Agents for Social Good: Ranking of House of Cards Characters (SPOILERS)
I binge watched House of Cards and ranked the characters from evil to not-so-evil.
Amidst the depravity, lies and murder, House of Cards covers a number of real world problems. From LGBT rights to unemployment, the latest season dealt with relevant social issues in unorthodox and often horrible ways.
Because I care so much about you, global citizens, I decided to watch all thirteen episodes in three days and rank the major characters in order of their dedication to social good (you’re welcome). Even though it’s an obviously fictional television show, it’s important to recognize the social and political commentary within it. This show is not just the story of a power hungry, murderous President: it’s a story that feeds into our biggest fears about politicians, how they’re motivated, and what happens behind closed doors. The spectrum of evil and compassion represented by these characters are echoed in real life and teach us about the importance of good and bad (mostly bad) leadership.
This list contains spoilers for season three of House of Cards.
10. Viktor Petrov
Petrov is a regressive, antagonistic and paranoid leader that is meant to mirror a certain real world Russian president (cough). This character just might be the most deplorable in the whole show; from killing his own soldiers in the Jordan Valley, detaining Michael Corrigan for his LGBT advocacy, and having a ruthless vendetta against Claire Underwood (coupled with a ton of inappropriate and sexist remarks towards her), his concern for other human beings is completely non-existent - and he takes pride in this quality. Petrov appears to be devoid of a moral compass and motivated solely by power - which brings us to…
9. Frank Underwood
As President, Underwood has been less overtly vicious than usual (by necessity; it’s a bit harder to get away with murder when you’re followed by press constantly). His leadership style has been hostile, and at times, despotic. AmWorks, his fictional solution to unemployment with the slogan “You are entitled to nothing”, is well-intentioned but disastrous for the masses. It reallocated disaster-relief funds AND social security - money that is meant to serve the most vulnerable Americans. Even if the program does stimulate some job creation, it takes money from the people who need it most and is potentially unsustainable. This was legally questionable and a huge point of debate this season, which puts Mr. President right near the bottom of the list.
8. Doug Stamper
When I learned that he’s still alive, I felt a slight ping of disgust. His willingness to use Peter Russo’s addiction against him back in season one, as an addict himself, was horrifying to watch and made me root against him ever since. He didn’t fail to disappoint again this season. From faking interest in Heather Dunbar’s campaign to get back under Frank’s wing, to using Claire Underwood’s harrowing past for political gain, to murdering Rachel who finally thought he got away from this insane dude - it’s hard for me to feel bad for someone who repeatedly uses women to further his own interests. However, there were some humanizing moments with his recovery and family that made me care a tiny bit about him, which keeps him from the bottom two spots.
7. Remy Danton
From a money hungry lobbyist to a lovesick, wanderlust puppy, Remy Danton’s character took an interesting turn this season. As one of the only characters that does not fear Frank, he tried telling the President that he needs to treat his staff fairly in order to maintain power. After a minor altercation with the police and seeing Jackie in her new relationship, Remy underwent an internal transformation; stepping down from being Chief of Staff was him standing up against President Underwood’s tyranny and abuse of power. Danton’s evolution from season one is quite remarkable and I think we will be seeing more positive changes in his character in the next season. If certain lobbyists in real life could take note of this transformation, that would be great...
6. Jackie Sharp
Jackie Sharp contemplates right from wrong, even if she doesn’t act accordingly (which is a rare trait for characters in this show). Though her decision to throw Dunbar under the bus during the debate was not her finest moment (and accusing people of “sexism” falsely makes it harder to discuss the issue seriously), this is more of a testament to Frank’s manipulation than to Jackie’s morality. Jackie clearly knows that Dunbar is the more respectable candidate, and endorsing her was a great way to stand up for herself (and what was right for America) as a woman and politician.
5. Claire Underwood
A lot of people may disagree with me here. However flawed she is, I think Claire’s appreciation for diplomacy, genuine concern for Michael Corrigan and LGBT rights (even if her outburst about his suicide was super unprofessional), and respect for herself (both professionally and in her relationship with Frank) are all applaudable. Her non-profit work around water and advocacy for women all stem from a place of real compassion and desire to change the world, but are paired with questionable and ruthless actions - placing her right at the middle of this list.
4. Gavin Orsay
Though Gavin’s form of activism might technically be illegal, he is motivated by challenging the status quo: his own brand of justice is based on freedom of information. He’s not interested in money, political gain, snitching on his fellow hacktivists, or helping Doug with his insane obsession with Rachel. He feels guilt and is motivated by good, which is reason enough to put him higher on this list.
3. Donald Blythe
Even though he’s a bit of a silly and powerless Vice President (especially compared to VP Underwood), Donald Blythe is one of the few characters that isn’t corrupt. He takes this spot because of his commitment to educational reform; plus, he stands his ground against Frank in season two, calling him “deceptive” (understatement of the century). He doesn’t have much agency as a character, but that’s because he’s such a good guy that he doesn’t really play politics in the way other characters do. The world would be a better place with more people like him!
2. Heather Dunbar
If you weren’t rooting for her to win the Iowa Caucus, you’re kind of a monster. Her platform of transparency, ethics and women’s equality was comparably rock solid and actually made sense for the Democratic Party, unlike Underwood’s “You are entitled to nothing” platform. She generally stands above petty politics and nepotism (minus her willingness to use Claire’s abortion lie against Frank, yikes) and genuinely wants to make the world a better, more equitable place. I would probably be down to vote for her if she ran in 2016 (Clinton vs. Dunbar for the Democratic ticket, anyone?).
1. Random Tibetan Monks
Pretty much every character in this show is flawed, so the number one spot goes to some of the few people who didn’t lie, manipulate or kill.
The monks that were in the White House on a cultural exchange for a few episodes were symbolically important: they built something intricately beautiful over a long period of time, only to be destroyed in a matter of seconds. This practice is known as sand mandala, and is meant to symbolize the fleeting nature of life. Combined with their chants, the monks were practicing self-growth, new energies and healing - qualities that everyone in this show could use a bit more of.
House of Cards very deliberately discusses issues that reflect our cultural sensitivities. The relationship between justice and political gain is a driving force of this show; as global citizens, we should try to be aware of this dynamic in real life, as ethical governance and socially conscious decision-making will be necessary to drive progress.
That’s why we should thank the high heavens that Frank Underwood is not a real person.