The world of avid Netflix watchers was made whole again on February 27, 2015 at the return of its famous award-winning political drama House of Cards. While I’m sure many people are taking its third season in strides watching only one or two episodes a day or in their free-time, I was among the people who indulged in full-blown, all-day, binge-watching, and watched the entire 13-hour season in one sitting, only briefly taking a break for food…twice.
Much like its prior seasons, this season presented its viewers with all of the phantasmal, yet probably accurate portrayal of corruption that takes place in the American government through both Underwoods’ pursuit and will to obtain power by any means necessary, and while the show seemed to make clear that for both of them their greatest power lied within their relationship and loyalty to each other, we see throughout the season how their struggle for individual power challenged the root of their relationship.
I always found Claire to be an interesting character. She is unreadable, unlike her male counterpart and husband Frank. Whereas Frank’s reaction or attitude is predictable at this point, you are never completely sure how Claire will react. One moment she can be laying off an entire workforce who have spent their entire lives putting everything into the company, and the next moment she will sacrifice Russian-American foreign relations because one man committed suicide due to a law in Russia. It is this part of her characterization that makes her the stronger character. Claire’s “ruthless pragmatism” in combination with her willingness to show and feel is a strength rather than a weakness because it’s easy to be stripped of your humanity by each inhumane action, but to hold on to it is to hold on to the empathy and subsequently the pain that not only hurts the recipient but its doer. She refuses to forget herself or who she is no matter what may be at stake. With all that she sacrifices along with Frank to secure their future in power, she will still stand steadfast in not sacrificing her wont for power for his, so much so that she would rather leave, possibly ruining her chance at power, than to do so—and she does.
Claire’s strength and power lies in her ability to be selfish, and selfishness is not a trait that is often presented in women. Women are the ones who sacrifice. They sacrifice for love, or for their children, or for their families. We are shown to always put ourselves last after everyone else’s needs, and when we are able to obtain our desires it is through others allowing us to do so by THEM telling US it is okay to do something for ourselves. Prior to Frank’s ascension to presidency, Claire never had to sacrifice where Frank did not. She played the role of supportive wife in public, but she and Frank were always equals behind the facade. She benefitted from her role as his supporter because that is how American politics is played: she is the wife to the politician, she has some control, yes, in her organizations and as an organizer, but the husband runs the bigger show. Not pushing those traditional values she creates a space for herself in politics that could not otherwise be there. They were a true partnership. However, once the scales began to tip, their relationship immediately began to falter. The imbalance causes Claire to have an allergic-like reaction, manifesting itself both physically and mentally. She gets physically ill vomiting after having to go through Frank before acquiring a position she desperately wants. Her descent into an animalistic, id-driven sexual experience with Frank as she demands him to “Fuck her” and be “rough with her” is her trying to make sense of the change in power within their dynamics between each other. If Frank were truly more powerful he would have been able to look her in the eye and take control of her, sexually overpowering her, but he couldn’t—to which she responds: “I thought so.” It is in that moment where she knows she is more powerful and therefore cannot fathom yielding to someone who she sees as weaker than herself. What is most telling is that despite the stakes of her position as First Lady, she leaves Frank right before he is to visit another state in his fight for the Democratic presidential nominee for the 2016 Presidential campaign. She was willing to give up her thirty years of marriage, and the position she had, not out of spite to punish Frank, but because proximity to power was not good enough, and the “power” that she was in proximity to, Frank, was no longer good enough either. Claire has so much conviction in her belief in herself that literally no one and nothing can make her go against it. It is that trait alone that makes Claire one of the most powerful, woman characters ever presented on television–and is why I would strive to be more like Claire.
I can recognize that Claire is a flawed character. Most interesting characters have a tragic flaw that motorizes the conflicts they face; however it is important to recognize the strong traits she represents as well. I think it most resonates with me the fact that at the end of this season we see her walk away. The most difficult part of being in a situation of this nature, where you find yourself at a crossroads that forces you to choose to either stick to what and who you believe yourself to be or to compromise, is that when you walk away that means you’re okay with losing or missing out on something. We often want to hope that things will change so we hold on, but the truth is the only thing we are holding on to is hope that almost always tends to turn out to be false. Claire could have stayed. She could have played her role as First Lady like Frank said. She could have done all that and hoped that in the end she would still reach her power goals, but in staying true to being able to look and actually see ahead, she knew that that would not be the case. Staying creates precedence. It means the person you are choosing to stay with over your own convictions will then expect you to stay. They then believe that they know what to do to make you stay, and they begin to lose respect. Once someone knows they can have you regardless of what they do they’ll keep pushing the envelope. Claire shows the most strength when she leaves Francis, despite stakes being high, despite her possibly losing her chance at power. She does not sacrifice herself, and that is to be revered. I would like to be more like Claire: so sure of myself and what I want that when all of that is under fire, I would be willing to sacrifice everything to remain true to myself.