When real world politics are scarier than iction
Trump’s reign renders House of Cards irrelevant
Spoiler alert: Story has details of previous seasons
Frank Underwood is a killer.
We know this because the fictional president once shoved a reporter in front of a subway car. Finely and indulgently played by Kevin Spacey, Underwood is mercurial, cunning and the most dangerous man on television.
Yet current events have conspired to make the infamous fake president seem reductive and, improbably, smaller than life.
House of Cards returns for a fifth season, with Spacey and first lady Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) as the rulers of an alternate Camelot, a kind of sociopathic Bill and Hillary Clinton. At any other time this would be substantive, trippy entertainment. The darkness of the show played well during the seeming naïveté of an Obama administration. And then came Donald Trump. Spacey plays Underwood on TV like it was written by Shakespeare, a politician who plays three-dimensional chess when the other guys are playing hopscotch after a dozen beers. The beauty of House of Cards was that it took you deep into the bowels of the West Wing, while our anti-hero president vanquished foes like a true Master of Whisperers. It sometimes took an entire season to pass a crucial piece of legislation using those dark arts. But the details were exquisite.
Now there is Trump. Suddenly it’s apparent that you don’t need experience, or smarts, or even a basic understanding of world affairs to be president. While Spacey’s playbook is right out of Machiavelli’s The Prince, Trump is absurdly cartoonish, his clumsy manoeuvres stolen from Wrestle-Mania. That’s not surprising, since the president sits in the WWE Hall of Fame.
With Trump we have learned that sophistry does not win you points. Or an election. Why be like Frank Underwood, delicately tap dancing through congress when the blunt instrument of an executive order is far more to the point?
Trump doesn’t care about the fine print, and so far, despite stumbling past his first 100 days, he’s still gamely hanging on, a wounded, angry creature. Underwood’s southern charm is benign by comparison.
Like HBO’s comedy Veep, about a narcissistic, over-thetop politician clinging to power played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, House of Cards has been usurped by reality. It’s hard to satirize a president who is satirizing himself.
Still, House of Cards has often veered into excess, sharing more DNA with Veep than All The President’s Men as it careened from drama to black parody.
That seemed evident last season when the president decided to put his wife on the ticket as the vice-president. That sort of nepotism would be laughable — and arguably, it detracted from the realism of the show.
But then Trump put his daughter Ivanka in the White House and let his son-in-law Jared Kushner handle foreign affairs, all the while continuing to blatantly profit in his business from political connections while a special investigator decides whether his staff was colluding with Russians.
Rest in peace, House of Cards. You delivered a decent season with fine performances. But the world has, incomprehensibly, passed you by.
Kevin spacey and Robin Wright return for a fifth season of House of Cards.