So long, Spacey: ‘House of Cards’ returns with new President Underwood

This image released by Netflix shows Robin Wright in a scene from "House Of Cards." Wright was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series on Thursday, July 13, 2017. The Emmy Awards ceremony, airing Sept. 17 on CBS, will be hosted by Stephen Colbert. (David Giesbrecht/Netflix via AP)

SPOILER ALERT: If you’re not caught up yet, the below contains spoilers from Seasons 1-5.

WASHINGTON — The #MeToo movement has taken down countless Hollywood icons, from Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby, but few were as shocking as film and TV titan Kevin Spacey.

Just a year ago, Spacey was the leader of the free world on Netflix’s “House of Cards,” but after allegations of sexual misconduct, the two-time Oscar winner was fired from the show.

As a result, the Netflix writing team had to delay production on Season 6 in order to rewrite Spacey’s role out of the series, in effect killing off their main character Frank Underwood.

This Friday, the popular political drama series returns for its sixth and final season with teaser trailers showing former first lady Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) standing over Frank’s grave as the new president, saying, “I’ll tell you this though, Francis. When they bury me, it won’t be in my backyard. And when they pay their respects, they’ll have to wait in line.”

The idea of Claire usurping Frank isn’t too far off from where the show was already headed.

Season 5 left off with Claire rising into the Oval Office. You’ll recall that Frank was trailing his presidential opponent Will Conway in the polls until the Underwoods staged a terrorist threat to close polling places on Election Day. When the election went to the House, neither Frank nor Conway received the 26 votes needed to win, meaning the Senate’s vice presidential selection, Claire, would assume the duties of the presidency until the House voted again.

As a result, Claire became Acting President of the United States as a temporary move until Frank retook the reins. The plan backfired when the press uncovered the Election Day fraud, causing Frank to resign and let Claire take over. That night, Claire gave her first televised address as president, but didn’t pardon Frank as they agreed. The season ended with Frank angrily calling her and Claire rejecting the call to break the fourth wall and say, “My turn.”

Now, as we enter Season 6, how will Frank get whacked? Will it be another assassination attempt like that of Washington Herald reporter Lucas Goodwin? Will it be a terrorist attack by ICO (the show’s version of ISIS) or the Russians (a key storyline for several seasons)? Will it be a suicide as editor Tom Hammerschmidt closes in on the truth behind Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo? Or a mercy killing by loyal Chief of Staff Doug Stamper, who has killed before?

Nah, the smart money is on Claire herself. She already showed that she could poison her biographer and secret lover Thomas Yates. From a writers’ standpoint, it would be the most active move for her character’s ongoing plunge into evil, giving her Lady Macbeth blood on her hands. It also makes logical sense, as Frank knows where all of the bodies are buried.

Advanced reviews suggest that we will get a clear answer about how and where he died. The show reportedly addresses the “elephant in the room” very early on and allows his presence to hover over the entire season as numerous old plot lines return to maintain his legacy.

Anything is possible in a show that favors Shakespearean tragedy over realism. But while over-the-top twists have caused some fans to bail, many seemingly outlandish elements have proved prescient, as Frank’s back-channel conversations with Russian President Viktor Petrov eerily foreshadowed President Donald Trump’s apparent alliance with Vladimir Putin.

Of course, the ultimate irony is that a sex scandal was enough to bring down a fictional president like Spacey, while the public seems to look the other way when actual presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are caught womanizing with Monica Lewinsky and Stormy Daniels. Why do we hold our fictional presidents to a higher standard than our actual ones?

Alas, the effects of #MeToo continue to play out in an era where truth is stranger than fiction. As we escape a chaotic D.C. reality to take refuge in our favorite TV shows, let’s not take for granted how groundbreaking “House of Cards” was when it debuted in 2013, launching the entire streaming era and our binge-watching habits by dropping all episodes at once.

And for that, I am ready to cue the brooding music once more, appreciate the upside-down distress flag and watch symbolic shadows creep over Washington buildings one last time.


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