Series / House of Cards (US)

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Welcome to Washington...

[approaching an injured dog] There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that's only suffering. I have no patience for useless things. [Kills the dog]
Francis "Frank" Underwood, opening monologue

House of Cards is the U.S. remake of the UK series of the same name. Developed and produced by Beau Willimon and premiered on February 2013, it marks the first step in Netflix's next stage of original programming.

After a successful election campaign, the Democratic Party is swept back into The White House, with significant help from House Majority Whip Francis "Frank" Underwood (Kevin Spacey). However, though the President-Elect Garrett Walker (Michel Gill) had promised to appoint Underwood as Secretary of State during the campaign, he reneges, obstensibly needing Underwood more as party whip in the House of Representatives. Insulted at the duplicity, and upset that he failed to even see the betrayal coming, Frank privately forswears any loyalty to the president or the party. Aided by a host of allies, including his wife Claire (Robin Wright); his Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly); young Intrepid Reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara); and a host of other unwitting pawns, Frank begins a chess game of immense political importance. Taking revenge on those who wronged him, Underwood also positions himself to grab more power than he had ever previously planned.

The show provides examples of:

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    A - C 
  • Accidental Misnaming: Everyone except Raymond Tusk, who speaks Chinese and has done business in China for years, pronounces Xander Feng's name as "Fang" instead of the proper "Fung", as in feng Shui.
  • Adaptation Expansion: It took just four hours for the original to bring Francis Urquhart from Chief Whip of the Conservative Party to ruler of his country. The American remake takes thirteen 50-minute episodes (just short of 11 straight hours or the length of the UK series as a whole) just to get Frank Underwood from House Majority Whip to being tapped as the new Vice President, and another thirteen to take him to the Presidency.
  • Adaptation Name Change: While some roles from the British original are altered or merged, others are lifted more or less directly, although their names are different in any case.
    • Francis and Elizabeth Urquhart becomes Francis "Frank" and Claire Underwood. The new names are more appropriate for Southerners: any Southern man named Francis would insist on being called "Frank," while a British aristocrat would faint at the idea; while Elizabeth is a perfectly acceptable name for a Southern Belle, Claire is even better (in fact, Elizabeth is the first name for Claire's mother). "Urquhart" was probably dropped because it sounded too patrician, which is true; "Underwood" is a much better name for an American politician, especially a Southern one.
    • Tim Stamper becomes Doug Stamper.
    • Mattie Storin becomes Zoe Barnes; the name change is probably at least in part because in 2013, you'd be quite hard pressed to find a twentysomething American woman named "Mattie", particularly as opposed to "Zoe".
    • John Krajewski becomes Lucas Goodwin.
    • Roger O'Neill becomes Peter Russo.
    • Penny Guy becomes Christina Gallagher.
    • Commander Corder becomes Edward Meechum.
  • Affectionate Parody: Sesame Street makes ''House of Bricks,'' which tell a mash-up of Netflix and the "Three Little Pigs" where "Frank Underwolf" wants to get into the "White House of Bricks," with two other "Houses" in the way: Congress, the "House of Straw," and the Supreme Court, the "House of Sticks." After blowing down the Houses of Straw and Sticks, Frank is then let into the White House of Bricks by the Three Pigs, who once outside, then huff and puff together to blow down THAT House to show it was really made of playing cards made to look like white brick—a Literal House of Cards! What makes it Meta was Kevin Spacey himself loved it too!
  • Alternate History:
    • It is implied that a Republican won the presidential election in 2008 before losing to Walker in 2012. The details are kind of shaky, as no Real Life American President after Bill Clinton is ever mentioned by name. In the first episode, the screens in the background clearly refer to celebrating Walker's inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, indicating that at that point there had been three presidents since the end of Clinton's second term on January 20, 2001, rather than two. Because of the 22nd Amendment and presidential terms being four years long, we can immediately deduce one of the two presidents between January 20, 2001 and January 21, 2013 was a two-term president and the other was a one-term president, although it's not clear whether the one-term guy or the two-term guy came first. The WMG page has many suggestions about who the two presidents between the end of Clinton's term and the start of Walker's term in the House Of Cardsverse may have been.
    • One of the major parts of Peter Russo's arc is the closure of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. In reality, the Navy Yard was closed in 1995 and transferred in 2000 to the City of Philadelphia, which has redeveloped it into a mixed-use development with an industrial park and private commercial shipyard. By actual 2013, the only news involving the Navy Yard was that Jefferson University Hospital was expanding its operations at its branch there, and SEPTA was kinda-sorta still considering extending the Broad Street Line there.
    • At the beginning of the series Frank is the Majority Whip in the House of Representative. Since Frank is a Democrat, this indicates that they did not lose control of the House in the 2010 midterms, as they did in real life.
    • It's mentioned in a late season 1 episode when Frank is doing digging on Walker's ties to Raymond Tusk that Walker used to work in the private sector as the CEO of Pioneer Airlines before they were incorporated into United Airlines and Walker went into politics. In the real world, there was a Pioneer Airlines which has now become incorporated into United Airlines, but through different means: the real Pioneer was merged with Continental Airlines in 1955, which in turn merged with United in 2011.
    • One of the plotlines in Season 3 is around negotiations for a deal between the United States and Russia over maintaining peace in the Jordan Valley between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In the real world, following the First Intifada of 1987-1991, negotiations between Israel, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Jordan at the Oslo Accords resulted in the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, which, among other principles, established joint cooperation on security matters and refugee travel through the Jordan Valley between Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.
    • An oil crisis in season 4 leads to long lines at the gas pumps, a repeat of the real-life 1973 one. It's not seen in real 2016, where gas prices are at some of their lowest in a long time. Obviously in the show's timeline, the US didn't start heavily fracking and Saudi Arabia didn't tank the prices. Also, Russia never invaded Ukraine so they never had sanctions against them for that. Consequently, America relies on Russian oil a lot more than in reality.
    • The need for stricter gun control is brought up by Claire and provokes a major nation-wide political debate. This mimics a real-life debate that has been occurring at basically the same time as the show takes place; the only difference is that Claire's lobbying for more stringent background checks stems from Frank getting shot, while the real-life background check issues have stemmed from such things as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the 2015 Charleston church massacre, and the 2016 Orlando nightclub massacre.
    • It's mentioned that the Islamic terrorist group ICO contains disgruntled "ex-Baathists" from Syria. Since the Syrian president in the House Of Cardsverse is someone other than noted Baathist leader Bashar al-Assad, Assad was presumably overthrown at some point and replaced with a government similar to that of post-Saddam Iraq — i.e., disliked by both Islamic fundamentalists and ex-regime loyalists. ICO is of course similar to ISIS, a major terrorist group that arose around the same time as ICO in our universe.
    • In season 4, the 2016 Democratic National Convention is held in Atlanta, Georgia. In real-life, the convention took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: It is mentioned that Heather Dunbar's family owns an armored car service. There is an actual armored car service called Dunbar Armored Cars Inc.
  • It's Always Spring: Since an entire 13 episode season is shot all at once, this can get egregious when you have episodes set in winter months and characters are not appropriately dressed for cold weather.
    • Chapter 5 in Season 1 appears to take place in the late spring or summer as the fund raiser is held outdoors at night and characters are dressed for warm weather. When Russo checks his recently received emails from angry constituents however, the emails are all dated February 1st. Average D.C. temperatures for February range from the 20s to the 40s Fahrenheit.
    • At the end of Chapter 40 while the Underwoods are in Texas, Frank says that the State Of The Union address is in 2 weeks. The grass and trees are rather green for being Texas in late January/early February. Texas is actually pretty brown that time of year.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Certainly the Frank Underwood way to power is ruthless.
  • Anachronic Order: Chapter 33 skips around between several different points between the end of Chapter 32 and about a month later.
  • And Then What?: Played with as a sort of driving question throughout Season 3. Frank's rise to power has proven nothing short of magnificent...but the question is, now that he's reached the top — how can he maintain his power?
  • Anyone Can Die: The show has so far killed off one major character every season. Peter in season one, Zoe in season two, Rachel in season three, Lucas and Meechum in season four. Zoe's demise is a particularly shocking example, as she is killed in a completely unexpected and abrupt way in only the first episode of season two.
  • Arc Words: "Chose Power over Money." Several variants show up in Season 1, and a few less explicit examples show up in Season 2.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Frank is portrayed as being indifferent on the issue of gay rights despite having a history of sexual experiences with men. President Petrov, who leads an aggressively homophobic government in Russia, mentions at one point that several of his cabinet ministers are gay.
  • Artistic License – Cars:
    • A justifiable example. In season 3, the Presidential State Car is shown to be a 2005 Cadillac DTS from George W. Bush's era, instead of the unique Cadillac limousine that President Barack Obama uses. It's justified because the real State Car is a unique, super-classified model not based on any existing Cadillac models (it's an amalgamation of various Cadillacs built on a GMC Topkick heavy truck chassis), and for obvious reasons, the White House will certainly never let a production company borrow the active Presidential State Car or create an exact duplicate of it (again, the specifications of the vehicle are classified).
    • In Chapter 1, characters are seen taking a Washington Flyer taxicab around Washington D.C. This cab company exclusively serves Washington Dulles International Airport.
  • Artistic License – Economics:
    • There is absolutely no reason why Raymond Tusk should need to “funnel” or launder $25 million in illicit political contributions from China. That money is literally half a percent of interest on Tusk’s $40 billion fortune. He could pay this money himself out of petty cash.
    • On a related subject, the laundering scheme is done through the most conspicuous way possible: Chinese stooges working for Tusk and his Chinese business partner Xander Feng are flown on large jets from Beijing to St. Louis, where they gamble away millions at crooked tribal chief Daniel Lanagin’s casino. Lanagin then moves their money to the super PAC as a political donation. This means that they left a paper trail of airline flights, security camera footage and casino employees in on the scam. In real life, this kind of shady business is done through crooked lawyers and offshore bank accounts.
      • Alternately, a simpler method would have been to set up a shell corporation. The corporation could be incorporated in the United States and would appear to either the IRS or the FECnote  as a legitimate enterprise. Because the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision legalized corporate donations in politics, corporations can give directly to super PACs and nonprofits. And if that money was given to a nonprofit, it might escape the IRS’s attention — and look like a totally legitimate donation on a 501(c)4’s tax forms. A tax attorney and former IRS official told Mother Jones in 2012 that it was not the IRS’ policy to uncover the origin of shell corporations.
    • Speaking of the money laundering scheme: at one point, Underwood, Walker, and other Democratic leaders huddle in the Oval Office — watching a clip from a mysterious ad backed by $25 million in super PAC money. They tell Walker that they won’t know who is paying for the ads until the next round of campaign finance filings, and the Democrats wonder about the source of the cash. While sizable, a $25 million ad campaign is hardly a game-changer in real life, even in the midterm elections. And there are plenty of individual wealthy donors who will spend that much on political activity in a cycle — all entirely within the law and above board. For example: billionaire Democratic venture capitalist Tom Steyer vowed to pour $100 million into the 2014 campaign on behalf of climate issues. On the other side, GOP donors like Paul Singer and others gathered at one point to plot a big money strategy for the Republican Party. The network founded by industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch hammered the Senate Democrats. Labor groups alone put $20 million into New Jersey state legislative elections in 2013. And three donor gave eight figure checks of $22.5 million, $18 million and $10 million to Karl Rove’s Crossroads network in 2012.
    • Furthermore, why even use a super PAC instead of something like a 501(c)4 nonprofit? Nonprofits are not required to disclose their donors. Better yet, they don’t have to disclose anything about their spending until more than a year after election day.
