[Spoiler warning for House of Cards series 4]
There is a fine tradition of voting numpties into the White House. Calvin Coolidge once observed “when more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results,” while LBJ spat that “Jerry Ford is so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”
As George W Bush told an audience of graduating students: “as I like to tell the C students, you too can be president.”
Luckily, House of Cards is a deeply, deeply stupid show. That has always been its strength. It understands that when you’re given a stage as large as the White House, you stage an opera, not Death of a Salesman.
Its most memorable moments are those surreal, gothic jabs that come out of nowhere – Secret Service threesomes, dinner with Pussy Riot and disco dancing data analysis. It may throw around constitutional technobabble like a Good Wife fanfiction writer defending themselves in court, but the business of government is beyond it.
And quite right too. How do you murder the deficit? Or blackmail youth unemployment? Where’s the fun in filibustering?
Despite everything the show tells you about itself, Frank Underwood is not a subtle Machiavellian operator, he is a bampot. The guy kills dogs to underline a point. Jefferson he ain’t.
Yet there are limits to the stupidity viewers are willing to accept, and with season four HoC may have stepped over the line. Claire demanding her selection as Frank’s running mate is stupid. Moronic. It turns a canny political operator into a ham-brained fish-eyed jar-opener.
Now the Vice Presidency may be a bit of a joke – there’s an entire TV show about it – but it’s still impossible to believe that the American public would ever go for a married couple splitting the office.
It’s easy to understand why they’re moving in this direction – Robin Wright deserves absolutely equal billing with Kevin Spacey, and her character has consistently been the most interesting part of the show. Plus there is the enticing possibility of the series ending with Claire murdering Frank to complete her rise to the top. Yet its attempts to sell us on this completely unbelievable twist makes you wonder whether there’s a gas leak under the West Wing.
It is still fun to watch Spacey and Wright bounce off of each other, but this may be the moment when House of Cards has outstayed its welcome – a milestone of sorts for an online-only show. There is a reason Presidents are only given two terms.