House of Cards Topples
How Kevin Spacey’s Disgrace Will Affect The Series
There is no denying a simple truth: the great power in so much of Kevin Spacey’s work has always been that he seems a little… off. From his breakout character of crime lord Mel Profit in Wiseguy, to his stunning work as the serial killer in Se7en to his first Oscar as Verbal/Keyzer Soze in The Usual Suspects, there has always been something in his character that makes you realize there is something dangerous below the surface. Even in his work in such brilliant films as American Beauty and Beyond the Sea, there has always been something that you just can’t trust. That was perhaps the inner charm of Frank Underwood in House of Cards; even as Frank seemed to let you in on all of the Machiavellian plans for power, even to the point of climbing over bodies, you never could quite believe that you were seeing everything.
And now its become very clear that, just like so many of his characters, we never knew the whole truth about the actor. Over the past month, multiple allegation of sexual assault and harassment have been made against Spacey. Unlike most of the other major sexual scandals, Spacey’s have been entirely been made by younger men. It is unclear whether any of the allegations are true, but as is the case with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, when there’s this much smoke, one has to assume there is at least some fire.
I’m not going to deal with the charges against Spacey. What I do want to deal with is how it will affect the series he has been nominated for multiple Emmys for. In the week that the charges began to come out, Netflix has sent mixed messages. They first announced that the sixth season of House of Cards, due out in 2018, will be its last. Two days later, they announced that they were suspending production on the series. The last announcement has been made that the final season will go forward, but that they have not decided on Spacey’s role in it.
Let us consider first how much this will damage the story of the series. There have been situations in the past where series have decided to move forward despite the death of their lead character. In most cases, it has been disastrous for the show. Considering that the sixth season was in production, that probably means that most of the storylines will have to be seriously, if not completely rewritten. And even if they can manage somehow to find a way to do this, even given everything that’s happened, its ridiculous on the face of it — one could almost say that it would be like doing the final act of Hamlet, if Hamlet had been murdered in Act Four. For better or worse, House of Cards has been the story of Frank Underwood. How do you proceed even if you kill him off early on? One could make the argument for continuing the suspension of the series until the charges are made official, and Spacey has a chance — however remote — to clear his name. (And indeed, given that the most recent season ended with Spacey’s character being removed from office and his wife becoming president, one could have made the argument that Cards could’ve just as simply come to an end then, with no complaint.)
But the fact is the damage has already been done to House of Cards. TV advertisements for Netflix have removed it from their slots, and its no longer prominent on the website itself. And considering that the series is the show that essentially put Netflix on the map as a source for original programming, its nearly as criminal as all the backstabbing and doubledealing that went on the series. Because so much of House of Cards — particularly in the first two seasons — was some of the most engaging and brilliant television I’ve seen on any network. It was by far one of the most realistic and cynical series about politics in medium, and at times, it even made the British series that was its inspiration seem tame. And not all of it had to do with Spacey. Beau Willimon’s writing, and the entire cast from Robin Wright and Michael Kelly, down to Reg E. Cathey and Molly Parker was some of the most astounding work for the medium, and considering the level of competition that has been available this decade, that is impressive.
Will Hollywood be able to forgive Kevin Spacey, even if he is found innocent? It’s hard to say. Hollywood has a long history of forgive and forget when it comes to this type of sexual behavior. Witness that they were eventually able to honor Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, and Woody Allen at the Oscars. A more interesting question is whether I can forgive Spacey. He was always one of my favorite actors, and considering his incredible gifts for impersonation, one of the most entertaining performers to watch. Now, I’m not certain I can watch his work with the rose-colored glasses I did before. I stopped watching House of Cards in Season 3, not because I had a problem with anything connected with it, but because I simply didn’t have the time. Now that I know what I do about Spacey — I’m just not certain I can ever find my way back to it again. Much of the series was based on the character of Frank Underwood. And now I don’t know if I can disassociate Spacey from Frank’s ever again. Which I think is a real loss, and a painful one.