The power of news is exposed in House of Cards. The polarizing schemer of Washington, played by Kevin Spacey, uses the news (and its conduit, Rachel) to achieve his political goals. Smear campaigns, sound bites (“disorganized labour”) and sob stories help misinform and mislead the public. Whether the news is used respectfully, as in the Newsroom, or villainously, by Washington, it is decidedly powerful.
The poor pawns at the Herald spend the entire season at Underwood’s command; but their closeness to the lies is what gives them power. In the finale, Underwood celebrates a victory to be undone by the revelations of vultures-turned-heroes.
Underwood is a tragic hero with periodic soliloquies who is unfairly schemed against and seeks retribution by playing god. He controls, manipulates and kills yet the audience feels not anger, just empathy. Further, he is a guilty pleasure. His actions require the audience to question their own fallibilities and their own value systems. Underwood is the alpha male that is respected in private and scrutinized in public.
The first season turned Democratic Whip to Vice President. The second made him President. His stratospheric rise rode on skulls and bones. Frank's pleasures seem to often derive from Schadenfreude. One exception is his all-american love for ribs from a dilapidated hole-in-the-wall. Aside from relief from scrutiny, the bbq joint allows Frank to relinquish power. Freddy proclaims himself as "president, vice-president and the congress" in his restaurant. Similarly, Xander Feng, the successful Chinese businessman, opens an episode with some 50-shades with roles reversed. The show successfully shows power, both as a motivator, and as a burden.
Frank's wife turns out to be a complicated character herself (maybe more complicated). She twists and turns, with unclear motives, has power (she overturns her own bill in rebellion against her husband) and is powerless (she is sued by her ideological opposite). She marries her husband for excitement, not happiness.
As with any Shakespearean tragedy, the third act will feature turning action. Frank, now president, will soon reach his peak. (As a comparison, Macbeth was crowned at the end of Act II, and begins his epic downfall in Act III.) Lady Underwood has, until now, egged his husband on. Perhaps she will even start feeling remorse. Watch the trailer and you will see her going down the route of Lady Macbeth. It is unclear how viewers will receive this. Much of the show is built on our restrained support for Frank. His downfall will be met with sadness, even when he deserves it.
The 3rd season of House of Cards appears on Netflix tomorrow.