Perhaps because of Donald Trump’s years in Hollywood, Beau Willimon anticipated his presidency with Netflix’s House of Cards (2013-2018).
He shares so many traits with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Hale Underwood (Robin Wright), it’s barely even hyperbolic anymore.
Or maybe it takes a specific cluster of narcissistic, antisocial personalities to chase power over others.
Either way, it makes for good TV.
If you don’t know what to watch next, House of Cards is available on Amazon Prime. The political thriller is a remake of BBC’s House of Cards (1990), which, in turn, is an adaptation of the 1989 Michael Dobbs novel of the same name.
It is the first original online-only web television series to be nominated for major Primetime Emmy Awards.
Set in Washington, D.C., President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill) and White House Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) renege on a promise to appoint Democratic Congressman and House Majority Whip Frank Underwood of South Carolina to Secretary of State.
Together with his equally power-hungry wife, Claire, and right-hand henchman, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), an incensed Frank blackmails Democratic Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) of Pennsylvania and seduces ambitious young reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara).
Through manipulation, betrayal, and murder, Frank and Claire climb all the way up to the White House.
Frank and Claire Underwood are two of the greatest antiheroes in the Golden Age of TV, and the way they hijack our democracy predicts what the current administration is up to today.
The inevitable parallels can be drawn between the Underwoods and Bill and Hillary Clinton, what with Frank’s Southern Democratic charm and Claire’s haircut.
But this only underscores the brokenness not of a political party, but an entire system where public figures like Donald Trump and Frank Underwood can scheme their way to the top, not because it’s what the American people want, but because it’s what they want.
What begins as a deceptively dry (though realistically written) dispute over an education bill slow-burns its way into the Underwood political machine threatening a proxy nuclear war against Russia in the Middle East.
The metamorphosis from the world in House of Cards to our own world is a psychological rollercoaster ride.
And Frank may be the star, but it’s Claire who steals the show. Lady Macbeth reborn, Claire’s aloof, Hitchcock blonde persona is her own proverbial house of cards behind which slithers a reptile even more apocalyptically cold-blooded than her husband.
She is a femme fatale, a conqueror, a usurper who waits for her husband to lose the games men play so she can inherit the oligarchy to which Frank auctioned off America to the highest bidder.
Except for this thematic turn of events is purely accidental. The accusations to come to light against Spacey as part of the #MeToo movement, (some of which were made by crewmembers on the House of Cards set), forced Willimon to write Frank out between the fifth and sixth seasons.
The penultimate cliffhanger, therefore, amounts to nothing, and the unplanned loss of the series lead could be alienating to some – the finale feels like something out of another show altogether.
But they call it “movie magic” for a reason, because Spacey’s firing was divine intervention. It was the best thing to happen to this series, since it casts Spacey as a Hitchcockian false protagonist for Claire.
If an antihero has to get his comeuppance for his character arc to be ethically written, then Frank deserves to know his story was Claire’s story all along.