The DeX-Files: A House Of Cards Collapses

+“Review: House of Cards Collapses, Finally” | Vanity Fair | Sonya Saraija | 11/02/18

“In exchange for a plot arc, House of Cards relies on what it has always done best: cynical provocation. The most confusing is Claire’s canny exploitation of feminist language for political gain, which in the back half of the season turns into a story about her in-office pregnancy. (It is never made clear how Claire gets pregnant; presumably, it could be her naturally conceived child with Frank, but the careful rollout of her condition suggests a much more calculated method.) Wright puts a lot into the movement of her face, but House of Cards has very little to offer on Claire’s feelings about impending motherhood, or how being pregnant changes the environment of the White House. Midway through the season, Claire announces she’s returning to her maiden name, Hale. She also lectures the Situation Room, during a nuclear crisis, on how no one knows the word for the opposite of misogyny. (Claire, apparently, was not paying much attention to the Internet in, like, 2013.)”

The opacity of Claire’s inner life over the first five seasons of House Of Cards served a singular and focused purpose. It was a lens. Through it we understood the lure of power politics in virtually every Machiavellian aspect of life. We accepted seizing and wielding power in a republic as a talent for which the most well-adapted are also the most successful and therefore the most deserving. We also squirmed as this brutal dharma made meritocracy self-justifying.

Still, the black hole inside Claire was also a nice balance against Francis’ raw, radical honesty.

But now that she’s President that opacity is no longer thick. It’s thin and runny, merely a series of gestures devoid of narrative weight. Claire can’t command the emotional center of the drama as Francis did. Much less obvious is that a House Of Cards in which Lady Macbeth replaces Macbeth became a copy of a copy that merely simulates the copy, not even the real thing. (Francis himself is a simulation of power politicians such as Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Sam Rayburn. Claire simulates Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, and Angela Merkel.) Still, it produces an anxiety that itself feels hyperreal.

We’re to understand how sexism shapes Claire’s character and ambitions and then give her props for playing that game on other characters on the show—even women. Even us. Unfortunately, there’s no catharsis in this, just complex but sterile simulations (characters) roaming through disjointed discourses (scenes) like the dead through a haunted house (text).


Where are your hammers for these nails?

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IMAGE SOURCE: Spartan7W [CC BY-SA 4.0 ( or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


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