More on the Underwoods' poly marriage in *House of Cards*
Slate put up an article this morning about the poly developments on House of Cards that I posted about on Friday. Says Slate,
Frank [the president of the United States] delivers a speech to Claire that he might have cribbed straight from a role play in a polyamory workshop.
The piece includes video clips of two key scenes. Warning, spoilers ahead.
The fourth season of House of Cards is a fascinating portrait of polyamory.
By Christina Cauterucci
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood in House of Cards.
...Frank makes no moves without careful calculation. Season 4 brings another one of his deliberate gestures laden with meaning, this one at the Underwoods’ breakfast table: He offers Tom Yates, who’s just spent the night with Claire in the Underwood home, his daily plate of apple slices.
So begins a new phase in the Underwoods’ relationship, which the most recent season of the Netflix series portrays as a thoroughly evolved, robustly healthy open marriage. In Episode 11, after learning that Claire and speechwriter Yates have agreed to halt their affair during the Underwoods’ presidential campaign, Frank delivers a speech to Claire that he might have cribbed straight from a role play in a polyamory workshop:
He should stay on, because he can give you things that I can’t. Look, Claire, we’ve been a great team. But one person—one person cannot give everything to another person. I can’t travel with you. I don’t keep you warm at night. I don’t see you the way he sees you. It’s not my permission to give, but you’ll do what’s right for you. But I want you to know, if you wanted, I know you’ll be careful. And I’ll be fine. I mean, if we’re gonna go beyond marriage, let’s go beyond it.
For a man who has blackmailed, entrapped, and killed to preserve his own megalomaniacal path to power, putting a partner’s autonomous needs over jealousy is a shockingly selfless move. Frank’s response is doubly generous since he himself had a near-romantic encounter with Yates in Season 3. Not only that, but he recognizes that it’s not his permission to give. In all other arenas of his life, Frank draws his lifeblood from manipulation; he’d rather die than lose control. In his marriage, he’s content to watch Claire pursue her own path to happiness, even if it means bringing another man into their house.
...Which raises the question: Why don’t more politicians and public figures, whose lives are impossibly busy and often lived apart, go the “beyond marriage” route? Often, when a political sex scandal breaks, rumors flutter about a secret open marriage. Did Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin have an agreement? Did Silda Wall Spitzer know about Eliot’s penchant for sex workers? Maybe not. But, as Hanna Rosin wrote in Slate when House of Cards first began, if they did, they’d be excoriated:
Were the Underwoods a real political couple in actual Washington and the double-affair scandal broke, news reports would depict theirs as a marriage of cold, calculated convenience — the Clintons, but worse. Francis would be revealed as secretly gay, turned on by women only when he can use them for a pure power play. Claire would be a Lady Macbeth figure, orgasmic when mutually scheming but devoid of anything like warm-blooded love....
...In pop culture, open marriages hew to one of two archetypes. There’s the rarer House of Cards model, in which the partners truly embrace the freedom-in-security of their relationship, recognizing that the benefits of a lifetime partnership need not cease when sexual attraction fades or strays. The Good Wife, on the other hand, envisions a political marriage more in tune with popular persuasion: one purely for show, where the relationship has all but evaporated and extramarital dalliances are expected but still begrudged.
Today, misgivings about open relationships extend beyond the strict moral code of politics: Just last week, the New York Times published a biological anthropologist’s skeptical take on Mo’Nique’s open marriage, which Dan Savage roundly dismissed. Though House of Cards’ depiction of nonmonogamy strikes me as the warmest, most compassionate arc of the series, the carefully negotiated arrangement that is Claire and Frank’s marriage serves to support the show’s larger narrative of a sociopathic couple that prioritizes power over passion. Depending on who’s watching, their open marriage and Frank’s queer sexuality can complicate and humanize the Underwoods, or it can solidify their characters as depraved utilitarians with no solid moral compass. A show less cynical than House of Cards might have used their progressive relationship as a lens for interpreting the political marriages we love to probe and mock. Instead, the show seems to conclude that the polyamorous Underwoods are void of emotional attachment, divorcing sex from love and vice-versa, with hearts too frozen to burst into flames when a spouse’s desires lead her astray.
Christina Cauterucci is a Slate staff writer.
Read the whole article (March 21, 2016).
Update: Article by Mimi Schippers, Beyond Monogamous Marriage in House of Cards (April 20, 2016). Excerpt:
This is one of the only times that we see Frank demonstrate an ability to selflessly give to another person. When he acknowledges that “…he can give [her] things that [he] can’t,” and that “…one person cannot give everything to another person,” he uncharacteristically acknowledges his own inability to fulfill all of Claire’s needs. Frank explicitly honors Claire’s entitlement to get her needs met in terms of sexual pleasure and intimacy. The line, “It’s not my permission to give, but you’ll do what’s right for you,” names Claire’s autonomy to make her own decisions about her sexual relationships. In this scene, the traditional relationship between husband and wife, where the husband is head-of-household and jealously controls the wife, is re-tooled as a marriage between equals. In HOC, the wife (Claire) is autonomous and entitled to a sexual life independent of her husband, and Frank, the husband, selflessly steps aside so she can.