Throughout the series, it's unclear if the Underwoods are genuinely a loving couple, or if they're individually ruthless and ambitious and recognize the other is the same, making them a perfect match to work together. Their marriage almost gets destroyed as a result of their own power plays against each other, and neither has any problem with the other having affairs as long as it does't interfere with their careers.
Related to that, while Frank does seem to consider multiple characters friends, analysis of his interactions with them suggests he only considers them friends because they're loyal to him and he can use them to further his plans. Should they become disloyal or of no further use, he is often quick to discard them. Even with Freddy, Frank seems to appreciate him only for his cooking skills. This is a point of contention on classifying him as The Sociopath or not; is he capable of actually forming long-term, meaningful friendships, or is he just faking it, possibly even to himself?
Are Claire Underwood's attacks of conscience laudable Pet the Dog moments that show she's a better person than Frank? Or evidence that she is ultimately emotionally unstable and incapable of keeping her feelings in check for the long game like Frank? For example, Claire's speech in Russia after Michael Corrigan's suicide can be seen as either a Moment of Awesome or a foolish emotional snap made at the wrong time for everyone involved, proving Sen. Mendoza's concerns in the Senate committee were founded.
In Zoe Barnes's death scene, had she genuinely "relapsed" into working for Frank or was she simply trying to lure him into revealing something damning about Russo's death?
Award Snub: Corey Stoll's performance as Peter Russo was seen as the highlight of the first season by many, yet he ended up being one of the few things not to earn a nomination at the 2013 Emmys.
Frank in Season 3. He's in serious danger of losing his "Magnificent Bastard" rank throughout, having seemingly lost his common sense and pragmatism, once he gained power. This seems to be intentional as a form of Dramatic Irony; after Frank spent two seasons proving how fragile Washington power structures are, he has trouble commanding respect and power among the leaders of the country and doesn't seem to have any direction with himself now that he has achieved his initial goal.
Viktor Petrov in Season 4. After spending Season 3 manipulating Claire and Frank into getting everything he wanted from them, in Season 4 he's swiftly outmanoeuvred by Frank's administration, and one "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Claire calling him a beggar who needs their help is enough to subdue him and make him cave to their demands.
Claire goes on her morning jog, taking a route through a cemetery. Halfway through, she runs into an old lady who chides her for disrespecting the dead. You kinda half expect the woman to start shouting "BOO! BOO!" It freaks Claire out a bit and that's about it. Nothing much comes of it, other than adding to the minor theme of respecting the dead that episode had.
The Underwoods' data analyst does a manic, shirtless dance to wild music while his computer tracks trends in search results. It serves to show that he's eccentric and a little imbalanced but serves very little to the plot overall.
Catharsis Factor: If Frank's "house of cards" ever does come crashing down, given his hitherto-untouchable Villain Sue status, the result will most likely be this. Season 3 has quite a bit of it, as Frank finds out being the President is no easy task when all the people you screwed over to get there are still working with you.
Continues on in season 4 when Hammerschmidt uncovers the tracks in Underwood's plot against Walker in seasons 1 and 2, publishing it, leaving Frank's power grip in serious jeopardy.
The Jesus breaking/ear of God incident in the third season that is as funny as hell.
In Chapter 3, the death of that girl while texting-while-driving, and her last words were "Doesn't the Peachoid look like a giant..."
Frank's resolution to getting Catherine Durant out of the way of his choice for VP crosses the line three times. Frank brings to the Oval Office, openly admits he killed Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes, and threatens her with a letter opener as if he's ready murder his Secretary of State right in the Oval Office. Then, he bursts out laughing, says the whole thing was a joke, and then goes right back to just bullying her into doing what he wants. It's so audacious and throws her off kilter so much that it works.
Continuity Lockout: Season 4. It is impossible to discuss the fourth season without rewatching the earlier seasons, especially where the third season left off. Indeed, the fourth season relies very heavily upon the prior seasons - especially the way it peppers back characters from prior seasons in significant ways - not the least because of the return of characters who were in seasons 1 or 2 but were absent in season 3.
Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Some viewers have complained that the show becomes difficult to watch after a while because many non-deserving people (such as Peter Russo, Zoe Barnes, Lucas Goodwin, Freddie Hayes, Adam Galloway, Megan Hennessy, President Garrett Walker) end up with their lives ruined or are even killed because of the Underwoods. The Underwoods, meanwhile, only gain more and more political power as the show goes on.
