4 Reasons Frank Underwood (from House of Cards) Is an Idiot
House of Cards returned to Netflix today, and so did Kevin Spacey as the terrifying but enrapturing politician Francis Underwood, who might as well be a supervillain at this point. No, his superpower isn't manipulating people or being aware he's a fictional character -- it's possessing so much charisma that the audience doesn't realize he's actually terrible at being a corrupt politician.
Warning: This article contains numerous House of Cards spoilers. If you don't want the first two seasons of the show ruined, click away now.
He's Terrible at Using People (and Thinks With His Penis)
A major component of the first season of House of Cards is Underwood's illicit relationship with reporter Zoe Barnes. He feeds her sensitive information to leak so she can advance her career, and in turn each story she publishes embarrasses his political opponents. Then he also starts having sex with her, because that's the rule of politics.
Or the only rule anyone cares about, at least.
Later, however, Frank starts withholding information from Zoe unless she has sex with him, which makes absolutely no sense. Frank is benefiting from the flow of information just as much as Zoe is -- jeopardizing all of that just to quench your thirsty boner is less the strategy of the most cold, cunning man in Washington, and more the desperate gambit of a man whose first priority is to have sex all the time.
In fact, the more you think about it, the more it looks like Frank is simply following the storied tradition of ruining his political career for the sake of booty. When he talks about his arrangement with Zoe with his shockingly understanding wife, he acts like sleeping with her is part of some Machiavellian scheme, but it absolutely isn't -- he's just having sex with a reporter who was low-level enough that trading skin-flapping nudity collisions with him in exchange for a steady source of career-making stories was a good deal for her. Ultimately, all Frank has done for himself is turn Zoe into an even bigger liability that he'll have to deal with later. He's putting his career in the hands of a kid working for what appears to be BuzzFeed's politics section, judging from her office.
At least they got to enjoy some fantastic paintings together.
Really, Frank was just trolling for strange and jumped at the first opportunity that fell into his lap. He's lucky enough to be living in a Bizarro World where a shitty political blog is more influential than actual newspapers. In fact, this is kind of a running theme with our favorite corrupt congressman ...
He Has No Planning Skills, Just Blind Luck
Underwood's rise to power in Season 1 comes primarily thanks to Peter Russo -- a drunken, prostitute-screwing congressman Frank props up and then tears down as a plan to leave his own party without a candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, forcing the vice president to run in Russo's place. Frank then pretends to be shocked when they offer him the position of VP, which was his plan all along. Ignoring the part of the plan that makes it look as though Frank Underwood is just terrible at choosing gubernatorial candidates, let's take a look at the brilliant machinations he set in motion to kill Russo's candidacy (before killing the rest of him).
"Mr. Underwood, you'll have to clean that ketchup from your hands before you get sworn in."
Frank's plan to conquer Pennsylvania by proxy came in two parts: getting Peter sober, and giving him a good water bill to run on. Once those two things fell apart, Peter's candidacy was finished, and he ends up drinking himself to murdered. But hold on -- Frank had no idea whether the water bill was going to fail. He actually asked his wife to help save the bill, but she went behind his back and torpedoed it, because she's the one person in the show he can't manipulate. And if we're supposed to think that this was secretly part of Frank's plan, then why did they argue about it in private? Was that some weird type of foreplay?
"Tonight let's put on K-PAX and get really nasty."
Even if we accept that maybe Frank was counting on his wife betraying him as part of his plan, what if Claire had decided to actually do what he'd asked her to? The bill would've passed, Russo would've become governor, the vice president would've stayed in the White House, and Frank would've had way more free time to clear those Call of Duty campaigns. It was a stroke of blind luck that set his plan in motion, one that his sharp gaze and smooth, seductive voice was incapable of influencing. But, as it turns out, Frank needs luck on his side, because ...