    • In fact, the money scheme in House of Cards, according to Politico, wouldn't necessarily be illegal: while federal law does strictly ban foreign individuals from contributing to campaigns or directly participating in elections, there are gray zones. For instance, the FEC has never really grappled with the issue of foreign-owned corporations donating or participating in elections — only corporate PACs and foreign individuals. And the restrictions on foreign participation only applies to ads that expressly mention federal candidates. The FEC has ruled, for example, that a foreign national could fund an issue campaign that dealt with liberal media bias.
      In House of Cards, the ad campaign that Raymond Tusk, Daniel Lanagin, Xander Feng and the Chinese straw donors launch is explicitly identified by Jackie Sharp as an “issue ad”. They don’t even mention a federal candidate — though they do encourage voters to “send a message” at the midterm elections which could be interpreted as a political ad. A subtle ad campaign could — in theory — be legally paid for with foreign money.
    • Someone buying Freddie’s barbecue shack to turn it into a franchise chain is not going to care that Freddie once did time. If anything, the fact that Freddie did time probably makes it more valuable. It’s a story. And if there were morality clauses in business contracts, there would be no business. Not these days. Oh, and Freddie, signing away the rights for $95,000 up front is a joke.
    • A significant plot point in season 4 involves Claire going behind Frank's back, sending LeAnn Harvey to secretly open his safe deposit box. LeAnn does this by going to the bank under the guise of opening up her own deposit box, asks for some privacy from the banker, and then finds and uses Claire's key to open Frank's box. The thing is, safe deposit boxes require two keys: the owner's and the bank manager's. Not to mention that there would be other, lesser-known safeguards against inappropriate access in a vault containing a box owned by the President of the United States.
  • Artistic License - Politics: Although Washington politics are generally gotten down pretty accurately, some liberties are taken for dramatic effect. For instance:
    • A major plot point in Season 1 is a special election for governor of Pennsylvania, triggered by the election of Jim Matthews as Vice President. In real life, Pennsylvania and most other states elect the governor and lieutenant governor on the same gubernational ticket, with the lieutenant governor becoming governor in case of a vacancy (as happened, for example, when then-Governor Tom Ridge was appointed Secretary of Homeland Security note in 2001). Unless of course a recall election was taking place, there would not be an election until the next regularly scheduled one.
      • Furthermore, it's stated that the governor of Pennsylvania was selected to be VP solely because their popular, moderate, folksy governor would get the people of Pennsylvania to vote Democrat and potentially swing the election. Pennsylvania has voted for the Democratic candidate for president every time since 1988.
    • Early in Season 3, we see the Democratic congressional leadership meeting with Frank to tell him that they do not want him to run for reelection and that they will be backing someone else, whom they will choose later. This is a form of presidential nomination that went out of style in the 1820s. While in real life the congressional leaders may be influential in these sorts of decisions (there is evidence to suggest that Senators Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy encouraged Barack Obama to run for President in 2008, and their support was crucial influence in his decision to run), they are just a handful of the hundreds or even thousands of party insiders involved at this stage.
    • Frank would never be able to appoint Claire as a US Ambassador in season 3 or later put her on the ticket for VP in season 4 because in response to the controversy that resulted when John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General, Congress passed the Postal Revenue and Federal Salary Act of 1967, also known as the "Bobby Kennedy Act". This anti-nepotism act made it illegal under 5 U.S. Code § 3110 for a sitting president to "employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement" a relative to any political or bureaucratic office.
      • It could be debated whether or not the selection of a relative as a running-mate violates undermines anti-nepotism law, particularly since in the show it was the Democratic National Convention that (technically) made the selection, not the president himself (who would have been acting in his capacity as a candidate, and not president anyway).
    • In real life, America Works might be labeled as a massive redistribution-of-the-wealth program that benefits just a handful of people, and runs the risk of being just as unpopular as Obamacare. The major factors that would influence how popular the legislation is would include whether or not businesses would be forced to hire America Works applicants, and whether the law would add to the national debt.
    • In Season 3, Frank is doing debate prep to prepare to face Heather Dunbar in the Iowa Caucus debates. However, the stand-in for Dunbar is a man, in this case, his Vice President Donald Blythe, rather than a woman. In real-life, they'd have a female stand-in represent Dunbar, preferably a female senator, congressional representative, or governor, who could provide a more realistic representation of Dunbar and prepare Frank for the nuances of having a female debate partner (example: in 2008, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm stood-in for Alaska Governor Sarah Palin during then-Senator Joe Biden's debate prep prior to the vice presidential debate).
    • In season 3, Frank is convinced that the Democratic leadership has a secret shortlist of potential presidential candidates, and he’s willing to pay an extremely high price to get his hands on that list so he can short-circuit those people’s career ambitions. In real life, there is no secret list of presidential candidates. If you want an idea of which candidates a party is considering for the next presidential election, start with current or recent U.S. senators, governors and vice presidents. Cross off those who are over 75, have life-threatening illnesses or criminal records, or are clinically insane. Award bonus points to those from populous, competitive states. That’s your list. The last time a major political party nominated someone for president who didn’t fit the above description was Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. So, yeah, a party may grant an exemption in some cases with special circumstances, but beyond that, it’s just a long parade of senators, governors and veeps for the better part of a century.
    • A Solicitor General like Heather Dunbar would probably not make a good presidential candidate. As pointed out by The Washington Post, not many people know the name of the Solicitor General in real lifenote . A relatively unknown politician would probably never be nominated as a Presidential candidate for good reasons: when someone is being nominated for President, part of the process involves entails determining if the person actually functions well as a candidate and wins votes, and if this person will advance the policies the public will approve of and not cave the moment public opinion starts to shift. In other words, parties tend to nominate people with some history of behaving as a public official and running in multiple elections.
      • Adding to that: some candidates also bring certain votes to the table, whether it’s African-Americans, labor unions, evangelical Christians, Southerners, or anyone else. This makes the party’s job easier when it’s trying to mobilize half the electorate to turn out. We don't know what votes Dunbar is bringing to the table, but in real life, the solicitor general brings very few votes in. It could be handwaved though by considering the fact that Season 3 took place after a massive Watergate-esque investigation of Walker, and the publicity from that alone could have made Dunbar a household name.
    • One subplot in season 3 involves Russia's internationally criticized ban on materials promoting "non-traditional sexual relations" among minors, also known as Russia's "gay propaganda" law. In Chapter 32, the Underwoods go to Moscow to try to negotiate the release of Michael Corrigan, an American LGBT activist who is among several detained for violating the "gay propaganda" ban by participating in a rally in support of gay rights. Corrigan tells Claire that a fellow Russian gay rights activist died in custody after a 28-day hunger strike. In real life, though, the penalty isn't as severe as the show makes it seem to be: violations of the "gay propaganda" law in Russia are punishable by a fine, while foreigners like Corrigan may also face up to a 15-day "administrative arrest," followed by deportation. So, in real life, there probably would be no need of any kind for the Underwoods to travel to Russia to negotiate Corrigan's release. This is probably explained by the fact that although Viktor Petrov is obviously based on Vladimir Putin, he is not meant to be Vladimir Putin. Therefore it is perfectly plausible that this alternate Russian president would pass a harsher law.
    • If Heather Dunbar was a long-shot candidate for the presidency, Claire Underwood being on the presidential ticket as her husband's choice for VP is simply unbelievable, as in, political suicide. On the one hand, you have the huge legal problems that comes from the obvious conflict of interest, not to mention that, as with Claire's ambassadorship above, Frank would be forbidden from making a spouse or family member his running mate. Furthermore, many pundits would ask, what does Claire offer for the ticket? She has no political experience that comes from an elected office. She has no military or business servicenote . Her time as UN ambassador was a disaster (to put it nicely) and a black eye for Frank's presidency. She might help with the women's vote, but Catherine Durant could have done that and still brought her experience from her time as a senator and Secretary of State. Claire has a good public image, but only as a First Lady. The focus groups even point out that no one trusts or believes in her abilities beyond that role.
    • During the VP negotiations in Season 4, one of Catherine Durant's political pluses is that she has supposedly never expressed an opinion on gun control one way or another. This is extraordinarily unlikely given Durant was previously a Democratic senator from the south. Most southern Democrats tend to be quite openly conservative on gun rights in order to dispel allegations that they are too liberal or out-of-touch with the "cultural values" of the region.
    • The flashback in "Chapter 46" going back to the New Year's party in season 1 establishes that Will Conway was elected Governor in 2012, the same time Walker was elected President. New York elects Governors on the midterm cycles (2010, 2014, 2018, etc), not Presidential election cycles. In reality, Conway would have been halfway through his first term when that scene happened, and the same would be true if he wins the 2016 race, in which case, he'd be resigning his post and his lieutenant governor would fill the position until the next electionnote .
    • The Underwoods' proposed gun bill would be considered quite redundant in real life. All of the provisions of the bill already exist. There are no internet sales or vendor sales at gun shows without a background check. And some states allow individuals to sell to individuals without a background check and these can take place at a gun show or a parking lot.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • In season 3, Claire accuses the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, of a history of duplicitous and violent tactics. She says, "The FSB has conducted these sorts of operations before. The apartment complex that blew up — Petrov used that to justify invading Chechnya. The opera house that was gassed — he removed all provincial governors after that." In real life, the second war in Chechnya that began in 1999 was prompted by a series of bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and other cities and a Chechen rebel incursion into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan. Some critics — most notably former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed by polonium poisoning in London — have accused the FSB of having staged the apartment building bombings. Petrov's real-life counterpart Vladimir Putin also scrapped popular elections of regional governors in 2004 after a terrorist attack, but the incident that prompted the move was not the gassing of an opera house, nor the major hostage-taking crisis at a Moscow theater in 2002, but a terrorist raid on a school in Beslan, in Russia's republic of North Ossetia.
    • In Season 4, Will Conway uses the phrase "That government is best which governs least", claiming that it comes from Thomas Jefferson and that Jefferson is the founder of the Republican Party. Not only is that phrase actually from Henry David Thoreau, Jefferson did not found the Republican Party. Jefferson died decades before its foundation, though both the modern Democratic and Republican parties can trace their roots back to his Democratic-Republican Party.
  • Ascended Extra: Some characters get subjected to this within the show, or when compared to their equivalent in the UK version.
    • After two seasons in a minor role, and completely absent for season 3, Tom Hammerschmidt plays a big role in the second half of season 4
  • Aside Comment: Often used by Frank, a carryover from the original series, as well as the Shakespearean dramas both are inspired by.
    • In the Season 4 finale, Claire even joins in (nonverbally) with Frank's unambiguous episode-ending threat.
  • Asshole Victim: Neither the Republican or Democratic congressional leadership really give a shit about Frank after he gets shot. Bob Birch remarks that they'll need to appropriate the funds for a potential state funeral with the same tone of voice that you'd use to say "Oh, and by the way, we also need more toilet paper."
  • Author Tract: A major plot arc in Season 1 involves the newly elected Garrett Walker administration trying to pass an education reform bill that receives opposition from teachers' unions. Presumably, the writers were acknowledging how Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is very vocal about his ideas for education reform in the US, and has also met criticism from unions.
  • Back for the Dead:
    • After being arguably the third most important character of Season 1, Zoe Barnes is suddenly killed off in the very first episode of the Season 2.
    • Rachel Posner gets her day in the limelight in the Season 3 finale, showing what her life has been like since escaping from Doug Stamper. She's run over by a van in that same episode.