Ensemble Darkhorse: Gavin Orsay's long haired guinea pig Cashew has a strong following with both crew and fans. And a Twitter hashtag, #HouseOfCashew
Harsher in Hindsight: The long time it takes to replace Justice Jacobs is quite eerily reminiscent of the real life attempt by Republicans to block a new justice from being appointed until the following year's election after Antonin Scalia's death.
In Ant-Man, Corey Stoll, the actor who played Peter Russo, plays Yellowjacket, who kills a man named Frank, and in a particularly cold and disturbing manner. Even better, it happens in a bathroom, which is ironically where Peter's original novel and UK series counterpart Roger O'Neill died. And then he came back to the show to kill this Frank in a dream sequence in Season 4.
HoC fans will get a chuckle after viewing Fantastic Four (2015), where Kate Mara (Zoe Barnes) is Susan Storm and her father is played by Reg E. Cathey (Freddy Hayes).
In Season 1, when Frank first is told that Walker is considering Raymond Tusk as a replacement for VP when Matthews departs, he seems genuinely concerned about such a decision, even pointing out that putting a billionaire like Tusk as VP would probably be criticized by the majority of the public. After Donald Trump announced his Presidential candidacy in 2015, well, Frank's remarks would be just as applicable to Trump running for President.
In Season 4, Frank's campaign in his home state is derailed by a leaked picture of his father at a Ku Klux Klan meeting, much like Donald Trump getting in hot water over his refusal to denounce David Duke's support of his campaign, plus allegations that his father was involved with the Klan, despite the season being made too early to deliberately capitalize on this kind of stuff.
One of the major obstacles to Underwood's re-election in season 4 is soaring gas prices due to troubles with drilling in Russia. When Season 4 came out, real life gas prices were hitting notable lows.
HSQ: VERY high in season 4. The best example: Lucas' assassination attempt on Frank. Which, while foreshadowed early in the season, happens halfway through the forth episode, much earlier than the audience would suspect.
Jerkass Woobie: Peter Russo. He starts as a Smug Snake waste of space, but later tries to turn his life around, not knowing that Frank is just set at ruining it. You actually can sympathize with the man the whole way through.
Frank Underwood, the man knows every trick in the book and then some more of his own invention. He amorally trumps everybody with style.
Raymond Tusk often matches Frank in Magnificence—enough that Frank himself can't help but admire his ability.
Similiar to Tusk, Season 4's Republican Presidential Candidate Will Conway is a Dangerously Genre Savvy image-conscious New York Governor who effortlessly side-steps Frank's attempt to smear him over Pollyhop, casually helps demolish Frank's relationship with Durant and convinces the highest ranking general in the military to resign on Frank's watch and joins his ticket as VP. Even Frank's impressed with the last one, citing it's something he'd do.
He makes it a point to hire men with signs of Magnificence of their own to be his dragons. Doug Stamper seems to be a good Bastard-in-training in Season One, but ultimately gives in to his feelings for Rachel Posner far too much. When Seth Grayson comes along in Season Two, he proves to be quite an effective successor to Doug.
Claire is basically Frank's female counterpart (such as her clever reversal of the abortion question in Season 2), but she often proves far too emotionally involved in the situation—which makes her come off as less magnificent. Many times her pangs of conscience are what end up derailing a delicate situation (case in point: the peace talks with Russia). True, it also indicates she's less rotten than Frank. Still...
Zoe Barnes showed promise of becoming a Magnificent Bitch throughout Season One, before she ultimately turned against Frank—leading to her death in Season Two.
Russian President Viktor Petrov in Season 3. He gets everything he wants by playing Frank from the very beginning. Even when Frank finally gets him to agree to put troops into the Jordan Valley, Petrov manages to pull off a False Flag Operation to weasel out of the deal and force Frank to fire Claire as UN ambassador.
Memetic Badass: Tom 'The Hammer' Hammerschmidt, the grizzled reporter who is the first to bring the Underwoods crimes to light.
"Pay attention to the fine print. It's far more important than the selling price."
"Proximity to power deludes some into believing they wield it."
The show's title card sequence, with the timelapse shots of Washington DC, has been the subject of many spoofs, including the credits for shows likeMonk and BreakingBad, and even spoofs involving other cities, like Vienna, Austria and Paris, France.
While hardly a Boy Scout to begin with, Frank only definitely crosses it in chapters 10 and 11, where he orchestrates Russo's publicly falling off the wagon, and then his death when he becomes a threat. To make things worse, it's heavily implied that all of it (except probably Russo's death) was part of the plan all along.
