oliver Pierce is a Republican president who, over the course of his two terms, has managed to appeal to the moderates in both parties (and also get really unpopular with the hardliners on both sides). On election night he is shocked to see that while the popular vote is won by the Democrat, the electoral college vote goes to the Republican candidate Charles Dunwalke. A hardliner with little political experience and even less willingness to compromise. Pierce is convinced that Dunwalke would not only be a bad president, he’d be a disaster for the US and the rest of the world. So he makes the decision to do everything in his power to stop Dunwalke from becoming president. No matter at what cost for him…or the people he involves in his schemes.
Yes, I admit, my first question when I heard about this podcast was “Do we really need a story like this now?” Currently, most people’s thought before checking the news are probably ‘What has he done now?’ rather than ‘What has happened?’ and satirical shows are beginning to look like this:
So do we need a story about a thinly disguised version of him?
We don’t. But then Terms isn’t really a story about Charles Dunwalke. Sure, he appears in the podcast (where he is so much more eloquent than his real life counterpart that it’s chilling) but remains in the background. The focus is on Pierce, his VP and a variety of other characters. And on a quite old question: How far are you willing to go to stop the bad guy(s)? How far is it acceptable to go? You might agree that Dunwalke, or people like him, should not be let in the White House ever. But you also can’t deny that Pierce’s plan starts off as somewhat immoral and then develops into the only reason this isn’t actually illegal is that nobody thought that a president would abuse various loopholes in that way (and the obligatory end-of-season cliffhanger raises the question if we’re still in the not technically illegal territory). It doesn’t attempt to play the ‘Well how would you like it if the other side would do that?’-card (which wouldn’t work anyway) but there are characters that object to both Dunwalke and Pierce’s plans and they get some good arguments and the time to voice them.
The creators of the podcast said that it’s a story about the government and not about politics. It’s definitely not a story about party-politics. Dunwalke is the only one with an obvious real-life counterpart. The rest doesn’t have enough similarities with real people to say that the writers took some inspiration from anybody. There is very little talk about actual policies. You can guess that Pierce must be moderate because there is talk about how he also liked by many democrats. But apart from ‘this man is dangerous’ he voices no political opinion. At least for me that makes it removed enough from reality that I can get lost in the story. While learning a lot about the weirdness of the way the US constitution/government works. (Not that my German horse is that high here…)
The story is not without flaws. In the first half, the recurring female characters are the wives of the president and the VP. And a newspaper editor gets to send out a male reporter who then learns all the interesting things. They aren’t just decorations. Their actions influence the plot but the major things are all done by men. (Lots of men. Men who -at least to my ESL ears – speak with more or less the same GA-accent which makes it quite hard to tell them apart on occasions). It does get slightly better in the second half and there is a good chance that it will change even more in the next season but even then it will probably still revolve mostly around men. (To be fair to the podcast: they aren’t exactly rewriting reality here). I’m still looking forward to listening to it.