    • After being absent for all of season 3, Lucas Goodwin is released into Witness Protection at the start of season 4, but merely three episodes later dies trying to assassinate Frank, only succeeding in killing Meechum.
  • Badass Boast:
    • When the multibillionaire Xander Feng tries to browbeat Frank with his and Raymond Tusk's wealth:
    Frank Underwood: Do you know how Grant defeated Lee? He had more men, that's all, and he was willing to let them die. It was butchery, not strategy, that won the war.
    Xander Feng: Mr. Tusk and I have great resources at our disposal.
    Frank Underwood: Add up all your billions and you get the GDP of Slovakia. I have the federal government of the United States of America. Your money doesn't intimidate me. The most that you buy is influence, but I wield Constitutional authority.
    Xander Feng: The strongest army doesn't always win. Mao started out with only a few thousand men. They took over half a continent.
    Frank Underwood: Mao is dead, and so is his China.
    Xander Feng: But I'm not.
    Frank Underwood: Not yet.
    • Lucas and Gavin have an exchange of boasts:
    Lucas Goodwin: You think you're a badass because you're on some vigilante anarchist kick? At least I have the balls to put my name on the work I do.
    Gavin Orsay: You've never faced 100 years in prison, you self-righteous prick! Most of my friends are in prison, rotting away, because they poked the bear one too many times. Why? Because they wanted to expose government surveillance, the PRISM program, embezzlement, abuse, fucking torture, lies! You're a journalist? Who gives a shit? We're fucking soldiers. It's personal for me now. I don't have a choice, but you still do.
    Lucas Goodwin: I don't have a choice.
    • Frank's boast to Martin Spinella that breaks up the teacher's union strike:
    Frank Underwood: You know the difference between you and me, Marty?
    Martin Spinella: What?
    Frank Underwood: I'm a white-trash cracker from a white-trash town that no one would even bother to piss on. But here's the difference — I've made something of myself. I have the keys to the Capitol. People respect me. But you, you're still nothing. You're just an uppity dago in an expensive suit turning tricks for the unions. Nobody respects the unions anymore, Marty. They're dying. And no one respects you. The most you'll ever make of yourself is blowing men like me. Men with real power. Yes. I can smell the cock on your breath from here.
    Marty Spinella: You think you can get under my skin?
    Frank Underwood: I know I can.
  • Batman Gambit: Most of Frank's schemes involve manipulating people and trusting that they will behave as he expects them to.
  • Bi the Way:
    • After four seasons, it's become pretty clear that Frank is bisexual. He has had sexual experiences with members of both genders, far beyond the realm of experimentation, and engaged in at least two bisexual threeways.
    • Feng as well, possibly. The first time we see him he's engaged in a very kinky sex act with a male and female prostitute.
    • Meechum has a threeway with Frank and Claire.
  • Big Fancy House: There's the White House itself. But then there's Claire's family estate in Texas shown in Season 4.
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Averted in Season 4 with Hannah Conway, the wife of Republican presidential nominee Will Conway. Despite being young, attractive, a mother of two and married to a conservative governor, she is very liberal. She mentions this is due to the fact she is British, which contributes to her support of the gun control bill introduced by Claire, something a typical Republican would vehemently oppose.
  • Bodyguard Crush:
    • Steve for Claire Underwood; when she finds out on his deathbed about his crush on her and his jealousy-fueled hatred of Frank, she attempts to give him a pity deathbed handjob (which he refuses) and tells him point blank that he could have had her at any time, as far as revealing that she and Frank had an open relationship.
    • Meechum for the Underwoods. That's right — both of them.
  • Boring but Practical: Tom Hammerschmidt's approach to exposing Frank in season 4. Rather than directly approach Frank, he takes a methodical approach, looking for something that can point to evidence of corruption, and then digging from there.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Aside from Frank's constant soliloquy-like conversations with us, there are subtle moments peppered throughout where he looks directly at the camera for a split second, but says nothing. Whenever this happens, Frank is about to do something incredible.
  • Breather Episode: Chapter 8 is partially one, for Frank at least, as the episode is about him cavorting with his old friends from the military academy. However, the Russo plotline is still active in the episode. To date, Chapter 8 is the only episode in the entire series to not feature Doug Stamper, and the only season 1 episode to not feature Zoe Barnes.
  • Burn Baby Burn: Doug does this in Season 3 with a compromising journal page to display his loyalty to Frank.
  • The Bus Came Back: By season 4, it's become clear that although this is a series where Anyone Can Die, any major character who's not filling a grave will probably show up at least once after their main story arc is complete.
    • Lucas Goodwin gets released from prison after having been sent there in season 2, then tries to assassinate Frank, only succeeding in killing Meechum before he dies.
    • More notable is Tom Hammerschmidt, who ends up exposing Frank's corruption where Zoe Barnes failed.
    • Even death can't stop some of the best characters: Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo appear to torment Frank inside hallucination sequences.
  • Butt Monkey: Lucas Goodwin. He gets rejected by Zoe Barnes repeatedly, winds up as her second choice, is driven to obsession by her death, loses his Herald job, is dismissed by everyone (including his friends) as a lunatic despite being the only person who knows the truth, watches his hated enemy go from strength to strength and become the most powerful man in the free world, gets railroaded into prison, humiliates himself for his cellmate, is blackmailed into sexual acts by a grotesque man at the shitty car-wash he's forced to work at, is once again dismissed as a lunatic by Heather Dunbar, fails to assassinate Frank, and his name will possibly go down in history as an unsuccessful Lee Harvey Oswald. It almost seems like the creators don't like him much at all.
  • California Doubling:
    • Baltimore doubles for Washington, DC, as well as other locations. Including: the Underwood residence, Zoe Barnes' apartment, Freddy’s BBQ Rib Joint, The Clean Water Initiative building where Claire works, The Washington Herald offices, the Washington Opera House, the Secretary of State's building, Hotel Cotesworth, The Georgetown Hotel, Werner's Bar, Tio Pepe's, the DuPont Circle Bar, as well as scenes set in other locations, including Peter Russo's campaign rally in Pennsylvania and The Sentinel (military academy)’s Francis J. Underwood Library and Waldron Hall in South Carolina.
    • Most of the interior scenes were shot in a large top-secret industrial warehouse in Joppa, Maryland, 17 miles northeast of Baltimore.
    • There was some on-location filming. For example, the filming of a mock Presidential motorcade in season 3.
    • Zoe Barnes's death was shot in Baltimore, due to WMATA not allowing scenes of violence to be filmed in their system.
    • The international summit in season 4 was filmed in Indianapolis.
    • Here's an egregious example: Claire's mother's plantation house is supposed to be in Highland Park, an affluent suburb of Dallas. While the green-lawned estate might have passed as a Highland Park manse, the wide lot does look like some of the homes on one of Dallas' toniest streets (Beverly Drive), and the exterior of the southern home rightly carries the posh air of a place for the ultra rich. the backyard shows a large hill of green that goes on for miles. And there are horse stables. Such hills don't exist in that part of Texas. The plantation house itself is actually in Maryland.
  • Call Back:
    • In a Season 2 episode, Frank facetiously suggests, when confronted by Tom Hammerschmidt, that Hammerschmidt might soon start accusing him of strangling dogs. He did in fact kill a dog in the show's very first scene.
      • In the season 4 finale, when Tom Hammerschmidt shows up to confront Frank on his corruption, Frank remarks about the prior interview.
    • In the third episode of season 4, when Frank confronts Oren Chase over his hanging the KKK photo of Frank's father, he asks if Oren hasn't gotten over the Peachoid nonsense from season 1.
  • The Cameo:
    • Rachael Price sings the national anthem when Frank is booked to throw the ceremonial first pitch at an Orioles game.
    • Several members of the dissident group Pussy Riot appear as themselves to chew out Petrov in Petrov's first episode. Head writer Beau Willimon even invited them to submit script ideas based on their personal experiences and one of their music videos plays over the closing credits (instead of a black background), which no other director has done previously.
    • Stephen Colbert appears as his character from the The Colbert Report, interviewing Underwood. Which was a nice treat for viewers given that by the time the episode with this segment was available, Colbert had already ended his run as host of The Colbert Report in real life.
    • Far too many real life reporters to name do brief segments, as themselves, reporting on in-universe news. Notable examples include Donna Brazile, Morley Safer, Stephen Colbert; ABC's George Stephanopoulos; CBS's Major Garrett; CNN's Ashleigh Banfield, Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley, John King, and Soledad O'Brien; Fox News's Sean Hannity and Dennis Miller; HBO's Bill Maher; and MSNBC's Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews.
  • Casting Gag: John Doman, who previously starred as Pope Alexander VI for three seasons in Borgia, returns as a bishop presiding over a military funeral.
  • The Cast Showoff: Kevin Spacey gets to show off his singing abilities in Chapter 8, and again in Chapter 29.
  • Catchphrase: Frank knocking twice on a hard surface is a nonverbal catchphrase.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Reference is made to the 1981 attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan after Frank gets shot, which was carried out by John Hinckley Jr., who was trying to impress actress Jodie Foster, over whom he had developed an obsession. The paradox is that Jodie Foster also has directed an episode of House of Cards.
  • The Chains of Commanding:
    • Frank makes sure the chains of Garrett Walker are as heavy as possible. Eventually, the President begins to crumble under the weight.
    • Frank then suffers this himself in Season 3.
    • Frank tells Will Conway that he's a fraud who will not be able to bear the chains, as so much of it involves decisions that must remain secret.
  • Character Development: The general twist of Season 3 is that practically everyone has wised up on the Underwoods.
  • The Chess Master: Frank is a master schemer who combines this and Manipulative Bastard on a daily basis. He also plays or discuss actual chess often and at one point offers to teach the game to his number two.
    • Deconstructed in Season 3, Frank's ruthless use of others as pieces (in addition to his hubris and authoritarian style), drives away many supporters, including the Democratic leadership, Jim Matthews, Freddie, Jackie Sharp, Remy Danton, and finally Claire.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: The two Underwoods frequently share a cigarette at their window as they mull over their decisions and machinations. They acknowledge the trope, pointing out that there will be plenty of these moments as their plans progress, but the issue is less "anxiety" and more "anticipation".
  • Cold Open: Zig-zagged. Some episodes (including the first one) start like this, but not all.
  • Composite Character: Peter Russo is a combination of two UK characters: Mr. Stoat (an MP with a fondness for prostitutes that Urquhart "saved" after being pulled over by the police) and Roger O'Neill (a cocaine-addicted conservative public relations consultant killed by Urquhart in a way that looks like an accidental overdose).
  • Control Freak: Frank, in Season 3. This trope is nicely deconstructed: The more he tries to stabilizes his situation, the more messed up it becomes.
  • Consummate Liar: Frank Underwood is so good a master manipulator that in the Season 2 finale, he manages to convince President Walker that all his actions came from a sincere desire to protect Walker despite the President finally seeing through his schemes in the previous episode. It works so well that Walker hands Underwood the keys to the kingdom by the episode's end.
  • Contrast Montage: "Chapter 46" does a nice one to perform a study in the contrasts between Frank Underwood and Will Conway. Conway enjoys spirited “good morning” sex on the bathroom counter with Hannah, while Frank stands alone in front of a bathroom vanity filled with recovery medications as Claire peeks in from a cautious distance. After the quickie with his spouse, Conway goofs around with one of his adorable moppet children; meanwhile, a subdued Frank and Claire discuss the importance of staying focused on their political agenda instead of worrying about their personal relationship.

  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • Raymond Tusk is a billionaire who engages in political corruption to further his financial interests.
