Late-night comics have been going after Donald Trump since he was merely billionaire Donald Trump, and not yet President Trump. But a parody on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show" captured the weirdness of Trump's tumultuous first month in office by invoking the name of a historic movie villain: Keyser Söze.
The 1995 movie's antagonist is a shadowy crime kingpin who subtly pulls the strings of the criminal underworld. Every criminal knows Keyser Söze, and fears him, even though no one has met him and he may not, technically, exist.
The movie rocketed Kevin Spacey to an Academy Award, and in the last two decades, “Keyser Söze” has taken on a pop culture life of his own, a personification of the powerful (and possibly entirely made-up) ghosts that control our world.
Three months before the 9/11 attacks, Time magazine called Osama bin Laden a “geopolitical Keyser Söze … whose very name invokes perils.” Keyser Söze has his own Wikipedia entry and Urban Dictionary definition. He's become an occasionally NSFW verb. The comedy duo Key & Peele spoofed the famous movie scene where Keyser Söze's true identity is revealed.
As Colbert's parody clip starts, an investigator demands information.
“Yes, I do know something,” Colbert responds. “And I'm telling you everything. You're just not listening. I've been telling you for like a year. There's something weird going on between Trump and the Russians.”
The answers, he says, are on the crowded bulletin board.
As the investigator turns his head, the scene shifts to a revelatory montage, voiced by Donald Trump sound bites.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability,” Trump says in the voice-over.
“I think Putin's been a very strong leader for Russia,” Trump says.
The camera zooms in on a clipping of a New York Times story about Trump campaign aides' contacts with Russian intelligence.
This alleged interference has sparked investigations by the U.S. House and Senate, after Michael Flynn resigned as Trump's national security adviser. The White House said Flynn had “broken trust” by not telling the truth about the talks.
And everyone's attention has obviously turned to the top of the ticket: What did Trump know and when did he know it?
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan and Karoun Demirjian that “Russia's the elephant in the room.”
Trump and Putin have been swapping praise for more than a year — even when Trump was confronted about some of the Keyser Söze-esque allegations against the Russian president.
As The Washington Post's Jenna Johnson wrote in 2015, Trump maintained that Russia could be a powerful partner for the United States.
“You know, he feels good about me, Trump said at a rally in Cedar Rapids, according to Johnson. “I feel, frankly, good about him. I think that we can do things with Russia that are to our advantage.… It's a mutual advantage.”
A few days after making that comment, Trump defended Putin to Joe Scarborough, who had called the Russian president “a person who kills journalists, political opponents.”
Trump responded: “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.”
In Colbert's parody, just like in the movie, all the clues click in the end. Overwhelmed by the revelation, the investigator drops his mug, spilling coffee.
On the bottom of the shattered pieces: Trump/Putin 2016.