The finale of House of Cards’ fifth season ended with Claire Underwood turning to the camera as she uttered two simple words: “My turn.” For many fans, that moment represented the series’ apex: when the show’s Lady Macbeth, long in the shadows, would take control of the narrative. It was Claire’s time.
Her big moment is in jeopardy following the news that Netflix would be canceling its flagship drama following numerous sexual harassment allegations against Kevin Spacey. Actor Anthony Rapp, best known as Mark in Broadway’s RENT, accused the 58-year-old of propositioning him when Rapp was just 14. In an official statement, the streaming service said it was “deeply troubled” by the news. Spacey not only stars in the series, Netflix’s first foray into original content, but also serves as executive producer.
Netflix should be commended for its proactive response to such despicable behavior, moving much more quickly than The Weinstein Company did when faced with even more serious allegations.
But it’s totally unjust to punish the show’s cast and its fans for the monstrous wrongdoings of one of its actors, as well as diminishing its feminist promise. House of Cards has long struggled with female characters, and the First Lady deserves to lead the showas the cliffhanger promised she finally would. Nobody cares about Frank Underwood, and few would miss him if Spacey were instead fired from the show. That would be the justice we deserve.
While Frank is the show’s narrator and protagonist, let’s be honest: House of Cards fans have been waiting for Claire to murder himor at least usurp him. Plus, Claire already signaled that she’d be taking over narration duties.
Claire Underwood, as played by the excellent Robin Wright, is a politically-minded feminist’s wet dream. Claire is stylish and powerful, elegant but strong, and terse but ruthless. Threatening to “obliterate” her enemies with ruthless conviction, Claire consistently proves that she’s just as cutthroat as her husband. Remember when she made a Russian ambassador watch her pee while telling him about a deal he’d just lost, or when she promised to let her coworker’s baby “wither and die” inside of her if she disobeyed Claire?
Most notably, she’s also one of the only female characters to survive on House of Cards.
House of Cards, like fellow prestige show Game of Thrones, disposes of its characters unceremoniously, the body count an indicator of the barbarous reality of politics. But the women on House of Cards often meet their ends in ways that are pointedly misogynistic.
The young, ambitious journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) was the defining female lead in the earliest episodes of the show. During the show’s second season premiere, Barnes was shoved in front of a moving subway car. The development, which followed the British series on which House of Cards was based, was a necessary device to drive the arc of the show. However, it also set the tone for how its female characters would be portrayed: dispensable.
LeAnn Harvey, a Texas political strategist played by Neve Campbell, met a similar fate in the House of Cards’ fifth season. The administration utilized her skill set until she was no longer neededthen had her murdered in a violent car crash. (Viewers, however, never saw her body, yet another season five cliffhanger.)
Rachel Posner, a sex worker played by Rachel Brosnahan, was scrapped and buried by President Underwood’s Chief of Staff (Michael Kelly) in Season 3.
That pattern is true of nearly every woman on the show: except for Claire.
When Claire broke the fourth wall in the final moments of House of Cards’ last season, effectively overthrowing Frank, it was what so many of us had been waiting for. Just as Game of Thrones’ Khaleesi rose from her ashes, Claire studied the powerful and abusive men around her and then beats them at their own game. This retribution is what House of Cards had been leading up to for five seasonsfor Claire and every woman dispensed of on the show.
The next season was set to be Claire’s “started from the bottom, now we’re here” moment, but she may never get it.
Although Netflix has claimed that it plans to follow through with one final installment, the Maryland-set production has been suspended indefinitely amid talks of a spinoff. With former Boston news anchor Heather Unruh and others coming forward with their own allegations against Spacey, this likely isn’t going away. Unruh tweeted that the Oscar-winner “assaulted a loved one” prior to Rapp’s claims coming to light.
It’s clear that Netflix, like many of us, doesn’t know how to respond to our culture’s #MeToo moment. More than 60 women, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Mira Sorvino, accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct as numerous men in the industry are being held accountable for their toxic behavior. Recent targets of the aptly named “The Weinstein Effect” include Andy Dick and James Toback, each accused of numerous accounts of harassment and assault.
Unfortunately, there’s no blanket statement or one solution on how to deal with sexual harassment. Each case is different, traumatic, and delicate for the victims.
Weinstein’s case differs greatly from the allegations against Spacey, as his conduct points to a systemic, company-wide issue of complicity. Many board members, as well as the directors and actors he worked with, were aware of the abuse and perpetuated it by remaining silent. Director Quentin Tarantino, a longtime Weinstein collaborator, apologized for not doing more to stop the abuse. “I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard,” Tarantino told The New York Times.
The same isn’t necessarily true with House of Cards: The show’s creator, Beau Willimon, claimed he was never aware of any inappropriate behavior from Spacey, whether on or off the set. While there are no claims at this time that the show’s cast or crew is implicated in the actor’s wrongdoings, Gawker did report multiple anonymous allegations of Spacey harassing production assistants on the House of Cards set in 2015.
Spacey should be punished to the full extent of the allegations. His behavior is disgusting and illegal. It’s a massive sign of progress that Netflix and Willimon took the issue of sexual harassment seriously. That likely wouldn’t have happened if not for the courage and bravery of the women who came forward against Weinstein, as well as everyone who has been sharing their stories of sexual assault on Twitter and Facebook.
But Claire Underwood deserves better. She has always deserved better. The irony of the situation is not lost on me: With Kevin Spacey robbing her of her shining moment, the current circumstances feel like a page ripped right out of a House of Cards script.
Last season Claire poisoned her boyfriend, then seduced him and watched him die while he was still inside of her. The death was gruesome and incomprehensibly evil, but it was a culmination of every affliction we’ve seen Claire endure throughout her political career: Every death she’s covered up for, every vituperative word of abuse, and every moment she’s laid dormant in the backgroundwaiting to strike. When the iron was hot, the First Lady showed us just how far she was willing to go to get hers.
If The Weinstein Effect has proven anything, it’s that abusive men should be dethroned by women who deliver their comeuppance. It’s our turn.
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