    • When Frank meets SanCorp CEO Scott Cunningham, Cunningham implies he's lied to grand juries in the past
  • Could Say It, But...: "You might think that. I couldn't possibly comment," meaning, "No comment, but yes."
  • Country Matters: Calling Zoe Barnes a "cunt", and on tape nonetheless, gets Tom Hammerschmidt fired from The Washington Herald.

    D - L 
  • Death by Adaptation: Commander Corder, head of security for Urquhart in the original series, survived the entire show. His equivalent in the US series, Edward Meechum, is killed off in season 4 during an assassination attempt on Frank.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Christina Gallagher has a fairly prominent role as Peter Russo's girlfriend/assistant in Season 1. In Season 2, she's kept around by becoming Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez's assistant, but with no real arc besides Claire briefly using her to manipulate the First Lady and strain Walker's marriage. After Frank manipulates Linda into resigning, Christina never shows up again.
    • Meechum, who has a subplot in Season 2, is largely reduced to silently escorting people around in Season 3. He gets a little more to do in the beginning of season 4, where Frank uses him to investigate the leak of the KKK photo of Frank's father, but is then killed during Lucas Goodwin's attempted assassination of Frank a third of the way through the season.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: In Chapter 34, a massive hurricane is about to hit the East Coast, but FEMA doesn't have the funds to handle the emergency services needed, due in part because Frank used those funds to get America Works off the ground. The Senate offers Frank a bill to appropriate $10 billion in funds, but on the condition America Works is cut. As the storm gets closer and everyone, including governers, both parties, and the media, pressure Frank to sign the bill before the storm hits. Frank finally caves to pressure, but the storm doesn't make landfall, and it's too late to take back the bill. Just like that, America Works is gone, all those people are out of work, and Frank is forced to change his plans: declare his candidacy for 2016 with the promise of bringing America Works back if he wins.
  • Dirty Old Man: Frank invokes this in his affair with Zoe Barnes. As Kevin Spacey (Frank) is about 25 years older than Kate Mara (Zoe), Zoe is just young enough to be Frank's daughter had he and Claire chosen to have children. This includes a disturbing sexual encounter where Frank performs oral sex on Zoe while she's on the phone with her father, then essentially asks her to wish him a happy Father's Day, while implying she's his surrogate daughter. At least Zoe doesn't have the Electra complex that her British counterpart Mattie Storin had.
  • Disease Bleach: Just like a number of real life U.S presidents, the stress of the Oval Office causes Frank's hair to go greyer throughout season 3 until it is practically white. Walker didn't seem to have this issue as his hair was already gray to begin his term and didn't seem to change color much by the time of his resignation.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The scene where Walker is notified of Russo's death. He's in the Oval Office, in the middle of a conversation with Frank, when an aide comes in and whispers something in his ear. This seems strikingly familiar to anyone who's aware of the moment when George W. Bush was notified of the 9/11 attacks.
    • During the initial newscasts after Frank gets shot, Charlie Gibson says "This is a difficult moment for the country. It is not the first time that a president has been shot, in my lifetime or in many of yours." Those words, along with the chaos that ensues when Lucas Goodwin opens fire, seem like deliberate reminders of the scene's similarity to the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. One significant difference might well be that John Hinckley, Jr. was mentally unhinged when he shot Reagannote  while Lucas Goodwin was only seemingly mentally ill when he shot Franknote . Two other differences are that Hinckley survived while Lucas was killed; furthermore, while several people including a few Secret Service agents were hit during the attempt on Reagan, none of them were killed.
      • Another thing to note is that both Frank and Reagan were shot in March. The difference is that Reagan was shot two months into his first term, while Frank was shot while seeking reelection. But just like Reagan, Frank sees a surge in his approval ratings after the incident.
  • The Dog Bites Back:
    • In Season 3, all Jackie asks of Frank is for him to treat her as a part of the team. Instead, he launches into a tirade about how there is no equality between them and that she should just take what he dishes out. And this is after Frank publicly makes a fool of her and her family on a public debate. Sure enough, Jackie retaliates by publicly endorsing Frank's primary rival.
    • In Season 4, after Lucas Goodwin's botched attempt on Frank's life, Tom Hammerschmidt starts looking into the matter to figure out just what went down. In the process, this trope is invoked as he approaches every person Frank stepped on to reach the Oval Office and gets their testimony to finally crack the Underwoods' cover-ups. Jackie, Remy Denton, and even Walker jump at the opportunity to get some public revenge on Frank for all the shit he's put them through.
  • Double Entendre: When Zoe Barnes wants to break off her sexual relationship with Frank — then sends him a text-message asking to see him (on the eve of an important House vote) — Frank has this exchange as he heads out the door:
    Claire Underwood: Going somewhere?
    Frank Underwood: Just for an hour or two. I've got one last holdout to whip.
  • Dramatic Irony: In season 2, Tom Hammerschmidt, on behalf of Lucas, asks Frank if he had a hand in the deaths of Russo and Zoe. Frank waves away the accusations by asking if Hammerschmidt is going to accuse him of strangling dogs. This is callback to the very first scene of the show, where Frank put an injured dog out of its misery. In season 4, Tom states several times that he doesn't believe Frank is a killer. Over the course of the show, Frank has killed the very two people he's accused of killing.
  • Driven to Suicide: In Season 3, Michael Corrigan, an American gay rights activist imprisoned in Moscow kills himself instead of reading a statement on Russian TV denouncing homosexuals, as doing so would only secure his freedom, not the freedom of the Russian activists arrested with him.
  • Driving a Desk: Driving scenes in the show were filmed this way. But instead of the conventional rear-projection, the method used here is different: this series uses a three-sided green screen to insert street scenes outside the car windows, with synchronized LED screens above the car (and out of camera shot), that emit the appropriate light onto the actors and parts of the car, such as window frames.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: There are some characters who make minor appearances long before they became major characters in the plot.
    • While Will Conway doesn't become part of the main plot until the second half of season 4, he shows up onscreen once before he's properly introduced, when he's on the newscast in Frank's hotel room in Chapter 40. Later, Conway is heard briefly talking on Remy Danton's car radio in Chapter 44 when Remy's attempting to purchase gas.
  • Enemy Mine: In Season 3 the Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress team up together to oppose the America Works program and Frank's misappropriation of FEMA's budget.
  • Establishing Character Moment
    • Frank is introduced while euthanizing a mortally wounded dog, and explaining to us that its suffering is pointless. This establishes him as someone who is not completely without pity, but who approaches morality in a ruthlessly practical way.
    • When Frank apologizes to Claire for losing the Secretary of State nomination, she responds, "My husband doesn't apologize. Even to me." Paging Lady Macbeth!
    • Will Conway is first introduced having a morning quickie with his wife on the bathroom counter while admiring himself in the mirror, then shown engineering a home video with his kids, establishing him as a manipulator and a narcissist.
  • Everybody Smokes: Not quite "everybody," but at least half the main cast has been seen lighting up.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Frank is perfectly content in lying, intimidating, manipulating and murdering to further his own interests, but there are some lines he won't cross:
    • He despises rapists, which could in part have to do with Claire having been sexually assaulted in college. This is especially evident in Season 2 when it is revealed the General that he is due to present a medal to is that rapist:
    Frank Underwood: He doesn't deserve a medal, he deserves to be taken outside and shot!
    • While Frank has no problem engaging in talks with Russia, when he comes to the conclusion that the bombing death of some Russian soldiers in the Jordan Valley was staged by the Russian government, he seems disgusted with Petrov.
    • For someone who basically is a tyrant, Frank also appears to hate people who kill and abuse their own people, especially a certain President Chimbetu of Zimbabwe.
    Frank Underwood: He's egregious. The man's a monster!
    • Frank obviously hates the KKK. He keeps a picture of his father meeting with a KKK bigwig to remind him of the only time that his father really sacrificed something to protect the family.
  • Evil Chancellor: During the first two seasons, Frank is both a Treacherous Advisor and a False Friend to Walker.
  • Experimented in College:
    • Frank had a sexual experience with a school friend. He's continued to have occasional sexual experiences with men into his middle age, taking it beyond experimentation.
    • LeAnn Harvey states that one of the only pieces of "dirt" on her is that she experimented with a roommate in college.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Claire Underwoood is a beautiful and charming woman, but is just as ruthless as Frank.
  • False Flag Operation:
    • During the teachers strike, Doug arranges to throw a brick through the Underwood's window so Frank can use it as a means of showing that the teachers are getting out of hand.
    • In Season 3, Frank, Claire and most of the top US officials come to the conclusion that the terrorist attack that killed 8 Russian soldiers in the Jordan Valley was an inside job staged by the Russian government.
  • Fanservice:
    • Rachel is frequently shown walking around in her underwear when she's alone.
    • The sex scenes between Kate Baldwin and Thomas Yates in Season 3.
  • Fiction500: Heather Dunbar's family owns the real life Dunbar Armored, Inc. (an actual armored car service), and her estate is so large she is able to fund her presidential campaign without the need of Super PAC money.
  • Fictional Counterpart
    • Underwood's alma mater, The Sentinel, is a stand-in for The Citadel. He even mentions "his education at The Citadel" in a later episode.
    • The Washington Herald seems to at least have the same position as The Washington Post.
      • Interestingly, there was a real-life paper called The Washington Herald that operated from 1906 to 1939, when it was merged with fellow paper The Washington Times. The paper was then published as The Washington Times-Herald until 1954, when it was taken over by The Washington Post.
    • The Wall Street Telegraph serves as a counterpart to The Wall Street Journal.
    • NY Examiner, the tabloid that leaks details of Claire's relationship with Adam Galloway is an obvious expy of the New York Post.
    • The Dayton Times, the local newspaper Lucas Goodwin glimpses at in season 4, replaces The Dayton Daily News. Incidentally, in the same episode, when showing up at a Dunbar campaign stop, Goodwin claims to be from The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, an actual paper.
    • In season 3, a UN vote is delayed by the African Bloc, a fictitious version of the African Union.
    • In season 4, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) becomes the Islamic Caliphate Organisation (ICO).
  • Flat "What.": Some pillow talk between Jackie Sharp and Remy Danton in one season 2 episode takes a sharp turn.
    Remy Danton: You like when it hurts?
    Jackie Sharp: I killed a lot of people.
    [Beat]
    Remy Danton: What.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The death of Frank's ancestor in battle (killed in the woods, in the dark, with a rock) mirrors Doug Stamper's debilitating injury at the end of Season 2.
    • Zoe Barnes's death in Chapter 14 by getting shoved in front of a Washington Metro train was a Foregone Conclusion from the very beginning if you watched the original show and knew what happened to Mattie Storin. But as Cracked points out, they actually foreshadowed her death from the start as well:
      • In Chapter 1, Zoe works for ''The Washington Herald'' metropolitan pages, a job she says is "killing her." "Metro", the name of Washington's transit system, is the shorthand version of "Metropolitan".
      • In Chapter 2, Frank has a covert meeting late at night with Zoe at a Washington Metro stationnote , a rendezvous that ends with Frank telling Zoe not to miss her train.
      • In another episode, Frank says to us, "I don't use people unless I can throw them away afterwards," a telling line considering he's been using Zoe to plant damaging stories about his political rivals and will likely dispose of her when he doesn't find her useful anymore.
      • Early in Chapter 14, the episode where Zoe is killed, Claire asks Frank how he's going to deal with Zoe. He remarks that he's fully prepared. While he's doing that, he's studying a Metro route map.
    • In Viktor Petrov's first episode, Claire asks him, "Viktor, tell me: Are you in love?", to which Petrov responds, "I don't know about love, but I'm learning to enjoy being divorced," foreshadowing the rifts that eventually drive Frank apart from Claire.
