I, just like anyone else who has read the news of late has been shocked and appalled by the allegations against Kevin Spacey. Spacey is a beloved American actor. I’ve grown up loving his roles in movies like The Usual Suspects, K-PAX, and Superman Returns. In recent memory, nothing has enthralled me or upset me more than his role as Frank Underwood in House of Cards. I will say this, contrary to popular belief and the blogosphere, Netflix did not cancel House of Cards nor did they “fire” Kevin Spacey. The show was always intended to end in season 6 (the one currently being produced) and Netflix can’t fire Spacey. He’s an executive producer of the show, Netflix however has stated they will not be involved with the series further if Spacey is involved. That puts the onus on Media Rights Capital — the production company that actually makes House of Cards –to determine how the series moves forward. That being said, without Spacey, and certainly without Frank Underwood (assuming he’s not recast) the show is done, and any chance of a satisfying ending is over. So , let us pour one out — not for Spacey — but for House of Cards, the last great postmodern drama of the Golden Age of TV.
For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about when I call HoC postmodern, I mean that it exhibits three fundamental characteristics: it features meta-references, usually amoral characters that run against common understandings of ethics, and it deconstructs the ideas it presents. Postmodern TV is what kicked off the Golden Age of TV. It was a counter reaction to the typical forms of TV shows from the 50s well into the 90s, but once HBO started getting involved in TV, this new style of storytelling took root. You see it on display in any show featuring a strong anti-hero or villain character taking the role of series protagonist. Think of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones. Each series deconstructs their premises in different ways and feature amoral characters as their leads. That’s not something you would see twenty years previous outside of movies or books. House of Cards was an exemplar of both the successes and excesses of postmodern drama. If you want a better understanding of what I mean, and how TV is transitioning out of postmodern storytelling, check the video at the bottom of the post.
House of Cards was at it’s best when Frank and Claire schemed their way to the White House. It was at it’s best when it showed the human toll that their pursuit of power exacted on the people around them. The show faltered as soon as Frank was sworn in. That I feel is due to the delaying game the series was playing. The series and books that this American version was based off of had a strong three series arc showing Francis Urqhart’s rise and fall from power. The series, at it’s core, was about the subversion of democracy by a monster. HoC tried to maintain that feel, but by lengthening Frank’s stay in office for multiple seasons weakened the potency of this idea. We never really saw any characters to truly contrast Frank against — the exception being Heather Dunbar. By lacking that strong juxtaposition, in the same way that Mad Men had Peggy Olsen or Breaking Bad had Hank Schrader, the series was weaker. The show also struggled because Frank never had any serious threats. His primary threat was his own arrogance, which proved to be the primary source of tension in the later seasons. In the era of Trump, HoC promised to provide interesting context. Is it better to have a well meaning idiot in office, or a evil but competent man in charge?
Unfortunately, whatever rewatch value HoC had is totally lost. Frank in the show is gay man who married his wife for her money. He has repeated sexual encounters with various men in the show. Encounters that become consensual. Then these men become obsessed with Frank to the point that their lives are consumed. In light of the allegations against Spacey, this is disturbing. I always thought that HoC would have something interesting to say about Frank’s homosexuality, and maybe that by his choosing power over his sexuality was the thing that turned him into a monster (as being gay in the south at the time he ran for office would have ensured that he would not have secured office). But the show never really went there. I’ve known for a couple of years that Spacey was at least bisexual. Some friends of mine met him at a club in Nashville. According to one of them he tried to take a couple back to his hotel room (a man and a woman, and was hitting on both of them). As far as I know nothing happened, but with that knowledge I’ve been thinking about Spacey’s portrayal of Frank in HoC for a couple of years. It bothered me because Spacey and Frank were in a similar spot. They were both gay or bisexual men not acknowledging that fact publicly. It felt, under the surface, that there was more of Spacey in Frank than I realized at first glance. Then once I read Anthony Rapp’s allegations and everything clicked. Almost every encounter in House of Cards began with a grope or inappropriate touching. That grope then became consensual. Watching House of Cards now feels repulsive, as instead of those scenes being merely there for shock value, they feel like a fantasy for a man who has repeated those nonconsensual actions on multiple occasions. Now Franks statement in season one sounds even more like a sexual predator than at first glance: “Everything in the world is about sex except sex, sex is about power.”
I can’t watch it. And so, like that, the last great postmodern drama is dead. Not only is the show unwatchable, I won’t get to see the ending. If they hold true to the original series [spoiler alert] then Claire has one of her bodyguards shoot and kill Frank because he won’t give up power. They foreshadowed that last season when Frank walked out to greet a crowd by the gate and a sniper had his reticle on the President. They’re currently talking about spinoff or recasting. At this point … pour one out. It’s dead already.
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