Netflix’ House of Cards Is Much More Realistic than We’d Like to Admit

March 19, 2016   |   Jake Anderson

Jake Anderson
March 19, 2016


Netflix original series, House of Cards, has never shied away from controversial storylines. The narrative has followed Frank Underwood’s rise to power from Congressional whip to Vice President to President. His meteoric ascent to power was always trailed by a dark shadow, though — one that perhaps mirrors the real life brutality, scandal, and corruption that accompanies the machinations of most high-level politicians.

House of Cards is particularly ruthless in this regard. Frank Underwood has personally killed two people. One, a journalist with whom he has been having an affair. She learns too much, and during a discreet subway station meeting, Frank takes advantage of a well-timed metro train to push the young woman into its oncoming path. Another Underwood victim is a ruined, alcoholic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania (who had become politically toxic for the Democrats). Late one evening, he passes out in his car, and Frank, who has driven him home, leaves the gas running and closes the garage door.

Frank, of course, has addressed the camera and been open about his Machiavellian philosophy of power. “For those climbing to the top of the food chain there can be no mercy,” Frank once said. At one point, he also stated, “I’d push [the Russian president] down the stairs and light his broken body on fire just to watch it burn if it wouldn’t start a world war.”

Season 4 of House of Cards picked back up in the middle of the savage Democratic primary, where  Underwood is pitted against an ethical judicial reformist, Heather Dunbar, who promises to restore dignity to the White House. Unfortunately, her brief inconsequential meeting with journalist-turned ex-felon Lucas Goodwin, who pleads with her to listen to his evidence of the president’s crimes, spells her end. After Goodwin attempts to assassinate Underwood, rendering him on the brink of death, Dunbar’s dalliance with Goodwin is a nail in her political coffin.

Season 3 also ended with Claire Underwood leaving the president, though she returns to him as the season progresses. While Underwood is the frontrunner on the Democratic side, he trails in the general election polls to a Kennedy-esque Republican by the name of Will Conway. After his recovery from the near fatal gunshot wound to the liver, Frank and Claire come up with an unprecedented plan for her to be his Vice President. This effectively reunites the two and makes them a formidable opponent against Conway, who is a war hero. He is also the user of a mysterious data analytics company deploying a proprietary data mining surveillance tool to gather voter information.

Underwood begins his own surveillance program, obfuscating its paper trail with a military strike that would necessitate surveillance. Here we start to see the full measure of Frank Underwood’s manipulative warmongering — Wag the Dog mixed with some black ops. Underwood, who is a moderate Democrat toeing the line with conservative policies (he proposed ending social security, as well as doubling down on foreign interventionist strategies), appears very much as a Clinton-like centrist ideologue who uses the military for nebulous political gains and geopolitical chess moves.

The real manifestation of this comes in the last few episodes of Season 4 of House of Cards. Underwood negotiates with ICO — a radical Islamic terrorist group clearly modeled after ISIS — for the release of a family held captive. The mother and daughter are released, and the Underwoods allow the kidnappers to speak with their imprisoned leader. When that goes awry, a federal raid turns up nothing, and a news story draws attention to his previous crimes, Frank begins to panic.

Claire, overwhelmed by emerging scandals from their past that threaten to dismantle their political dynasty, devises a sinister but calculated plan.

“I’m done trying to win over people’s hearts,” Claire says to a dejected Frank, insinuating the Underwoods should start a war to help win the election. “We can work with fear.”

The fear instilled in the public from terrorist attacks like ICO’s often serves as fodder for foreign intervention, and in the season finale, Claire realizes it can also serve as a distraction from their corruption.

This is more than a reflection of the times: this is political reality. Americans live in a militaristic empire that thrives on using fear as leverage to coerce the population into thinking war is a necessity. In reality, it is a boon for defense contractors… and the politicians who facilitate this wealth. Distractions abound as those in power execute hidden agendas in Washington D.C.

During an address to the nation in which Frank notifies the public he will not negotiate with terrorists — leaving the father of the family in the hands of the domestic extremists who kidnapped him — Underwood declares a merciless war on ICO. It is presumably declared without congressional approval. “We must move beyond reason, we must respond with force,” he says. “It will be a war more total than anything we have waged thus far in the fight against extremism.”

After the terrorists share video of them slitting the kidnapped father’s throat, the Underwoods share a moment together. Frank casts his characteristic gaze into the camera, readying to speak. Only this time, Claire is looking at us, too.

“We don’t submit to terror,” the president says. “We make the terror.”

House of Cards Season 4 ends.

This article (Netflix’ House of Cards Is Much More Realistic than We’d Like to Admit) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email

Author: Jake Anderson

Jake Anderson joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in April of 2015. His topics of interest include social justice, science, corporatocracy, and dystopian science fiction. He currently resides in Escondido, California.

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