    • Claire's nomination to the vice presidency is foreshadowed all through season 4, starting with the advertising campaign's "Underwood2016" hashtag.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: Of a sort. After the death of Peter Russo, Frank tries speaking to God at a church. Upon receiving no answer, he glances at the camera, says "Perhaps I'm speaking to the wrong audience," then turns his head down and reveals he's actually addressing Satan.
  • Freud Was Right: invoked Discussed by Frank Underwood to Zoe. He references an Oscar Wilde quote:
    "A great man once said, everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power."
  • The Ghost: Walker is implied to have children, however, they've never appeared onscreen.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Frank appoints Donald Blythe as his vice president because he knows that Blythe isn't up to being president himself, providing him insurance against impeachment. However, impeachment insurance is not the same as assassination insurance. So when Frank is shot by Lucas Goodwin in an assassination attempt, Blythe becomes acting president under the terms of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, and is virtually incapable of making any tough decisions, having to be guided by Claire the whole way.
  • Good Is Dumb: Expect any idealistic character in this series to suffer major consequences, and be Too Dumb to Live at the very worst.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • Zoe Barnes' death scene. Well, at least, the act itself. The CCTV footage afterwards, despite being in black and white? Not so much...
    • Rachel Posner/Cassie Lockhart's death. There's a cut between a moment where she realizes that Doug Stamper is coming back for her (and not exactly slowing down...) and the next scene, when he's burying her corpse.
    • In the assassination attempt on Frank's life, we see the mortally wounded Meechum fire his gun three times to kill Lucas Goodwin, but we don't ever see the bullets hit Goodwin, and the crowd density in a subsequent shot makes it impossible to see Goodwin's body - but they do show Meechum's body.
    • The decapitation of James Miller, a man taken hostage by US extremists loyal to the Islamic Caliphate Organisation (ICO). The scene cuts from the terrorists about to cut his throat to the disgusted reactions of those watching the footage in the White House situation room (apart from Claire and Frank, who just observe it with chilling neutrality).
  • Grey and Gray Morality: The show was given the tagline Bad, For a Greater Good in the second season, which sums up the moral ambiguity of the series nicely. Ultimately the number of characters who can be described as wholly good or wholly evil can be counted on one hand - ambition aside, even Frank has his redeeming qualities.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?:
    • Frank asks this of Zoe Barnes just before shoving her in front of a train.
    • Doug asks this of Gavin Orsay when Gavin is blackmailing him over Rachel's existence.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: In Season 3, imprisoned gay rights activist Mark Corrigan reveals to Claire his relationship with his husband has become strained. The only reason they have not divorced is because it would seem hypocritical to their campaign for marriage equality.
    • Frank and Claire begin to verge on this by the end of Season 3.
  • The Heavy: Being a Villain Protagonist, Frank Underwood's machinations drive the plot and most of the subplots.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Russo really wants to take responsibility for his actions and what he has gotten away with. Unfortunately for him, Frank realizes this could be very bad for his cause, so he murders Russo instead.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In Season 3, Heather Dunbar seems elated when Frank offers her a position on the Supreme Court to replace the outgoing Justice Jacobs. However, the next day she announces her presidential candidacy. It is later revealed she is close friends with Justice Jacobs, and knew Frank would attempt to remove her from the presidential competition by placing her indefinitely on the Supreme Court once Jacobs resigned.
  • Hero Antagonist: The reporters in Season 2. Gavin Orsay also more or less sees himself this way, or did before getting caught.
  • Hidden Depths: Even the major Villain Protagonists have more going in inside them than simple lust for power.
    • Frank came from a broken home, and his desire for power seems to stem from his drunken father.
    • Claire was raped and has a genuine interest in helping to stop rape from occurring to others. She's also deeply distraught by failing to do right by a rape survivor who reached out to her.
    • Doug Stamper is a recovering alcoholic who has channeled all of his energies into his job after making a mess of his personal life. He has an infatuation with Rachel that is part paternal, part sexual, and part abusive. He also shows guilt over bumping a recipient to save Frank's life, and reaches out to the widow.
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted. After Frank gets shot, he is back on his feet and walking normally the very episode after getting his transplant. However, it seems like there's a few months skip in time. That said, Frank is shown taking prescription medicine in the morning, and when talking with the leadership does bring up that they need a running mate who could make a competent president should Frank's new liver fail before his term is up. In fact, Frank almost collapses on Air Force One in "Chapter 50," which makes the doctors order him to cut back on air travel so he doesn't suddenly have an organ rejection.
  • Honey Trap:
    • Acting on Frank's orders, Rachel sets one for Russo. It works all too well.
    • Lucas pulls an odd inversion when trying to locate Rachel, posing as an undercover cop conducting a prostitution sting in order to blackmail one of her co-workers into offering information about her whereabouts.
  • Hope Spot:
    • There's one for the Underwoods' marriage in Chaper 33. After several highly stressful tension-filled months the two of them reconcile and get back to Gaffney to renew their wedding vows. In the Season 3 finale Claire still decides she's had enough of Frank's increasingly exploitive demeanor and packs her bags. She then spends several episodes working against Frank, derailing him in the Soutoh Carolina primaries.
    • Poor Rachel. She managed to convince Doug, who tracked her down and drove her out into the wilderness to kill and bury her there, that there's nothing further for him to win by murdering her. He proceeds to cut her ropes and lets her go. Then he reconsiders again. Next thing we see are his white van turning around and the last bits of her body getting covered by earth.
  • How's Your British Accent?: A kind of inversion here regarding Claire's Texas drawl. Although Claire, like Robin Wright, was born in Dallas, Texas, Wright was raised in San Diego, California and so does not have a Texas accent. In contrast, Claire is intentionally suppressing her Texas drawl. Thus arguably Claire's accent for the whole series is this trope, with the exception being her earlier recordings (in which Wright probably drew on her parents' accents, but that's another issue).
  • Hypocrite: Frank is probably the most ridiculously self-righteousness politician.
    • This season 4 trailer has Frank talking to the audience about his 'beliefs', all while cutting away to his more homicidal deeds as he says something that's counteractive to that (example, saying "a leader who's not afraid to look you in the eye" and cutting away to his oral sex scene with Zoe Barnes, or "I believe in putting people first" and showing shots of both Barnes and Peter Russo).
    • When Frank is passed over for Secretary of State, he says that promises "remain immune to changing circumstances"; three episodes later, he handwaves a betrayal as "revising the parameters of my promise". He then immediately lampshades to Walker that he ought to understand that.
    • While Breaking the Fourth Wall when talking about Russo, Frank says that men who talk about family values while sleeping with hookers will be made to pay the price for their hypocrisy. Not long afterwards, he begins an affair with Zoe Barnes, albeit with his wife's knowledge. Further, nothing about Frank shows him to have much respect for families or family values.
    • One of Frank's scenes of fourth-wall breaking has him saying that he wouldn't argue with you for thinking of him as one.
    • Frank acts like he hates slavery, but it's very clear that he treats everyone as a disposable object. In "Chapter 50," Freddy also points out Frank's casual but still evident racism/ elitism when Frank's idea of celebrating Freddy's new job is that Freddy come over and make Frank ribs.
    • Frank promises to appoint two separate people to the position of Secretary of State in order to win the 2016 Democratic nomination. Catherine Durant explicitly points out that this exactly what Garrett Walker pulled in 2012 to snub Frank from the Secretary of State post, and which kicked off the plot to begin with.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • In the season 2 premiere, for some reason Zoe keeps Frank apprised of her whole investigation into his shadier dealings, leading to her death. Basically, the smart, savvy character of this series was suddenly turned into the clueless rube that Mattie Storin in the original series was. Some believe that Zoe may have just been trying to get Frank to open up to get something on Russo's death, and failed.
    • After managing to wise up Frank's backstabbing nature for awhile, President Garrett Walker grabs a hold of this again with a vengeance in the finale of Season 2 when he decides to trust Frank over Raymond Tusk simply because of a letter Frank wrote to him. The result? Walker revokes his pardon offer to Tusk, Tusk implicates him in the foreign donor scheme, and Walker has to resign from the presidency under threat of impeachment.
    • Frank grabs this in Season 3, when he starts lashing out at the people he actually needs. Jackie Sharp could have clinched Frank the nomination, so instead of treating her like a valued member of the team, he publicly humiliates her and treats her like she's inconsequential and unneeded, basically driving her into Heather Dunbar's arms.
  • If I Can't Have You: Doug Stamper's attitude towards Rachel, as a result of his confused feelings for her. It's the reason he keeps her in isolation, ruins her budding relationship with her roommate Lisa, and is heavily implied to be his motive for eventually running her over with a van.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Throughout Season 3, Doug Stamper's life deteriorates because of his alcoholism, the pain from his near-death injury at the end of Season 2, abandonment by the Underwoods, and most importantly the apparent death of Rachel Posner and his inability to move past her. He's forced to rely on his brother and family for support, and spending time with them makes him realize what his blind devotion to Frank has cost him. Just as he is preparing to fully support Heather Dunbar he learns that Rachel is still alive, and immediately returns to Frank's service as his replacement Chief of Staff. He very dramatically burns the blackmail material he kept on the Underwoods (which he was preparing to sell to Dunbar), hunts down and beats Gavin Orsay to get Rachel's location, and then kidnaps and offs her. On his return to the White House, he calmly tells Frank "No more distractions."
  • Imagine Spot: When he gets shot, Frank undergoes a liver transplant. Due to the drugs he's on, he has hallucinations. First he hallucinates the Civil War reenactor in the hospital room, coming to shoot him in the head. While the transplant is actually going on, Frank imagines himself being tormented in the Oval Office by the ghosts of Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes.
  • Informed Attractiveness:
    • As a rule, when a male character is introduced to Claire, it's a good bet he will call her attractive. Viktor Petrov appears to be a particular admirer.
    • Several women describe Peter Russo as handsome.
    • A number of people, particularly political pundits, gush about how beautiful the Conways are. Given the Conways are going against the "old white guy" stereotypes of the Republicans, it's very practical.
  • Informed Judaism: Raymond Tusk notes that Ayla Sayyad is Jewish, though this never influences her actions in the plot.
  • Intimate Artistry: In seasons 1 and 2, Claire has had an on-and-off romance and affair with photographer Adam Galloway. When they resume their relationship after a gap of a few years, the two reminisce over photographs that Adam had taken of her in the past, and when Raymond Tusk tries to expose the affair, they release the photographs as evidence. To defuse the accusations, the Underwoods claim that Adam took the pictures at their request as a present for them, and the romantic nature they contain is a reflection of Frank and Claire's relationship.
  • Intrepid Reporter
    • Zoe Barnes, zig-zagged and then inverted before finally being played straight. Up until that point, all of the stories we see her write are either suburban minutiae or leaks fed to her by Frank to serve his purposes.
    • Her colleagues Janine Skorsky and Lucas Goodwin.
    • Ayla Sayyad in Season 2. She abandons the Underwoods' sex scandal, saying that it's tabloid nonsense, and pursues the harder news story of political corruption. Underwood manages to use this to his advantage.
    • Kate Baldwin in Season 3. She becomes a constant challenge in the Press Room, and is even willing to sleep with Frank's biographer to try and get information.
    • Tom Hammerschmidt in Season 4 tries to put together all the pieces that Frank has left throughout the show.
  • It's All About Me: Everything Frank does, he does it for himself. As the series progresses, this becomes all too obvious to some of his underlings, which causes problems.
