The sexual assault allegations against Kevin Spacey and the quite frankly disgusting way that he attempted to apologize for his behavior have effectively destroyed the reputation of a great and, until now, beloved actor.
In case you somehow missed the story, actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of making sexual advances towards Rapp when he was 14. Spacey responded with a public apology while also simultaneously coming out as a gay man – a move that has been widely criticized as an attempted deflection.
It was an ugly move that smacked of desperation and it almost worked – I saw news outlets prioritizing the news that Kevin Spacey is gay over the sexual assault allegations, and some, such as a Bulgarian LGBT site, going as far as minimizing the sexual assault story and outright celebrating Spacey coming out.
For the most part, however, the attempted spin on this story backfired spectacularly, with many condemning the actor for both the alleged sexual assault of a minor and his appalling apology. Others have come forward since with new allegations. In less than a week, Kevin Spacey’s career and his legacy were damaged seemingly beyond repair.
Soon after the story broke out, Netflix announced that the sixth season of House of Cards would be the last one. After that, Netflix suspended production on the show to review the situation and just today, it was announced that star and executive producer Kevin Spacey had been fired. Rumor has it the show might kill off his character Frank Underwood and wrap up the story without him.
Truth is, this was a no-win situation for House of Cards. That show was fucked either way as soon as this whole mess started.
Frank Underwood is an integral part of House of Cards. He’s not the only main character, as Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is just as pivotal to the show’s story, but House of Cards cannot exist without either of them. Their power dynamic is one of the foundations of the series and there simply cannot be a satisfying conclusion to House of Cards’ overall story if one of them is unceremoniously written off.
On the production side of things, it would take extraordinary and perhaps even unconscionable levels of professionalism to continue working with Spacey in the wake of the allegations. At the very least, it would be an extremely uncomfortable work environment which isn’t fair to the cast and crew of the show.
As for the perspective of the audience, can you imagine trying to watch Kevin Spacey play Frank Underwood after the scandal? Every Kevin Spacey performance both past, present and future will be very difficult to watch from now on, but revisiting Frank Underwood in old and new seasons would be especially horrific.
Frank was a terrible person from the very beginning (the show’s opening scene has him KILL A PUPPY) but over the course of the show he got worse and worse. By the end of the fifth season, he was an utterly despicable, corrupt, sociopathic murderer that is beyond any redemption or sympathy.
He is a sickening character to watch, in a morbidly entertaining kind of way but there were two things that kept him from being unwatchable. One, we all know this doesn’t end well for him or Claire. This is a “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” kind of story – it’s implicit in the title of the show itself – and we as an audience can reconcile our sickening love for the Underwood’s villainy with the catharsis of watching them lose everything in the end.
Two, our hatred for Frank was balanced out by our love for Kevin Spacey as a performer. Everybody loved Kevin Spacey. A fantastic actor with charisma to spare and a ton of memorable roles over the years. No matter how vile Frank got in the later seasons, we could find comfort in our admiration for Kevin Spacey’s talent and charm.
The sexual assault allegations didn’t just tip the scales in the other direction, they took the scales and threw them out the window. They blurred that reassuring distinction between the character and the actor and made it basically impossible to get any enjoyment out of seeing Frank Underwood.
I don’t even want to see Frank get his just deserts anymore, because that would still mean having to see him again. The scandal has made it impossible for Frank’s story to be concluded in a satisfactory manner and has retroactively made it impossible to watch Frank’s previous appearances.
It’s possible that the show could transition to having Claire be the only main character, especially since the story has kind of already set that up rather nicely, given how the fifth season ended, but House of Cards is still doomed overall.
Even if it somehow pulls off the greatest final season ever despite having to get rid of one its main characters before the ending, House of Cards can’t remove Frank from the episodes that have already been made. He’s already an indispensable part of the show.
There is no good outcome to this, no solution that will work. House of Cards is beyond salvaging.