You’re probably halfway through season 4 of House of Cards and are wondering to yourself, “Why on earth do I love Frank Underwood so much?” Hey, we’ve all been there, cheering quietly to ourselves as he and Claire single-handedly obliterate anyone who stands in their way from the Oval Office. I’ve been thinking, what makes us love Frank so much, because, come on, we really should hate him.
House of Cards finds its success where political shows of the past have not. Hollywood’s D.C. has always been an idealized one; what would the West Wing be without its heroically redeeming third act? There has always been this notion that no matter how dark things may get, the good guys will always come out on top. This idea has certainly been successful, attempts to capitalize on American politics have produced some of the greatest T.V. and films in history, but there was always something missing.
The advent of T.V. was characterized by Americans’ desire to escape, to find a distraction from the perils of life. Hence, the birth of shows which epitomized the idyllic fantasies of the 1950’s American dream: classics like I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver. This desire would shape the entertainment industry for the rest of the 19th century, not until the late 2000’s would programs begin to shift their focus from idealism to realism.
Creator and showrunner Beau Willimon hasn’t shied away from the gritty, cutthroat, dirty reality of American Politics. In fact, focusing on this has allowed for one of the most complex characters ever written. With Frank Underwood, we see a side of politicians we don’t want to believe exists. Scandal, bribery, murder, violence, manipulation. Politics in the modern era has brought to light just how corrupt government can be, and with the Presidential election looming in the distance, House of Cards capitalizes on a hyper-involved, young audience. With Netflix backing production, Willimon can take risks that would be virtually impossible with major cable networks.
We love Francis because he is refreshingly blunt, he doesn’t hide his darkness from us, in fact; he embraces it. Breaking the 4th wall, giving snide sidebars, and weird bits of southern wisdom. This is key, not the evil inside of him, but how unapologetically unashamed of it he is, almost bragging to us. He makes the dark parts of human nature appealing, and we are forced to ask ourselves, “Wait, how do I like this guy?” His path to total domination is enthralling, scheming and manipulating his way to the top, even willing to kill.
Frank Underwood is quickly becoming a cinematic legend because he relates to something deep within ourselves, something we don’t usually contemplate. House of Cards forces its viewers to be an active participant in the Underwood’s journey, the moral questions posed are not simply for the characters but the audience as well.
Where others polarize, Frank captivates. Forcing us to accept the dark side of human nature is a risk most writers choose not to take. When Willimon pairs this with him talking directly to us in that smooth, southern draw, oh my, aren’t we in trouble.
The first four seasons of the Netflix original series House Of Cards are currently on Netflix