  • Just Train Wrong: Zoe Barnes' death scene (shoved in front of a Washington Metro train) has a few inaccuracies. The first is that there is no Metro station in Cathedral Heights, although the Red Line does service the nearby neighborhoods of Tenleytown, Cleveland Park and Woodley Park. The second is the distinct lack of a vaulted ceiling like is present at all inner city Washington Metro stations. Lastly, the train looks nothing like a Washington Metro train. The reason for all this is that, because WMATA doesn't allow scenes with violence to be filmed in their system, the scene had to be shot at Charles Street station in Baltimore's subway.
    • It goes one step further: a station list is seen on the wall across the tracks when Zoe is looking for Frank. It clearly lists the stations of the Baltimore Metro, starting with Johns Hopkins Hospital on the left, then Shot Tower, etc. They added signage for a fictitious Cathedral Heights station in DC, but neglected to correct the station list sign.
  • Juxtaposition Gag: In season 4, there are several occasions where Frank will rehearse a speech and this is intercut with him actually saying the speech. He'll sometimes even do this where he'll roleplay the part of someone he wants Claire to strong-arm.

  • Kick the Dog: Raymond Tusk kills a pet bird with his bare hand to establish that he is, in fact, as horrible as he seems.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em:
    • Zoe's boss Tom Hammerschmidt at The Washington Herald gives an impassioned speech to his boss Margaret Tilden about the nature and importance of print journalism. Then he goes for a drink with her.
    • Upon Zoe's death, Janine Skorsky knows not to screw around with the Underwood case anymore despite protests from Lucas, believing that they'll be next.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Frank Underwood is an evil, conniving politician, but he makes a very legitimate point about how, the more you repeat an allegation, the more true it must be.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the scene where Frank is taking pictures of Zoe Barnes as she strips for him (these are the blackmail pics that are sent to Janine Skorsky after Zoe's death), he asks her to pose, telling her to use "use your imagination." He says it just as Zoe moves out of the frame, making the comment apply to the viewer as well.
  • Leitmotif: At the tail end of Season 2, Raymond Tusk and Frank meet at an opera, and Raymond advises Frank to take in the music, so he can remember how beautiful it was when he is imprisoned. While Frank avoids prison, an operatic theme is introduced in Season 3 during the title card music, and moments of great stress or tension, perhaps hearkening back to Tusk's words.
  • Leno Device: Doug watches Underwood's appearance on The Colbert Report in the first episode, with Stephen Colbert playing himself.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: To sway the bereaved parents at the memorial service to their dead daughter who died in a texting-about-the-Peachoid—while-driving accident, Frank recalls his own experience of losing and regaining faith in God after the death of his father, who suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 43, only to subvert it when he turns to us and says that his father was an unremarkable man and that his death meant little to Frank. He even comments that maybe it was actually for the best he died so relatively young.
  • Lighter and Softer: The US series compared to the UK series. Frank Underwood is just as dirty and corrupt as Francis Urquhart, but is portrayed in a more sympathetic light; Zoe Barnes, while just as emotionally scarred as Mattie, is actually a strong person who tries to stand on her own.
  • Literal Metaphor: Underwood asks to be alone in a cathedral, then spits contemptuously on a large clay statue of Jesus. When he goes to wipe the spit off, the statue falls down and shatters. He calls his Secret Service detail to come in and pick it up; as they arrive, he walks off with a bit of the statue, saying, "At least now I have God's ear."
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: As this is Washington, it's fairly common for secondary and minor characters who had lots of screen time in many episodes (or even multiple seasons) previous to reappear and become important again. On top of that, there are countless politicians and their family members, reporters, cabinet members, military leaders, etc. with well-developed back stories.
  • Lonely at the Top: Jackie Sharp sacrifices one of her only friendships to become Majority Whip. The job also kills a budding romance with Remy Danton, who notes that the job has made her colder. She essentially has sacrificed everything in her life for her powerful job.
  • Long Game: It takes Frank Underwood 26 episodes, or 22 hours of nonstop TV binge watching, and two years of in-universe time, to go from being merely the Democrats' Majority Whip to POTUS.
  • Lost in Character: At a Civil War reenactment, the actor playing Frank's great-great grandfather is way too into his character, describing in first person, almost rapturously, how his character died in the battle.

    M - Z 
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: By the end of Season 3, Frank's reign of terror backfires spectacularly on him. Aside from Stamper and Grayson, all the members of his inner circle have abandoned him due to his relentless mistreatment.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • The Jesus statue falling over in Season 3. God's wrath, or just a very daintily positioned statue?
    • Frank's hallucinations in Season 4 after he gets shot, especially the one where he's tormented by the "ghosts" of Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo, could easily be interpreted as a literal visit to the afterlife.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Oh, yes. By the end of Season 3, Frank's relentless mistreatment of his allies has left him practically alone on his reelection campaign.
  • Model Couple: Hannah and Will Conway in Season 4. They are both young, lively and attractive (going against the "old white guy" stereotypes of real-life Republican politicians), have two cute young children, and are incredibly tech-savvy; streaming and capturing their family moments during the campaign. Hell, they even appear on the cover of and have an entire issue of Vanity Fair dedicated to them.
  • Money Is Not Power: A repeated theme in the series is that people in public office are more interested in power than anything else, including money.
  • Newscaster Cameo:
    • One season 1 episode has a scene where Zoe Barnes is interviewed by CNN's Soledad O'Brien.
    • Claire is interviewed by CNN's Ashleigh Banfield in season 2.
    • Frank appears on The Colbert Report in the first episode of season 3.
    • Other commentators to appear as themselves are Donna Brazile, Morley Safer, ABC's George Stephanopoulos, CBS's Major Garrett, CNN's Candy Crowley and John King, Fox News's Sean Hannity and Dennis Miller, HBO's Bill Maher, and MSNBC's Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews.
    • Charlie Gibson gives the initial news report after Frank gets shot; CNN's Wolf Blitzer later reports on the identification of Lucas Goodwin as the assassin.
  • Nice to the Waiter:
    • Frank is friendly to everyone as part of his political persona. He's particularly friendly to Freddy, who serves his favorite ribs. In the end, however, they're not close enough friends for Frank to go to bat for him when Raymond Tusk starts digging up some skeleton's from Freddy's past.
    • Raymond Tusk is polite to service personnel as part of his common-man persona.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Catherine Durant, the Democratic Senator who "campaigned hard against [the president] in the primaries" and who gets nominated for Secretary of State to show that the administration is above party politics, sounds a lot like Hillary Clinton during the first term of Obama's administration.
    • If Durant is Hillary Clinton from her Secretary of State days, then Claire is Hillary Clinton from her First Lady days.
    • In episode 9, there's a television pundit who criticizes Peter Russo's campaign, who can only be a stand-in for Glenn Beck with his use of visual aids and polemics.
    • The Republican leadership in the Senate are a Latino and a Tea Party conservative, much like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, respectively.
    • Walker's first Secretary of State nominee Senator Michael Kern is similar to former senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry.
    • Creator Beau Willimon has confirmed that brilliant Midwestern billionaire Raymond Tusk, who despite his fortune still lives in a pretty ordinary house in Flyover Country, is partly inspired by Warren Buffett.
    • Terry Womack is comparable to real-life Black Caucus chair and Missouri 5th congressman Emmanuel Cleaver.
    • President Viktor Petrov of Russia is a newly divorced former KGB agent with a fondness for "manly" photo ops and a tight grasp on his country's government and press, just like Vladimir Putin. His name may have intentionally been designed to evoke the Putin similarities because he shares initials with Putin, "VP".
    • Frank's rise from House Majority Leader to President (first by convincing VP Jim Matthews to run for his old governorship, so that Walker will tap Frank as VP, then manipulating things so that Walker steps down rather than face impeachment for a money laundering scheme and cause Frank to become President) is loosely based on how Gerald Ford rose to the Presidency without a single vote to his name: Ford was House Minority Leader for the Republicans, then he was tapped by Richard Nixon as Vice President after the sitting Vice-President Spiro Agnew stepped down due to his role in a tax evasion scandal. Thus, when Nixon stepped down due to being implicated in the coverup to Watergate, Ford became President.
    • Zimbabwean President Chimbetu, mentioned in season 3 by Frank, bears multiple similarities to Robert Mugabe; killing his own people and pocketing financial aid for his own personal gain. He is also said to be leader of the African Bloc, like Mugabe is assembly chair of the real life African Union.
    • Doris Jones, an elderly African-American congresswoman from Texas' 30th congressional districtnote  bears many similarities to Eddie Bernice Johnson, the real life representative for that district.
  • No Sense of Personal Space:
    • Like Lyndon Johnson, Frank violates the personal space of people on purpose to make them uncomfortable. He even has a picture of LBJ doing this hung in his office.
    • Claire also uses the technique in episode 10 to mess with Zoe in her apartment, both by leaning into her and going through her clothes and notes. She tries to pay Claire back in episode 11.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: In the first episode, Zoe Barnes tries to soften up Frank by wearing a push-up bra with a low-cut top. He immediately figures out what she's doing and calls her out on it.
  • Not Quite Dead: Turns out Rachel didn't kill Doug in the Season 2 finale, after all!
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: First Lady Patricia Walker does this to Claire in the Season 2 finale. As they talk on the phone, Patricia says how Claire is a good person and a good friend, unaware how Claire and Frank worked to undermine Walker's presidency. After they hang-up, Claire bursts into tears, but only for a minute.
  • Oh Crap!: Frank's efforts to create an open Democratic convention in order to get Claire nominated as Vice-President hit a major roadblock when Louisiana suddenly decides to nominate Claire's key rival for President.
  • Old Media Are Evil: Deconstructed. Zoe has contempt for her job at a newspaper standing-in for The Washington Post. She eventually leaves the dull newsroom for Slugline, a site that seems to be based on Politico. The trope is ultimately played without irony: The newspaper's old-fashioned managing editor Tom Hammerschmidt gets fired, and Slugline gets all the important political stories from then on.
  • Old Media Playing Catch-Up: Averted. Tom Hammerschmidt, editor at The Washington Herald, makes a passionate but irrelevant defense of why newspapers still matter, while modern Intrepid Reporter Zoe Barnes doesn't fit in at the stuffy newspaper at all. Yet in season 4, it's Hammerschmidt's use of the old methods that exposes Frank's corruption.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Some amusing ominous chanting as Frank walks into the Oval Office at the end of Season 2.
  • One Head Taller: This can happen in scenes between Frank and Zoe Barnes, due to Kevin Spacey being 5'10" and Kate Mara being 5'2".
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. There are two Thomases in the series - Tom Hammerschmidt and Thomas Yates. There are also two Catherines (although they use different variations of the name): Catherine Durant and Kate Baldwin.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Frank talks to the audience a lot less in Season 3. It's a subtle indication of his decreased confidence in his plans.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Kevin Spacey does a superb Carolinian accent. However, Spacey always forgets to do so during moments where Frank expresses great anger. The in-universe explanation is that Frank exaggerates it to sound folksy and forgets to do so when he's furious.
    • There are several occasions where Catherine Durant seems to be slipping into Jayne Atkinson's natural British accent.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: In Chapter 28, the formidable Frank Underwood is seen slumped against a desk crying his eyes out, as he is unable to find anyone willing to finance his re-election campaign.
  • Overt Rendezvous: Doug and Gavin periodically meet in a diner to discuss the status of Gavin's search for Rachel (for which he's misappropriating FBI resources).
  • Pac Man Fever: Averted; Frank Underwood plays modern video games realistically. He's as stiff and focused as any Killzone player.
