One of the problems a TV show with a large cast can face is trying to keep all the different cast members at least somewhat relevant by giving as many characters as possible something to do. The strength of that something can help make or break a show. The problem is sometimes a really compelling lead character, or at least a really compelling lead actor, can make the other subplots less interesting (as with Dexter) while a series with too many cast members can mean that its difficult for writers to give everyone a compelling subplot and some characters will languish with really weak stories (as with True Blood).
Something like that could happen to House of Cards for everyone who isn’t Frank Underwood.
See, Frank is a fascinating character, especially as played by an actor as charismatic as Kevin Spacey when he’s firing on all cylinders. Do I care about Zoe Barnes working her way through her career at the newspaper? Not really. What about Claire at the clean water charity? Not as much. Peter Russo’s romantic life and drug problems? Well, not much.
That’s not entirely true here. Russo is being blackmailed by Frank so this episode shows the repercussions of that blackmail when Russo is basically forced to not testify to save a military base in his home district, something that had been a cornerstone of his campaign for office in the first place. Russo then slinks into a black hole of substances while his kids are visiting, and that costs him the relationship he had with his aide. No love life and no political career? That’s the cost of Frank Underwood having dirt on a man. And Frank, well, he doesn’t care.
His lack of caring is on high display here. The Speaker of the House won’t play ball with Frank’s education bill, so Frank feels out the Majority Leader to replace him. That man says no, but Frank doesn’t mind making it look like the guy is going to do it anyway with a new ally from the Congressional Black Caucus, spooking the Speaker and forcing out the Majority Leader. And that would be why Frank forced Russo not to campaign for his own district’s base and the 12,000 jobs that went with it.
But Zoe and Claire? Well, Claire’s charity lost money because of Frank not getting his dream job, and that former spokesperson of Frank’s turned lobbyist is offering a large sum with “no strings attached” that Frank says Claire shouldn’t take because of course there are strings. There are always strings. Zoe ends up getting offered a promotion she doesn’t want, nobody believes her, and she’s fired while her editor calls her a nasty word that begins with a “C”. That she texts out.
But when Claire has a former lover make a move, she declines. Frank, on the other hand, does end up sleeping with Zoe. I hope this isn’t one of those double standards that seems to happen a lot on shows like this with an anti-hero. Tony Soprano screwed around all the time. Carmella? Not really. That’s just one example. Is House of Cards better than that?