He's Hilariously Bad at Covering His Tracks
Have you ever noticed that, despite being a supposed master manipulator, Frank Underwood still hides his smoking habit by leaning out of a window like a teenager? This speaks to a larger truth of the character, which is that he is absolutely terrible at covering up his wrongdoing.
"Don't worry, nobody can see us in front of this gigantic window facing the street."
In Season 2, Frank decides to stay in his own house instead of moving into the vice president's residence, probably because building a new set is fucking expensive. This means that the Secret Service has to come in and install security cameras all over his private living space -- which you might recognize as the No. 1 thing you want to avoid if you're scheming to manipulate major parts of the government. Remember, this is the home where Underwood staged a crime against his own family, sheltered a drunken Russo, and had a bisexual three-way with a Secret Service agent. Incidentally, that last thing started (and maybe continued) outside the bedroom, after the cameras were already installed.
Let's go back to Zoe for a minute. All those incriminating texts they sent back and forth were sent from Frank's phone -- not a burner, but his own, personal device. Considering how hard it was for Obama to keep his BlackBerry (which is heavily monitored), it's unlikely that the government somehow missed Vice President Underwood's text-swollen phone of reckless skullduggery.
Also, everyone can see his texts floating in the air. Very sloppy.
When he meets with Zoe after becoming VP to discuss her doubts about Russo's death, he barely bothers to check if this diligent and suspicious reporter might be recording him. He also agrees to meet her in a public park, mere hours before he pushes her in front of a train. So, Frank Underwood met with Zoe, a reporter known for breaking huge stories about shady politics, on the day she died, in a public place. Forget whether Zoe was recording their conversation -- freaking anyone with a camera could've spotted the vice president meeting with a political journalist and implicated him in one or two felonies, not the least of which would be to connect him to Zoe suddenly getting mulched by public transit later that day. Then Frank's carefully orchestrated plan would be utterly foiled.
Incidentally, what is his plan? Because ...
He Seems to Have No End Goal (or It's Extremely Dumb)
So what, exactly, does Frank Underwood want? Honestly, we're not sure he knows. In the first episode, President Walker pisses him off by making someone else secretary of state, sending Frank on a destructive rampage to get revenge on Walker and eventually become president himself. At the end of the second season, he finally schemes his way into the oval office, and ... then what? He's on track to have the least effective and most hated presidency in history, and not just because he's the president that literally no one voted for.
Underwood is already unpopular with the public; when he's made vice president, the media talks about what a lame pick he is. He's not popular with politicians, either -- he's constantly pissing people off and irrevocably burning bridges to get what he wants, but in politics, you still need people to be willing to take your side when you want to push your agenda through. The fact that he manages to get anything done despite being the biggest pariah on Capitol Hill has been called the most unrealistic part of the show, and this is taking into consideration the scene wherein he murders a woman in public.
Other parts are spot on, though.
So, is Frank just Skeletor, then, in that he became president just because he wants the power? That doesn't make any sense. Frank has been in politics for decades; he has to know by now that the president really isn't as powerful as everyone thinks. Sure, he has influence over a very wide spectrum of issues, but his control over any particular thing is not very significant; often, a group of judges nobody has ever heard of will have more sway over an individual law than he will. Basically, his job is to try to convince other politicians to do the things he wants, which means he needs to be well-respected, and we've already established that this is the one thing that Frank Underwood is not and has no interest in being. But hey, at least he has the relatively poor salary, the complete lack of privacy, and the millions of people cursing his name every day for every inconvenience, no matter how minor, that comes with the presidency.
Basically, Underwood is like a shitty version of Iago -- he fought tooth and nail to bring the president down out of pure spite, but now that he's become president himself, he's actually made his own life incredibly worse. He busted into the White House like a wrecking ball, but now he's just kind of awkwardly dangling there, waiting to be taken down. If he isn't impeached for his numerous crimes, he'll probably sit around in the West Wing, take credit for any economic upswings for a few years, then make a few bucks on his ghostwritten biography and some graduation speeches at shitty technical institutes.