“The road to power is paved with hypocrisy and casualties. Never regret.”
Every protagonist needs a simple yet solid purpose, something that can express identity and justify action. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is a majority House whip who seeks revenge against those who betrayed him with the help of his wife Claire (Robin Wright). House of Cards has become one of the biggest Netflix original hits of the last decade, and this deeply human motive stands as the core of a very dark portrait about America and its cynical, ruthless world of politics.
After a BBC adaptation of the novel written in 1989 by Michael Dobbs (former advisor and Chief of Staff under Margaret Thatcher), Netflix optioned an American version of the story with Beau Willimon (The Ides of March) as the creator and David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network and Mindhunter) as the director. The first four seasons of the show were so impactful – inside and outside of the U.S. – that a fake presidential website was created for the 2016 elections, Putin made his officials watch to better understand the American use of soft power, and millions of viewers managed to watch from China through pirated torrents, since Netflix wasn’t available at that time.
Unlike other similar shows like West Wing or Scandal, House of Cards was pivotal in underlining a both recent and very old correspondence: politics, just like theatre, is all about performance. The decision to break the fourth wall through the use of soliloquy (also seen in Fleabag) blends reality with pure spectacle, often linking Frank’s trajectory with that of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Richard III, and the obsession with aesthetics (important deals are often made in front of artworks) serves as a refined pedestal supporting the human – yet unsettling- statues that are the characters.
After the allegations against Kevin Spacey, Netflix produced a last season without him, which came out as a sudden and cobbled-together conclusion, but wasn’t enough to invalidate the awareness audiences had gained: politics is more and more a matter of entertainment, instead of facts.