Romance as Political Conspiracy
If you’re into being in a couple, or whatever, here is what binge-watching House of Cards this Valentine’s can offer your relationship.
Kevin Spacey plays Francis Underwood, a kind of anti-heroic bureaucrat in the federal legislature, who plots a political coup with his co-conspirator and wife Claire (a mighty performance by Robin Wright). In its first season (no spoilers), House of Cards unfolds in parallel arcs: one following the couple’s long-shot scheme at revenge, and another concerning all of the dreams they must build and crush to see it through.
It’s clear very early in the series that the marriage between Francis and Claire is both real and a sham simultaneously – real in the sense that they’ve found true partners in each other, where each is the only key to the other’s power, and a sham in that “love” (as seen on, say, Hallmark cards) is the façade they must construct around their association to pass amongst their peers.
At one point, Claire recounts Francis’ marriage proposal to her: “If all you want is happiness, say no.” She said yes. This is, perhaps, this show’s great signal to our generation – happiness is just as uninteresting as it is impossible. For Claire, this decision expands outwardly on every trajectory as her character develops throughout the show’s distinct chapters. Her performance as an ambitious NGO executive is rehearsed as much as her position at her husbands side: her life is work, and her work is never authentic – even as she permits her husband’s extramarital escapade and negotiates a tryst of her own.
On one hand, their marriage is how they survive the poly-drama (you can call it that, really you can) and fiascos at work, yet the marriage itself is simply an excuse to accumulate power and influence – in that sense, their romance is a weapon to wield, not a fortification to defend.
Ultimately, House of Cards is a series about cynicism and coupling, and the insight one brings to the other. It’s a story about identifying the preferred consequences of a relationship while maintaining a kind of moral relativism about love in the meantime. It’s a story rife with emotional breakdowns, the stubborn callousness and rigidity of a driven couple, the ethical flexibility once committed to that pairing, and the ‘white lies’ which comprise loyalty in love. It’s about the myriad ways politics governs our social lives, work lives, and love lives – both the intimate bonds we could form as partners and in the peripheral misadventures in lust they at times require. All this is to say, House of Cards is a show to watch with your Valentine – what conniving conspiracy will you calculate with your sweetie, and what underhanded maneuvering will your long-con require, when it comes time to produce the illusion of the happy couple?
“Of all the things I place in high regard, rules are not one of them.”
— Francis Underwood
You can watch the trailer, or go to Netflix and start watching. Season 2 of House of Cards has been released in its entirety on Netflix today.