House of Cards raises similar questions. Why is Vice President Underwood's "ruthless pragmatism" wrong? An interesting column could perhaps be written about his apologists. Yet the more interesting questions the series raises in its second season actually involve his wife, Claire, played with cold, hard brilliance by Robin Wright. In Season One, she was her husband's ruthless co-conspirator in advancing his career. As Season Two is reviewed and discussed, no character has been more polarizing—or so I gather from the most provocative assertions made in recent House of Cards responses: that Claire is a "feminist warrior anti-hero," as Tracy Egan Morrissey argues at Jezebel, and that, according to Amanda Marcotte's related theory, "the show has abruptly shifted into one of TV's most feminist offerings."
A Quick, Spoiler-Filled Plot Summary
A bit of background is useful here. Early in Season Two, viewers learn that Claire was raped as a college student by a classmate who later became a high-ranking general—in fact, Claire's husband, in his role as vice president, is charged with pinning a military decoration on the rapist. Claire insists that Frank discharge his duties as planned, but the commissioning ceremony brings back painful memories and sets the stage for a key scene.
In that scene, Frank and Claire are supposed to appear together for a live, nationally televised interview, but an anthrax scare leaves Frank trapped at the U.S. Capitol. Claire decides to do the interview alone. CNN's Ashleigh Banfield presses her to explain why she has never had children, and raises an old rumor that she had an abortion during one of her husband's first political campaigns—a rumor that is actually true. In fact, House of Cards viewers know that Claire has had three abortions: As she puts it to an aide, she cannot reveal the truth about them because "the first two I was a teenager, and I was reckless," while she and Frank agreed to terminate the third pregnancy in its 16th week "because we were focused on the campaign."
Here's how the interview played out:
Interviewer: He suggested that in order to keep your husband's political career on track ... He claimed that you may have been pregnant during the campaign. Was there a pregnancy? Have you ever been pregnant?
Interviewer: During the campaign?
Interviewer: Was it a miscarriage?
Interviewer: Did you terminate the pregnancy?
Claire: If I said yes, my husband's political career would be in jeopardy. My faith would be questioned. Likely my life would be threatened. But I won't feel ashamed.
Yes, I was pregnant, and yes, I had an abortion.
After a brief break, the interviewer asks if Claire is willing to discuss the circumstances of her abortion, and she replies that she was raped and impregnated.
Claire: It was college. A classmate. We were dating. And it happened—we had a fight. And he forced himself on me.
Interviewer: Did you tell anybody about it? Was he charged?
Claire: No, because at the time I thought I was somehow at fault. I knew I wasn't. But I just didn't want to be stared at. I didn't want to be known as the girl who got raped. And when I became pregnant I wasn't going to drop out of school. I wasn't going to let this man ruin my life. So I made a choice. I ended it.
Interviewer: But if you never told anybody about it the assailant could still be out there. Can you tell us anything about him?
Claire: I saw him for the first time in almost 30 years just a few months ago ... at a commissioning ceremony that Francis and I attended.
Interviewer: Did you speak to him?
Claire: Briefly. Francis pinned stars on him.
Interviewer: He was being commissioned?
Claire: General Dalton McGuinness.
She named the man who actually raped her, but lied about being impregnated by the rape, the timing of her third pregnancy, and her real reason for terminating it: political ambition.