  • Playing Both Sides:
    • Many of Frank's schemes involve him playing both sides of a dispute, pretending to be everyone's best friend.
    • Remy and Connor attempt to do so with Raymond Tusk and Frank Underwood.
  • Pop-Up Texting: Used quite a lot, with characters texting each other as much as any busy person in the 21st century, frequently while simultaneously engaging in other matters. Interestingly, the creators felt their use of this trope was ground-breaking and were dismayed to learn that the same effect was already being used to great effect in Sherlock while they were finishing the first season.
  • Power Is Sexy: Francis and Zoe.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation
    • Francis Urquhart was NOT a nice guy even with his leather pants. Quite a few of his machinations weren't just purely about business and furthering his own ambitions, but also partly for his own amusement, and more often than not he would do some reprehensible things simply because he knew he could get away with it. This worked in the British version because of the shorter running time; the viewers only had to put up with him for less than four hours each series. Each season of the American version is about 13 hours, or longer than the whole British version put together. People probably wouldn't be able to handle so much pure sociopathy, especially given that this is Netflix, which practically encourages binge-watching. So it's understandable that the producers decided to make Frank Underwood be less of a bastard and more likeable and pragmatic with his actions.
    • Same with Zoe Barnes. Mattie Storin's Elektra Complex was completely dropped when adapting her over and Zoe has more of a spine when it comes to dealing with Underwood than Mattie did with Urquhart.
    • While the original BBC series used British Brevity to get Urquhart to the top position quickly, the American version benefited from its increased length considering that American politicians tend to rise more slowly (in Britain, a leadership election can shift things in a fortnight; the United States does not have leadership elections, it has election cycles. And Barack Obama's rise from Illinois State Senator to President in four yearsnote  was considered positively meteoric).
  • Precision F-Strike: Frank delivers one in Chapter 28.
  • President Evil: Frank as of the end of Season 2.
  • Product Placement
    • Sony game consoles. Frank plays a Playstation to cool off and namechecks a Sony device in dialogue at one point. In fairness on the Playstation point, it seems that Kevin Spacey really is a fan.
    • Also Apple products. The government and media appear to run exclusively on iPhones, iPads, and Macintoshes, with Frank's Blackberry being the only notable exception. This interesting as the real government is very heavily reliant on Windows, usually two or three versions out-of-date — many agencies are only just phasing out XP.
    • Honey Bunch cereal in one scene with Russo's kids in episode 9. Made especially conspicuous by the fact that the box is in the center of all the shots in a 5 minute sequence.
    • There was a very long and unnecessary shot of Russo picking up his rental car from Hertz.
    • Nokia Lumia cell phones are used by multiple characters in Season 3.
    • Samsung products also appear, with their TV, fridge, and smartphone throughout Season 3. In Season 4, various characters including Will Conway are seen using Samsung smartphones (in his case, a Galaxy S6 Edge), Galaxy Tab S tablets and laptops.
    • Frank takes to playing the Monument Valley mobile game in Season 3.
    • Will Conway introduces Frank to another mobile game, "agar.io", in Season 4.
  • Put on a Bus: Hector Mendoza, the Senate Majority Leader, is suddenly replaced in the middle of Season 3, with only a brief mention of accepting undeclared payments for speeches serving as justification.
  • Quickly Demoted Leader: Bob Birch, Speaker of the House in Seasons 1 and 2, is quickly demoted to House Minority Leader after the Republicans win the midterms in 2014.
  • Rated M for Manly: True to Viktor Petrov's status as an Expy for Vladimir Putin, there's a lot of references to his macho activities. An interesting one involves Hector Mendoza being a fan of John Wayne: Petrov smirks and says, "Hmm—when men were men, huh?"
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Magnificent Bastard though he may be, when Underwood starts to maneuver to become the Vice President, both Linda Vasquez and Raymond Tusk see through his attempts to play them, and by the time he visits Tusk, he's already being played in return.
    • The first few episodes of Season 2 serve to dismantle the lingering threads of Zoe Barnes's press investigation into Peter Russo's demise. This mainly comes about because they are a trio of reporters with few to no resources going up against the newly installed Vice President of the United States with all the power and authority of the government and law enforcement behind him (and they pretty much have no one who would listen to them: serious newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post would point out they don't have enough information to justify running the story, and the police would point out that accusing the Vice-President of first-degree murder is a pretty serious accusation and a bit outlandish without hard proof, not to mention a massive scandal of Watergate-proportions if it broke).
    • After Zoe's death, Lucas tries to complete their investigation by going online to find Gavin Orsay, a hacker, to break into Frank's phone records to prove that he had been in contact with Zoe, connecting him to the meeting where she died. This fails because being heroic isn't enough in a world where your adversary sees your gambit coming a mile away and counters before you finish step one.
    • Treating your people like shit will make them hate you and abandon you. By the end of Season 3, thanks to Frank's constant belittlement of them, the core chunk of his team — Jackie, Remy, Tom Yates, and even Claire — have all jumped ship.
    • Season 3 in general serves as a reality check for the series. Cheating your way to the Oval Office is one thing; being the president is totally different. As the season progresses, Frank learns that he really does have to listen to the public opinion, since if your approval ratings go down the toilet, it's quite likely your own party is going to ask you not to run for re-election.
    • In Season 3, Frank proves rather ineffectual in his dealings with Viktor Petrov, president of Russia. Unlike Frank, Petrov is a genuine dictator. An unrepentant veteran of a secret police agency, Petrov doesn't care about leaving behind a legacy or getting adored by his people, and nor is he constrained by things like the rule of law or balance of power that American presidents usually are. Even if Frank will never admit it, the fact is Petrov is way more ruthless and more manipulative than he is.
    • Appointing an ineffectual, indecisive, and easily manipulated person like Blythe to the vice presidency is a good way to sideline someone and have impeachment insurance. It's not assassination insurance, though, as shown when Frank gets shot by Lucas Goodwin, and Blythe is so lost that he only is able to run things by being Claire's puppet.
    • Shot by Lucas Goodwin, Frank needs a liver transplant. His recovery is slow and painful and is told by doctors that, re-election or not, he can't be flying around the country in his condition.
    • In season 4, Tom Hammerschmidt proves that even the smartest corrupt politicians will make tiny mistakes that will get their schemes blown wide open.
  • Retcon: In season 1, Donald Blythe is from New Hampshire and Catherine Durant is from Missouri. In season 4, they're from Vermont and Louisiana, respectively. While the switch for Blythe isn't too significant (since Vermont and New Hampshire are right next door to each other), it's more egregious for Durant, being moved from the state on Arkansas's northern border to the state on its southern border.
  • Rich Bitch: Claire's mother. She still looks down upon Frank, even after he became President and making her daughter First Lady.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Many of the show's plotlines are based on real-life political events happening at the same time the show was produced.
    • Pennsylvania's importance to the Democratic Party.
    • The frequent references to natural gas and nuclear energy, from SanCorp in Season 1 and from Raymond Tusk in Season 2.
    • Underwood's "selection campaign" to find a replacement for the Vice President slot, with him rejecting all possible picks so he can be picked, mirrors the way Dick Cheney ran George W. Bush's Vice President search committee, in order to get himself picked for the job.
    • President Garrett Walker's education bill, a sweeping piece of reform legislation that he aims to pass within his first 100 days in office, bears some resemblance to Obama's healthcare reform act.
    • The teachers' strike bears resemblance to the 2011 protests in Wisconsin when the state public workers' collective bargaining rights were threatened. However, it's not entirely similar, as national strikes for political reasons have been banned in the United States since 1947 under the Taft-Harley act.
    • Gavin Orsay saying he wants Barrett Brown released was probably the first time most viewers had heard of the man.
    • Frank tends to use Lyndon Johnson's tactic of invading personal space when he's verbally strong-arming someone. There's even a shot that lingers on a photo in his office of LBJ delivering "the Johnson Treatment." Though he probably can't get away with it as often as LBJ did, seeing how Kevin Spacey is almost a head shorter than LBJ was.
    • Some characters are knock-offs of contemporary politicians going through similar circumstances, including:
      • Catherine Durant for Hillary Clinton
      • Jim Matthews for Joe Biden
      • Michael Kern for John Kerry
      • Heather Dunbar for Elizabeth Warren
      • Hector Mendoza for Marco Rubio
      • Curtis Haas for Ted Cruz
    • Claire's involvement in the issue of military sexual assault is similar to the campaign that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has carried out to legislate the issue.
    • Frank's program America Works bears close resemblance, in Congress resistance, presidential insistence and controversy, to Obamacare.
    • The controversy of appointing a new Supreme Court nominee (to replace the retiring Robert Jacobs) during an election year is briefly mentioned in Season 4, which sounds eerily familiar, despite the season finishing filming months before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and its subsequent political fallout.
    • The rise of the Islamic Caliphate Organisation (ICO) in the Middle East in Season 4 mirrors the real life growth of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Even the fears of homegrown Islamic terrorists is shown.
    • Frank's father's history with the KKK suddenly comes out during a tense primary. Although the show was filmed in 2015 and the real-life event didn't happen until long after filming was completed, it's pretty easy to see parallels between Frank's issue and the controversy that happened when Donald Trump refused to denounce KKK member David Duke's support of his campaign, plus allegations that his father was involved with the KKK. Yes, the show's case was shot way too early to deliberately capitalize on this kind of stuff.
    • There are many scenes that are staged based on famous photos. For instance, President Garrett Walker signs the education bill in a shot designed to mimic an image of John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act in 1963. The photo of Frank (appearing to) check out Zoe’s rear in the first season is a shout-out to an image of Barack Obama doing the same with Nicolas Sarkozy approving.
    • Peter Russo's rise and fall from grace mirrors seemingly countless apparently squeaky clean politicians who have a few risqu&eacute skeletons in their closets.
    • Frank says in one season 4 episode that "Politics is no longer just theatre. It's show business," a remark that seems to have been written to reflect many peoples' opinion of the Donald Trump campaign.
  • Ruling Couple: In season 4 the Underwoods aspire to become this, with Frank being the official Democratic nominee and Claire as his running mate.
  • Sanity Slippage: Frank becomes progressively unhinged as Season 3 unfolds, needlessly putting down his allies and blaming them for his own mistakes and failures. Sure enough, one by one, they revolt.
  • Sarcastic Confession: In Season 4, Frank tells Secretary of State Cathy Durant that he did indeed kill Zoe Barnes and Pete Russo and says no one will ever believe it. He then seems to threaten her with a letter opener before breaking out laughing, saying of course he didn't kill them. However, he makes it clear to Durant that both he and Claire are more than willing to do something to make her "disappear" if she continues to go against him. Unsure whether or not Frank was serious before, a rather shaken Durant agrees.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: In Season 3, Supreme Court Justice Jacobs comes to Frank and quietly admits to being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, requesting retirement. He's encouraged to remain on the bench because it would be politically inconvenient. He has an episode of losing his train of thought during a public legal proceeding, and forgets the name of a long-time colleague. Later, because the wind has shifted, Frank needs him off the court but he refuses to quit, confounding the Commander in Chief's schemes.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Frank's attitude after becoming President of the United States.
  • Seeking Sanctuary: Rachel's church at first seems to be a reasonable escape from the ruthless political scheming she has become entangled with.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Frank call this his "martyr rule" persuading people to remove themselves by suggesting their position is untenable and they would be better off using this as an opportunity to draw attention to issues close to them.
  • Serious Business: The Civil War reenactors never break character.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Used exclusively with Frank's affair with Zoe Barnes, so reliably that it feels pretty weird when they don't cut away.
