Netflix's House of Cards, Season 1: Becky Graebner's Guide
Can 'Evil' Sometimes Be Good?
In order to write these articles, and at the suggestion of my lovely editor, I have watched season one of House of Cards twice. Not only was watching it a second time still entertaining, but it’s always good to watch a show again. You pick up on things that you missed the first go because you were too busy trying to figure out the plot and the characters. I started pass #3 last Sunday night (not because I’m a nut job) but because I finally got a good friend of mine, another Washingtonian, to give it a try. We’ve gotten through two episodes so far. Let’s just say, HoC has gained yet another fan.
As we were watching, my buddy would inquire about Person X or Y: Is he good or bad? Is what Peter just said true? Is XYZ about to happen?! Obviously, as I have seen the show, I knew these answers and I tried not to give too much away. However, I did say that Frank got “a little shady” towards the end of the season. Even though by the end of episode two it is evident that Frank is manipulator and destroyer of lives AND after I gave full disclosure that my friend might not like Frank by the middle of the season, he still cheered for Frank when he cornered Michael Kern on CNN and when Linda Vasquez brought him in to her office to “fire him.”
It became evident that my friend was rooting for Frank — he even asked if Frank would turn out to be a good guy in this strange land of the evil, manipulation, and moral corruption. Although he probably will not turn out to be a good guy in the end, the audience will probably still enjoy it most when Kevin Spacey is on the screen — playing the role of the mad dog, Loki God of Chaos — and I think my friend will be part of that crowd. I started to think about what season two would be like...would Frank achieve his ultimate goal of becoming President of the United States? Then, it happened. A small thought moved out of the recesses of my mind and into my full awareness. I could no longer deny its existence.
My dangerous thought: Despite all of the “bad” things Frank Underwood had done, no matter how much you disliked him after some of his actions, Frank Underwood would be a good President.
There. I said it — and here’s why…
1. When He Pinky-Swears, He’s Serious.
Keeping promises is extremely important — it’s even more important when you’re the most powerful man on the planet. The country needs to believe in their leader — and know that he is serious about taking care of their needs (it’s how you get votes). Conversely, the bad guys need to know that what the President says isn’t just bluster.
Well, Frank definitely doesn’t bluster! Remember that hit-and-run with the neighbor’s dog in the opening scene? Frank vowed to have his bodyguard look into it. I’m sure the audience totally forgot about that incident as episode one went on (Frank’s vow of revenge, the setting of the plot, and the meeting all of the characters), but before episode one closed, the police arrived and arrest the culprit. Even though Frank is a high and mighty person on the Hill (he definitely considers himself to be high and mighty), he still made a point to have his staff follow up with the kid who killed his neighbor’s dog. Whenever Frank swears to bring someone down, he does. Case and point: Michael Kern, Peter Russo — or anyone else who lines up against him. Frank might be creepily dedicated to his promises; but that’s imperative when you’re president.
2. He’s Good at Real-Life Games of Chess.
Chess is a tough game for those who are short-term planners — if you can only plan out two or three moves, you’ll probably get beat. But, if you can work out possible combinations and anticipate your opponent’s movements down to when you can call “check mate,” you will be very, very good.
While promoting the country’s interests, sometimes the President is forced to deal with difficult characters -- other presidents, terrorists, lobbying-groups, competition in an election, etc. If the president is able to read his opponent and predict his movements, he will be about to out maneuver them, compensate, and, ultimately, succeed in meeting his goals.
I can tell you right now, Frank Underwood is probably an amazing chess player. He outsmarts everyone around him because he is several steps ahead. He can plan out his opponent’s movements and deliver quick blows when needed, or sit back and let them dig themselves a hole. Frank’s handling of Blythe was pure genius—and example of his long-term strategic planning. He knew Blythe would fall on the sword if he put him in just the right position—and he did. Then, at the urging of Blythe, Frank was already in the perfect position to take over and reap the glory—just like he had planned. Check mate, Blythe.
3. His Temperament -- If Not His Behavior -- Is the Perfect Mix of Good and Evil.
Leaders need to be firm, but not ruthless, and compassionate, but not a pushover. To gain respect, admiration, and loyalty, a leader must be realistic about the evil around him, yet faithful that there are forces for good. Leaders need to know when to be harsh and when to be merciful. Without a balance, a leader either becomes ineffective and indecisive or heavy-handed and extreme. The key is to be capable of cruelty — but not to use it. Leaders need to be Clark Kent; always capable of becoming Superman, but not always showing off the cape.
Frank is like a Sicilian Clark Kent. Although Frank does engage in some wicked activities (like murdering Peter Russo), he has the Sicilian “family business” priority of family loyalty. (I use, “family business” in the way the Corleone family would use it). Frank regards loyalty as an extremely important virtue — and demonstrates this by viewing promises as sacred and by respecting and taking care of those who deserve protection. Although Frank likes to think that he’s a lone wolf on his quest to the White House, he does care for his wife, his staffers, Freddy (his favorite BBQ owner), and his neighbors and their injured dog.
Yes, he is a bit of a watered down Michael Corleone; he can go out and ruin a Congressman’s life via blackmail and bribery, yet will come home and work out on his rowing machine — just to make his wife smile, but Frank has the gift of balance. He knows when to go hard and when to be gentle. He would be formidable to any foes during a national crisis. Can you imagine Frank Underwood during the most recent North Korea “crisis” -- oh man.
4. Bushels of Charisma.
Making a nation fall in love with you (so that they’ll vote for you) is tough business. It requires a lot of smiling, laughing, and pretending you’re always at ease — no matter how awkward you feel. A successful candidate needs to be like the 98 Degrees song and say “all the right things at exactly the right time,” and ALWAYS look super cool. Charisma and the cool factor can buy an election: Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960 and McCain vs. Obama in 2008 are examples.
Frank has a southern drawl and he just reminds you of your favorite uncle who spoils you with those gifts mom and dad refused to buy you. His good acting and charm can win over anyone. Frank would slaughter any opponent in a Presidential debate. I can already see the memes that debate would generate…
Frank Underwood for President.
NEXT: A Cast of Master Obfuscators