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Female POTUS: Claire Underwood

Eileen McCormick / Khmer Times Share:
Netflix poster for House of Cards. Netflix

Critically acclaimed phenomenon House of Cards first aired on Netflix in 2013 and was one of Netflix’s first binge watch shows. It is now going into its sixth and final season with some real life drama to boot towards the show’s infamy.

The appeal of House of Cards from season one till now has always been, for almost everyone, the deep, dark, seedy side of politics in America.

The early seasons were fueled by power of politics; it was the oxygen that drove many to binge watch. It was invigorating to watch Frank Underwood hustling in the corridors of power. It allowed the viewers to feel what it was like to be a man on his way up in the dynamics of political power.

Two rivals, Diane Lane (left) and Robin Wright. Photo: Netflix

The show was at its best when the Underwoods – Frank and Claire – as a couple were cooperating as a well-oiled machine. The more they bickered and fought the more it impressed fans. And that became the show.

So let’s address the elephant in the room, Kevin Spacey – the show’s leading actor who played Frank Underwood. Well, in real life he was ousted as a #metoo rapist. So the show had to halt production and do some major PR maneuvering. There was even a speculation that Netflix would axe House of Cards to clear the fallout from the sex abuse allegations surrounding Spacey.

If Netflix decided to continue on with House of Cards, many questioned whether the show could go on without Frank Underwood, who plays the role of US president? Nonetheless, Netflix decided to take the gamble and continue on with the series.

There are 8 episodes in Season 6 and it definitely has a different tempo than the ones previously. While some fans hated it, others like myself accepted that the writers, cast, etc. did what they could in such a situation.House of Cards writers did not shy away from dealing with the real life scandal and they embraced it. The series opens by speaking directly to this cultural moment when patriarchy feels itself under assault, as we are taken into the dynamics of the first ever woman President of the United States.

I can’t think of a more controversial yet relevant show to review for International Women’s Day, as like it or not it opens a dialogue about abuse and so much more. So this week I will dedicate my write up to the #metoo movement.

US President Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) takes on her detractors. Photo: Netflix

Much of this season provides flashbacks into Claire Underwood’s life (played by Robin Wright). First, we see a young Claire at 8 years old (give or take) smoking a cigarette #likeaboss. While at first glance the confident young girl seems exactly as who you would identify as the adult Claire. However, all that soon dissipates away. Like all young girls learn, their powers can quickly be usurped by patriarchal rules that even women enforce.

In the early part of the series, boys from the neighbourhood cut the dress off young Claire’s body. She runs away and ends up dishing out revenge on one of the boys, but not without consequences. By defending her “honour” her southern bell mother blames her and screams that “pretty girls have to learn they have a responsibility” and that “she was asking for it”.

The next scene quickly brings the viewer to present time where Claire Underwood is yet again dealing with misogyny though her role in national life as POTUS. Her aides are reading social media postings about President Underwood to her in the Oval Office. But are any of these threats a real risk to the president’s life?

The previous president, her husband Frank, mysteriously dies but the public is made to believe he died in her bed of a heart attack. Who is behind his actual death remains a big question mark throughout this season.

Meanwhile the stuff Frank did to get himself into power and at the same time conniving to get his wife into the White House, is a shadow that keeps following Claire Underwood. In the last season, viewers got to know Frank Underwood’s history of corruption, lies and criminal activity.

Frank’s death comes at an opportune moment because at the end of last season he resigned and Claire became president. It looked like Claire was going to stab him in the back by not giving him a presidential pardon for his crimes, and allowing him to go to jail.

It is speculated that Claire may have had a hand in her husband’s death. But she is quick to inform viewers by directly speaking to the camera, the way Frank used to, that it was not her but someone wanting to control her and that “no one gets that lucky”.

When the US President is mocked on television. Photo: Netflix

Like in past seasons and the powerful amongst us, the wealthy set the political agenda for the series. This season, we have a brother and sister duo in a philanthropic foundation – who are also political party funders – who feel they are masters of the universe.

Claire’s presidency is undermined by Annette and Bill Shepherd (played by Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear), a power-brokering pair of billionaire oligarchs with influential business interests, whom we’re led to believe had Frank in their pockets before his untimely death.

Claire is never an easy character to love and at times she is downright irritating. But her ability to plan political takeover throughout this season is not to be missed. Her ability to play with the hearts and minds of the public, who at best puts up with her, is amazing.

“My purpose is to elevate America, fight for America, and if it ever came to it, die for America. I will be father, mother, leader, and friend.” And that’s what she does as she takes on all these roles seamlessly.

If you have not yet started the series, now is the perfect time to start and if you’re a long time fan it’s a season not to be missed no matter how much you might miss Frank Underwood. Rally around the women in your life this International Women’s Day and binge watch House of Cards.

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