Life Lessons from Frank Underwood

Pop Culture

Life Lessons from Frank Underwood

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Spoilers Ahead

There are only two absolute truths in the world: Android is the best, and that Season 3 and 4 of House of Cards were burning train wrecks hurtling toward a sad demise. Then Underwood did what Trump could not – he returned to older times and made the show great again.

Under new senior writers, Season 5 sees Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood return to his whipping best after spending too much time in the doldrums. He’s a manipulative, badgering, wrecking ball of a human being, arm-twisting the constitution and puppeteering his intellectual underlings to another presidency while most of our leaders are busy choosing new national animals. This season, he has something to win again and that reflects the heightened self-awareness of the show: The breaking of the fourth wall is more timely, the monologues are tighter, and every episode is giving the people what they want from Netlfix – cliffhangers like they’re “Hotel California”: You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!

In a political climate which can be brought to its knees by one typo (#covfefe forever), House of Cards meanders above us like a parallel stratosphere, a window into what would happen if Donald Trump was actually competent. The life lessons from a character like this, a well-rounded evil genius with a dysfunctional morality metre and the power to change the world, can then be invaluable.

I spent all of yesterday with Francis Underwood and this is what he taught me.

1) People Are Stupid

In perhaps the most adrenaline-filled hour of television this year, the fourth episode has Frank Underwood stating the one thing that must have gone through the mind of every powerful world leader as he pushed against popular demand and set his own agendas: “The American people are children. They don’t know what they want. They’re like the kids we never had. We have to tell them what to feel, what to want.” Or in other words, all people are stupid.

We’ve proved it time and again. We voted for Trump, we think a lot about peacocks having sex, and we don’t think there’s anything wrong in Akshay Kumar taking the National Award. To fully grasp the extent of our stupidity, we must look no further than the very existence of Baywatch. Is it a film about hot people running on a beach, or is it a film about hot people running on a beach?

Someone once said, “To the witless go the foils.” Let’s just hope he was right.


Season 5 sees Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood return to his whipping best after spending too much time in the doldrums.

Courtesy: Netflix

2) Marriage Can Be A Foursome

Never in the history of the world has there existed a people so confused than those on Tinder. Should I swipe left to date this person who loves dogs, or should I swipe right and date this person who loves pizza?

As a species, we have failed at love, and Frank Underwood helps us here as well. His relationship with the deadly Claire has been at the centre of everything, and in this season they become extremely comfortable with their open marriage. Claire fucks her speechwriter Tom but is supportive and respectful towards Frank, and Frank fucks his trainer dude and tells Tom not to cheat on his wife, Claire.

However cool our world gets, that’s still a pretty incredible statement. House of Cards normalises open marriages, and assures us that it’s okay to fuck in pursuit of happiness as long as it’s done with respect towards your spouse.

Frank and Claire, then, are #RelationshipGoals.

3) You Only Live Once

Season 3 and 4 of House of Cards taught us that skeletons in the closet have a way of getting out and things can always potentially go south (the ghost of Zoe haunts us!). This season of House of Cards shows us that we can have what we want if we dream big. Want free, fast internet? Take all the money from your education fund and go for it. Want every Indian citizen to sport a chihuahua in a Fendi bag? Attack Fendi factories and take all of China’s chihuahuas. Want every Indian household to have a bunch of cows? Pick up the lathi and let’s go.

Frank is a walking, talking advert for YOLO in Season 5: Scare your own country with terror threats for political gains? Check. Use an NSA hacker to bring down YOUR city’s systems for a teeny-tiny advantage in a campaign? Check. Make sure you indulge in voter suppression for victory? Check.

You only live once, and it’s time you unfriend karma and swipe a hard right on the Gospel of Underwood. “The road to power,” Frank once said, “is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties.” At long last, now we know what it takes to be the ones doing the digging.

4) Honesty Gets You Everywhere

It might sound counterproductive to talk about honesty when discussing a show which is rooted in dishonesty, crimes, and political shenanigans that involve throwing people in front of trains and making sure your adversaries end up in jail, but Frank is a fairly honest dude.


Frank and Claire are #RelationshipGoals.

Courtesy: Netflix

“There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth,” he once famously said, but this season he has taken this to the next level. His political opponents know what he’s capable of, his party knows that he’s dangerous, even the stupid American public know he’s not fit to rule and try to vote him out of power. But Frank Underwood, like a twisted rendition of Gandhi, keeps employing the truth of the general awareness of his abilities to stack up wins. He tells Secretary of State Cathy Durant that she’ll be fired if she doesn’t help him politicise an impending war crime, he tells Claire that she’ll owe him forever if he made her president, and he is generally unapologetic about the fact that he will wield unlimited power even from outside the White House. He does this because he has leverage and he makes no bones about it.

In management schools, when they teach students to speak the truth, what they should really be doing is hosting a screening of House of Cards, teaching them that however bitter, if you are blatant about intent and operate with leverage, there’s no stopping you. These are tough life lessons but essential ones.

If you let him, Frank Underwood can write the ultimate textbook on how to live your life, and unlike Jesus, Rama, and Mohammed, he’s isn’t lying six feet under. He is building a castle upon the broken lives of his opponents. And, by God, it is beautiful.