  • Shaggy Dog Story:
    • Lucas Goodwin's storyline in Season 2 starts with his girlfriend Zoe Barnes being murdered, and ends with him being framed and sent to prison for cyberterrorism. He manages to get out of prison with help from an Armenian cellmate, and then dies trying to assassinate Frank, only succeeding in killing Ed Meechum.
    • Rachel Posner's Season 3 storyline ends in an unmarked grave in the middle of the Santa Fe desert, courtesy of her lover/stalker Doug Stamper.
  • Shoot the Dog: Underwood, involving an actual dog, to let us know exactly what kind of protagonist we're dealing with right from the off.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "You might think that. I couldn't possibly comment". In the British original, Urquhart used this phrase routinely to imply statements without explicitly confirming them. It basically means, "No comment, but yes." In the American version, Underwood only says it a couple of times — just enough to tip his hat to his British predecessor. An even subtler homage is the habit of interspersing the action with shots of people dealing with Washington's garbage, homeless, and general wretchedness — just as the original series included ominous shots of the rats of London.
    • When Frank compares power to real estate, he uses a phrase from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross: "It's all about location, location, location". Kevin Spacey was in the film adaptation, but the line wasn't included.
    • Doubling as a Freeze-Frame Bonus, among the lines of technobabble that show up in the terminal when Gavin Orsay through Herononymous first makes contact with Lucas Goodwin, is the line "sudo make me a sandwich"
    • Frank Underwood shares a surname with the US House of Representatives first Democratic Party Whip, Oscar Underwood. Michael Kern shares his with the US Senate first Democratic Party Whip, John W. Kern
    • Brian Reddy as Bruce Higgins in Chapter 8 does a nod to his appearance on Seinfeld as "Dan the High talker" by saying "yada yada yada" during his introduction of Underwood.
    • The Senate clerk is named Drewery, which may be a reference to Allen Drury, who wrote Advise & Consent which was also about high stakes political intrigue.
    • When the Underwoods decide to declare war on ICO, Claire says to Frank "We can work with fear!" to which he replies: "Yes, we can!" This is the motto of the Obama 2008 campaign, twisted into its complete opposite.
  • Shown Their Work: A lot of effort was taken to accurately portray the geography of Washington D.C. At an Orioles game that Underwood goes to, the crowd shouts "OH!" in the middle of the national anthem. This is a tradition for all Maryland and DC area sports.
  • Significant Anagram: Peter Russo. It's an anagram for "pressure to," which is central to Frank's purpose for Russo: Frank wants the VP spot, but the problem is that Jim Matthews is still occupying that position. Knowing Matthews was former Governor of Pennsylvania, Underwood expertly crafted a house of cards candidate for the Governor race (Russo), with the sole purpose of collapsing Russo's life through overwhelming pressure from drugs, alcohol and fast women. Pressure was also applied to the VP to make Matthews feel like an outsider as VP, and to generate nostalgia for the old days he loved as Governor. When Russo imploded, by design, Underwood simply convinced Matthews to run for Governor because his people needed him.
  • Significant Monogram: Frank Underwood. Made very explicit in Chapter 14, shortly after Frank kills Zoe, when the camera pans to a set of monogrammed cufflinks.
  • Sinister Surveillance:
    • Gavin is blackmailed by Stamper into exploiting government data mining technology.
    • In Season 4 both the Republicans and Democrats utilise mass data mining through Pollyhop to analyse the behaviour of potential voting groups, so they know who to target with campaign events and advertisements.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Gavin, The Informant, is this to his former hacker/hacktivist friends.
  • Strawman Political:
    • Averted with Frank. Policy and ideology seems of little concern to the man, and when a strongly liberal House colleague and the Republican leadership are introduced, they are portrayed rather sympathetically. Likewise, President Walker's education bill, though a highly controversial piece of legislation in the show's universe, is described very vaguely. At best, we're simply told it angers "all sides."
      • Less true with the fall of Walker's first choice for Secretary of State, whose very mild criticisms of Israel as a college student are used to portray American political culture as irrationally intolerant of anything less than full deference towards the country.
    • Also averted with Will Conway in Season 4. Despite being the Republican frontrunner and a military veteran, he is young (late thirties), vibrant and very up to date with modern technology, going as far as to livestream his and his family's daily lives to social media during the campaign. Furthermore, his wife Hannah later mentions to Claire that despite being very pro-military and national defense, he shares her liberal views on gun control, but can't be vocal about it due to risk of "upsetting the base".
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: Frank ends up spawning one after he goes on CNN to debate Martin Spinella, and makes a very embarrassing gaffe.
  • Take That: Season 3 features quite a few scathing swipes at Vladimir Putin, including a cameo from the jailed members of Pussy Riot.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In Episode 28, Claire appears before a senate committee to get their nomination for the position she wants: United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Then she makes an off-handed statement about how "the US military is irrelevant" to a hypothetical situation. Senator Hector Mendoza twists Claire's words and rakes her over the coals and she tries to explain herself while he keeps talking over and interrupting her, until Claire loses her temper trying to get Mendoza to listen to her rather than continue grandstanding. Then we get the following:
  • Those Two Guys: In order to pass a piece of legislation key to his plans, Frank tries to strong-arm two congressmen whose only defining features are that they are extremely liberal and that there are two of them.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: In Episode 13, Meechum is told by Frank that he has played an valuable and useful role and he will arrange Meechum a transfer from Capitol Police to the Secret Service.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Donald "you can teach an old liberal new tricks" Blythe gets better at the game after being played for a chump. Eventually, several characters learn from past mistakes and experiences and wise up about how to deal with Frank. Too bad Frank can also read into other's readings to counteract most efforts.
  • Too Dumb to Live: By the end of Season 3, Gavin Orsay has finally escaped from the United States and the FBI, and is living abroad in peace. What does he do with his hard-earned freedom? Contact Doug Stamper (the man who expedited his escape in exchange for locating a former lover) and try to blackmail him into helping a fellow hacker escape Federal custody the same way, revealing that the lover he told Doug was dead is actually alive in hiding. It's no surprise that Stamper immediately tracks down Orsay, beats him all to hell, takes the information and leaves him with a very explicit death threat.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Frank has never been a Nice Guy, but he is a much bigger asshole in Season 3 than in previous seasons. Not surprisingly, he also loses the core of his team by the end of the season.
  • Trauma Conga Line: A few characters, but most notably poor Rachel. To make it even worse, after she runs from Doug at the end of season two she is missing for almost the entirety of season three, during most of which it seems she might have escaped for a better life, but when she finally returns at the end of season three and we find out that she really was making it on her own, she is soon kidnapped and then murdered by Doug.
  • Twenty-Fifth Amendment: Frank invokes it twice. (Don't act surprised. You saw this coming.) It is later invoked again in season 4.
    • Near the end of Season 1, when Frank engineers the resignation of the Vice President by having him run for and win the governorship of Pennsylvania, and Frank is appointed Vice President
    • At the end of Season 2, Frank engineers Walker's resignation amidst a series of scandals and becomes President himself.
    • Happens in between Seasons 2 and 3, Frank appoints Donald Blythe as new vice president.
    • Happens in Season 4, when the amendment is invoked to make Blythe the Acting President when Frank gets shot by Lucas Goodwin and is hospitalised for two weeks.
  • Undignified Death: Discussed in regard to the Peachoid.
    Frank: What exactly happened?
    Doug: A 17-year-old girl ran off the road texting her boyfriend, and I quote: "Doesn't the Peachoid look like a giant..." And then she lost control of the car.
  • Unholy Matrimony: The Underwoods form a perfect and nefarious political marriage but they also have affection for each other.
  • Uptown Girl: Claire is a Southern Belle who comes from a wealthy Dallas family, in contrast to Frank's more humble background. Claire's father also funded Frank's first campaign.
  • Vice President Who:
    • Vice President Jim Matthews is easily manipulated by Frank. He is ultimately convinced to resign so that he can return to his old post as governor of Pennsylvania/
    • When Frank becomes President, he chooses as Vice President his former colleague Donald Blythe, as Blythe will be inoffensive and easily sidelined. Too bad this is not good assassination insurance as shown when Frank gets shot.
  • Villain Ball: Frank, a master manipulator, starts tactlessly browbeating his crucial minions for absolute obedience in the second half of Season 3, causing a predictable breakdown of his power structure.
  • Villain Decay: Underwood has transformed from a cool-headed Magnificent Bastard to a less-functional Smug Snake for Season 3.
  • Villain Protagonist: Underwood, based on Shakespearean villain protagonists like Richard III and Macbeth.
  • Villainous Friendship: Underwood and Stamper are clearly each other's only true friends.
  • Wham Episode
    • Episode 11. Underwood crosses a new line. He murders Russo and makes it look like suicide.
    • Episode 1 of Season 2. Frank shoves Zoe Barnes in front of a Metro train. The security camera footage makes it look like Zoe tripped or jumped because Frank is hidden behind some construction barriers on the subway platform.
    • Episode 13 of Season 2. Frank successfully orchestrates Walker's resignation and ascends to the presidency.
    • Episode 4 of Season 4. Frank gets shot by Lucas Goodwin, resulting in the deaths of Meechum and Lucas himself.
  • Wham Shot: In the finale of Season 4 Frank has his closing monologue to the audience only for Claire to look at Frank speaking and then, like him, stare directly at the audience.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Frank quickly recognizes that Raymond Tusk will prove to be this, upon meeting him for the first time; as Frank explains to the audience, Tusk understands "the difference between money and power." Sure enough, Tusk comes dangerously close to defeating Frank — more than once. For his part, Tusk is always respectful of Frank — and as such, is always sure not to underestimate him. This is why he's able to be such a challenge.
    • Viktor Petrov in Season 3 makes Tusk look weak — is every bit a master of intimidation and manipulation that Frank is (and in some cases, arguably more so)...and in a meaningful conversation in the Jordan Valley, Petrov compares scars and noted that the two of them are Not So Different.
    • Heather Dunbar, Frank's primary election rival in Season 3. A cunning politician with a Fiction 500 backing, she sees right through Frank's machinations from the start and manages to capitalize every opening Frank gives away.
    • Frank sees Will Conway as one.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Frank ends the teachers' strike by provoking the lobbyist who's the public face of the union to punch him, which he does by literally backing him into a wall and taunting him about having staged the brick attack.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Crusading journalist Zoe and Lucas. Each clearly believes they're in the right tracking down clues to bring down a powerful enemy but both pay the price with Zoe killed and Lucas arrested. Even in prison, Lucas believes that he'll still bring Underwood down but eventually realizes he can't win.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Frank openly admits to favoring these, or as he puts it, "I make a habit of considering all trajectories in any given situation."
  • Xanatos Speed Chess:
    • Frank shows himself capable of speed chess in the chapter when teacher's union lobbyist Spinella comes close to upsetting his plans.
    • His efforts to undermine Tusk through his nuclear power interests backfires spectacularly leaving him with no leverage whatsoever against the powerful businessman who will only support him as vice president if he can have Underwood under his thumb. In a spectacular turnaround, Underwood (through sheer balls) tells Tusk he will be his ally, but not his indentured servant and Tusk can take it or leave it. It works.
    • Frankly, the closing arcs for both Seasons 1 and 2 involve Frank having to engage in some massive speed-chess, in an all-or-nothing gambit.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Subverted. Similar to the UK original, Claire knows Frank is sleeping with Zoe and doesn't raise any objections. Obviously, because she knows it's helping him further his and her political objectives.

Alternative Title(s): House Of Cards Remake

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Series/HouseofCardsUS