“The road to power is paved with hypocrisy and casualties. Never regret.”Frank Underwood – House of Cards
Every protagonist needs a simple yet solid purpose, something that can express identity and justify action. House of Cards‘s protagonist 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). The show 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.
A groundbraking show
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’ impact was so massive – inside and outside of the U.S. – that someone created a fake presidential website for the 2016 elections. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin asked his officials to watch it to better understand the American use of soft power. In addition to that, millions of viewers who didn’t have any access to Netflix managed to watch it from China through pirated torrents.
Politics as a performance
Unlike other similar shows like West Wing or Scandal, House of Cards was pivotal in underlining both recent and very old correspondence: politics, just like the 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. Finally, the obsession with aesthetics (important deals often happen 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 the last season without him, which came out as a sudden and cobbled-together conclusion. However, this wasn’t enough to invalidate the awareness audiences had gained: politics is more and more a matter of entertainment, instead of facts.