“He’s Got Power, He’s Got A Lot to Lose, And He Is Winning.”
(WARNING: Spoilers for the first season of House of Cards follow.)
So reads the tagline from the second season of the Netflix series, House of Cards, which premiered last Friday on the popular online streaming service. Like many a political junkie, I have been once again swept up in the shady political dealings of power-hungry House Majority Whip (and now Vice-President) Frank Underwood.
What makes the show so addicting? In my opinion, the answer is not just the ingenious distribution scheme, where the entire season is released at once—encouraging a massive binge watch (last year, when the first season came out in a similar all-at-once fashion, one of the show’s producers told the New York Times, “Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day”). Nor is the answer simply the incredibly dangerous yet endearing character of Kevin Spacey’s Underwood. The answer lies in the fact that, in House of Cards, stuff actually happens. Say what you will about Frank Underwood, but the man gets results. He backstabs his friends, manipulates his subordinates, and he’s willing to throw his allies under the bus (those of you who have seen the second season can take that last statement as you will).
We live today in a political world that is wracked with indecision, filibusters, and delaying tactics. It can be, for lack of a better term, boring. But House of Cards flips the malaise of Washington D.C. on its head—the show is perpetually moving and vibrant, with a new plotline or controversy always on the horizon. In one memorable scene early in the second season, Vice-President Underwood takes over the Senate and has the Capitol Police literally drag handcuffed Republican senators back to the chamber to form a quorum, all so that he can pass an entitlement reform bill. While that might seem garish and tyrannical, the bill does get passed.
I’m certainly not endorsing Underwood’s nefarious schemes, which include outright murder. But perhaps Congress could use more pragmatic decision makers like Underwood to break the gridlock. It’s perhaps telling what Kevin McCarthy (R-TX), Underwood’s real life counterpart as House Majority Whip, had to say about the fictional Whip/VP, “He literally murders one member. If I could murder one member, I’d never have to worry about another vote.”