When “House of Cards” was first released on Netflix in 2013, it was groundbreaking for the streaming service. The show was the first Netflix original content, based on the BBC miniseries of the same name, and it went on to receive critical acclaim. It become the first original web television series to be nominated in major Emmy categories, including outstanding drama, directing (which David Fincher won for the pilot episode), and lead actor and actress.
The success of “House of Cards” was a watershed moment for television, introducing the rise of Netflix and other streaming services as burgeoning titans in an industry previously controlled by broadcast television networks alone. Because all of the first season was released at once, the show helped to change the way we watch television and legitimize the concept of binge-watching. Serving as a precursor to Anthony Hopkins in “Westworld” and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in “True Detective,” “House of Cards” made it trendy for A-list celebrities to star in prestige television rather than just film.
The show’s previous seasons revolved around corrupt U.S. Rep. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), his wife (Robin Wright), and their ruthless methods of climbing the political ladder. Like many political dramas, the show had an intertwining relationship with today’s news, with storylines often ripped straight from the headlines and sometimes even predicting future political misconduct.
Yet when the #MeToo movement went viral in 2017, the show found itself more intimately entangled with current headlines than expected when actor Anthony Rapp alleged that Spacey made unwanted sexual advances on Rapp when he was 14 and Spacey was 26. Spacey denied remembering these actions but apologized over Twitter for his alleged “inappropriate drunken behavior.” After Rapp’s accusation, 14 more accusers came forward with their own stories of Spacey’s sexual misconduct. Amid all of these allegations, Netflix decided to cut ties with him, firing him from the show and canceling his planned Gore Vidal biopic.
For once, Hollywood was sending a clear message — sexual misconduct and assault in the past will have an effect on you in the present. It’s a message that went beyond just the entertainment industry. In the political sphere, Reps. John Conyers and Al Franken stepped down after sexual harassment accusations. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore lost his campaign for the U.S. Senate after numerous women came out accusing him of sexually assaulting them when they were underage.
But a year on from the start of the #MeToo movement, current headlines have shown us that progress has slowed. The recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite numerous accusations of sexual assault and a moving testimony by Christine Blasey Ford, is just the latest iteration of men escaping the ramifications of their alleged actions.
“House of Cards” has always been a critical show in television history, but with the recent release of its final season with Wright as the sole lead, it’s now also an embodiment of the efficacy of the #MeToo movement when it first started. It’s a reminder that the movement needs to be more than just a passing fad, with its accused temporarily being holed up in their multimillion-dollar estates, waiting for the backlash to die down before regaining their careers.
This is why the new and final season of “House of Cards” is so imperative. It shows that there are powerful solutions and statements to be made in the wake of sexual assault allegations. With the final season of “House of Cards,” Spacey’s personal scandal had direct consequences on his character and his career. With Frank Underwood killed off, Wright’s Claire Underwood took center stage on the show, and critics agree that it’s a move that should’ve happened earlier.
Claire has always been a captivating character throughout the series. Poised, sophisticated and clever, Wright’s sly and controlled acting is what made many scenes throughout the show as impeccable as they were. She was a primary ingredient in the quick political banter driving the storylines and a main catalyst for Spacey’s character’s actions.
Now, Wright is playing not just a wife, but an individual. She is no longer manifesting her talent as an actor in a small-scale role, but empowering her character loudly and skillfully. Wright’s taking hold of the leading position and making something immensely more impressive than Spacey ever had teaches us a distinct and crucial lesson:
We can enforce consequences for those who perpetuate sexual violence and we can construct new, more empowering narratives in their wake.
The final season of “House of Cards” shows us just this. Shows don’t need to be canceled and films don’t need to shelved because an actor is accused of sexual assault.