Claire's (admittedly probably forced) betrayal of Megan Hennessey is definitely this.
In season 3, Stamper's cold-blooded hit-and-run on Rachel Posner.
Heather Dunbar spends most of season three as one of the few non-corrupt politicians in the show. Then she tries to blackmail Frank, who lampshades it by telling her that she's at last "one of us."
Some of the scenes where Frank is being his intimidating self are a bit much. (Although apparently LBJ, of whom Frank has framed photos on his wall, really did work like that.) The scene where he towers over Russo demanding his "complete, unquestioning loyalty" comes to mind.
The Deep Throat-like avatar that Gavin Orsay uses to speak to Goodwin appears on Goodwin's iPad with a vaguely-humanoid avatar with a bird's head wearing an upside down bucket for a hat. It removes any amount of menace or mystery the scene was meant to convey.
The avatar is either this, or a Genius Bonus, because students of art history may recognize the avatar is actually a 3D model of a Hellish figure from Hieronymus Bosch's masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The fact that his online handle earlier in the episode is "HEROnymous" supports this.
Underwood/Underwood 2016. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the American political system will find the idea so ludicrous as to be unbelievable.
Pollyhop, a word it's impossible to say with a straight face. It really says something that the satire of dot com business Silicon Valley actually has a less silly sounding name for its Google Expy.
Nightmare Fuel: Basically anytime Frank goes full on Iago or Richard the Third, but some of the most disturbing examples include:
His slow and methodical murder of Peter Russo.
His quick, but no less methodical, murder of Zoe Barnes by pushing her in front of a moving locomotive. Bonus points for taking a lot of viewers by surprise.
Entrapping Lucas Goodwin.
The look he gives the camera once he gets to sit in the Oval Office, as well as the loud knocks on the table. One would be forgiven for thinking Kevin Spacey was reprising his Lex Luthor performance here.
When he well and truly tells Claire exactly what he thinks of her in the season three finale. You realise the extent of Frank's hatred and contempt for everyone around him.
His intimidation of Catherine Durant when he tries to get her to back off challenging Claire for VP has outright admitting he killed Peter and Zoe (with only a minor pretense subsequent to this that he was joking) and then implicitly threatening that he will do the same to her. This is the first time Frank has actually used the threat of murder during a back room negotiation, and it shows that even the presidency will not satisfy his lust for power.
Frank and Claire essentially decide to start a war in order to have a chance at winning the election. It gets absolutely blood-chilling when they subtly provoke some ICO wannabees into killing one of their hostages ON AIR to "make the terror" that will justify a war. And as if this couldn't be any worse, Frank and Claire watch the live-stream of the hostage's execution with complete indifference, and then BOTH of them look directly at the camera. The Underwoods, now truly united, seem virtually unstoppable.
One-Scene Wonder: Stephen Colbert's cameo in Season 3 made internet headlines, as it took place after his real life show ended, making it one last chance to see the character (it's implied that the Colbert cameo is supposed to be set around November 2014, shortly after Frank takes the Oval Office, so Frank was probably one of Colbert's last guests).
Rooting for the Empire: There is certainly a bile fascination around Frank Underwood, an escapist villain in every sense of the term. One of the highlights of the show is his ability to be constantly pulling a rabbit out of the hat (and probably killing it after the animal becomes expendable). There's more fun to be had if he doesn't lose.
The Scrappy: Some viewers were less then riveted by the Lucas Goodwin and Gavin Orsay arc in season 2, or Gavin Orsay's scenes in season 3.
In the Season 3 premiere, Doug Stamper slips in the shower and breaks his arm. After a loving close-up of the wound, he foregoes calling 911 and splints it himself, screaming in agony the whole time.
Frank's sexual affair with Zoe Barnes becomes one when you take into account the fact that Kevin Spacey is old enough to be Kate Mara's father. At least it's slightly better than the affair between Francis Urquhart and Mattie Storin in the original show, because in that one, Mattie also had an Electra complex, something that was written out of Zoe.
