As in previous years, I’m binge-reviewing the latest season of Netflix’s House of Cards, the TV show that helped popularize the idea of “binge watching” when it premiered in 2013. Don’t read farther than you’ve watched.
Episode 13 (Chapter 52)
For a while there, it looked like this House of Cards season might be headed toward a demented kind of happy ending. When Claire was negotiating with Yusuf Al Ahmadi to replace the caliphate with a secular government at the same time that Frank gave Tom Hammerschmidt his fiercest spin, it became possible to imagine that the show might choose to absolve the Underwoods. If it did, it would not only send a message about the invulnerability of true megalomaniacs, but also one about the idea that the world can only ever be changed—perhaps only ever be saved—through the self-interest of megalomaniacs.
Might it still end there, eventually? House of Cards, perhaps to its credit, doesn’t spend much time ever telling us how the Underwoods justify themselves to themselves. They want power because they want power and that’s it. But in his showdown with Hammerschmidt, Frank came as close as he’s ever come to revealing the defense he’d have given to St. Peter if that liver transplant hadn’t come through. “Name me a president you wouldn’t describe in exactly the same way,” he said. “We’re all ruthless. We all destroy. But corruption, that’s a matter of perspective.” In other words, this is the job. But Hammerschmidt had already given the alternate reading of that idea when Frank implored him to hold off his story because of the hostage crisis: “That’s the same reasoning dictators use.”