Why Everyone Loves “House of Cards”

By Kevin Lair

Senior Elm Writer


On Friday, Feb. 27, Netflix released the entire third season of “House of Cards.” Like many, I dedicated a great deal of my post-senior thesis time binging on these 13 episodes. So the question is, why are we all so obsessed with “House of Cards?” Is it lead actor Kevin Spacey’s witty, dark portrayal of American politician Frank Underwood? Or is it the leading female characters like Claire Underwood who transcend gender barriers and stereotypes? Perhaps we love it simply because it shows the dark, calculated side of politics? Whatever aspect of the show entices you, one fact is clear, we simply cannot get enough of Frank and Claire Underwood.

Set in present-day Washington, D.C., the show follows the powerful Underwood couple. Frank is a Democratic congressman from South Carolina and the House Majority Whip who is hell-bent on higher public office after the president he helped to elect breaks his promise of making Frank the next Secretary of State. By Frank’s side is his equally calculating wife Claire, who employs her own taste of manipulation in her quest for dominance and power. Together, the Underwoods strike fear into the hearts of many and go to any length to retaliate against those who get in their way.

As a political junkie, I was initially intrigued by the show simply because it encompassed all things politics. My favorite show of all time is “The West Wing,” another political drama which ran from 1999 to 2006. That show focused on the staff of the White House’s West Wing  and the issues they faced. “The West Wing” entices you with its top-notch acting, compelling storylines, fast-paced conversations, and idealistic view of politics.

“House of Cards” protagonist Frank Underwood is known for breaking the fourth wall.
“House of Cards” protagonist Frank Underwood is known for breaking the fourth wall.

While equally fulfilling of my political drama interests, “House of Cards” has a much darker, pessimistic view of politics. The more I watched it, the more I liked the show for its humor, deceit, and characters’ ruthless quest for power. The show amplifies our deepest, morose imaginations of what politicians do behind the scenes. Rather than hide behind political correctness and composure, we find a sick sense of comfort in Frank’s directness and unitary actions. Adding to the show’s awesomeness, Frank often “breaks the fourth wall” by talking directly to the audience, providing sarcasm, witty charm, and comedic relief throughout the show.

Without spoiling too much for new or returning watchers, this season sees now-President Frank Underwood combating issues on various fronts. Seeking Israeli-Palestinian peace in the Middle East, the Underwoods try to bring members of the United Nations to the negotiating table, including a defiant Russia. Meanwhile, Frank tries to implement his $500 billion “America Works” jobs program despite opposition from both sides of the aisle. Although he publically refuses to seek re-election, Frank faces political opposition in his behind-the-scenes 2016 run for president. All the while, he fully employs vetoes and executive actions, much like another current political figure we all know.

Throughout the show, we as the audience battle with our own demons. Part of us hopes that Frank and Claire will always find a way to screw over their next enemy while the moralistic part inside us yearns for their eventual downfall. Still I am certain that their hubris will lead to a spectacular downfall one day, mirroring the ambition and arrogance that led to the downfall of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and rightfully so.

At the end of the day, there will always be a special place in my heart for “The West Wing,” but “House of Cards” more than aptly provides my political fix, even if it does turn my optimistic view of politics upside-down.

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