Michael Corrigan, a LGBT activist in Season 3 imprisoned in Russia. Though his protest of Russian homosexuality laws is entirely sympathetic, as he continues talking to Claire the man himself becomes much less so. He admits he doesn't love his husband anymore and made a mistake committing to him (and has cheated on him, too), but stays with him because a homosexual couple getting divorced would be bad for the cause. He also calls his husband weak for being unwilling to take a stand like he does, and when Claire points out his husband is in pain and that refusing to make the statement Petrov wants will just make things worse because he'll be humiliated, Michael doesn't care. And he ultimately hangs himself rather than cooperate. A character that should come across as sympathetic and tragic instead comes across as a self-righteous martyr more interested in the personal glory of suffering for his cause than actually trying to fight for it. In fact, Frank probably seems to have the same viewpoint, since his chewing out Claire for taking a stand against Petrov has him saying, "He [Corrigan] was a coward, and I'm glad he's dead!"
Lucas Goodwin becomes this in Season 4 when he decides to carry out an assassination attempt on Frank at a rally in Washington as revenge for Zoe's death. Instead, he ends up ruining a bunch of other people and ends up helping Frank's cause: Meechum is killed, Claire reconciles with Frank and they're stronger than ever, Dunbar's campaign is ruined because of their prior contact, and Zoe likely will never get any real kind of justice, even with Tom Hammerschmidt's investigating. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
Villain Sue: Frank, to the point that it has been the major critical complaint of the series. In the first season, Frank is about a billion times smarter and more competent than anyone who does, or might, stand in his way. However, the second season ups the threat level of his adversaries, and the third season makes it clear that the Underwoods are their own worst enemies.
Visual Effects of Awesome: The Tibetan sand sculpture in "Chapter 33." One has to take Claire's opinion of the work as being what the audience is supposed to think of it.
What an Idiot: While Frank spends much of Season 3 juggling an Idiot Ball, he gets one shoved down his throat in Chapter 37 when he publicly humiliates Jackie Sharp at a debate, after she spent the debate doing all that he told her to do, and when she protests to him he insults her. To the shock of no one, she turns on him and endorses Dunbar for the candidacy.
Win Back the Crowd: After a divisive Season 3, Season 4 has been much more warmly received. A more intelligent Frank, the Underwoods once again united, better storylines, the return of past characters, strong writing and strong direction (including by Robin Wright) have all been strong draws.
Peter Russo spends much of his money on and time with booze and prostitutes, but as his relationship with his children crumbles and his political aspirations collapse around his ears partly due to his own weaknesses and partly due to Frank's machinations when, as he starts to get his life back on track, he also tries to wriggle out from under Frank's thumb, it's hard not to feel sorry for him.
The Walkers' life is repeatedly poisoned by the Underwoods, but they still consider them genuine friends.
Pity poor Freddy Hayes. He just wanted to run his barbecue restaurant and, when it looks as though he might be able to make serious money from it, maybe stop his son and grandson from making the same mistakes he did, but one altercation with a paparazzi photographer as part of an attempt to discredit him by Raymond Tusk and Remy Danton is all it takes for his world to vanish from beneath his feet, as the franchise deal for his restaurant falls through and he ends up having to sell the premises (which will be worth more to its new owners as a vacant lot).
Lucas Goodwin. His love for Zoe Barnes is mostly (though not wholly) unrequited, and his determination to seek justice for her death by paying a hacker to show him how to access Underwood's phone records lands him in federal prison, as Underwood is aware of his actions from the very start. Then when he orchestrates his release, his new determination ends with him dying trying to assassinate Frank.
Adam Galloway, as of the end of Season 2. When his brief affair with Claire in Season 1 is leaked to the public courtesy of the photos he took of her, he is forced to claim that the first (Claire sleeping in his bed) was taken with Frank's knowledge as a gift, while the second (Claire in the shower) was done with a lookalike as a publicity stunt to prop up his ailing photography business. By the end of the season, his business and his relationship with his fiancée are in serious trouble.
Poor Rachel becomes the epitome of this trope. She is just a working girl, but when one of her "customers" is Peter Russo and Underwood sends Doug Stamper to buy her silence, the latter becomes so obsessed with her that he ends up trying to control every aspect of her life, reacting with paranoia and anger whenever she behaves unexpectedly (such as by joining a church group or starting a romantic relationship with Lisa, whom she is forced to dump unceremoniously). She escapes at the end of Season 2, but Doug tracks her down and, at the end of Season 3, runs her down with his car and buries her body himself.
In season 3, Doug has to undergo a longsome recovery which leads to lots of physical pain, forced idleness and subsequently a relapse into his alcoholism. Then again, he definitely forfeits any audience sympathy he might have gotten through this when crossing his Moral Event Horizon in the finale.