[Warning: Season three spoilers lie ahead. Read at your own risk.]
watching binging season three of Netflix’s House of Cards, a major question remains: Who will be the one to bring down President Frank Underwood?
We can’t know that this will happen for sure, of course, but it seems inevitable. This man has certainly made his mistakes, and enemies. The Democratic party, Claire (Robin Wright), or even Frank (Kevin Spacey) himself could be the reason for his ruin. But, there’s also a pretty good chance that it could be the journalists.
Insert Pulitzer and Peabody-winning journalist Kate Baldwin (Kim Dickens), a seasoned vet who returns to D.C. as the Wall Street Telegraph’s White House reporter, replacing her protégé, Ayla Sayyad (Mozhan Marnò).
We first meet Kate when she confronts Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil), Director of Communications, for getting Ayla’s White House press room credential revoked, which he did under the direction of Frank. Kate tells Seth that he won’t be able to do to her what he did to her protégé. “You punished Ayla for doing good work,” Kate says. “She hit hard, and you hit back—fair enough. Well, I’m going to hit twice as hard as she ever did because I can and because someone should.”
These are certainly fighting words, and Kate does manage to throw a few punches. She landed two front-page articles, on the same day, that revealed some of Frank’s more unsavory moves: One exposed how Frank forced Steve Travers (Paul O’Brien), Secretary of Homeland Security, to resign after he challenged the use of FEMA funds for America Works, and the other detailed how Frank subsequently followed through with his funding plan. Moreover, Kate shined light on the death of a U.S. Navy Seal, claiming that it occurred during a covert mission in the Jordan Valley, rather than a training accident, as the administration claimed.
What’s more, Kate wrote a very critical piece that likened Frank to the imminent Hurricane Faith — “The entire nation is in his path, and if we ignore the warning signs, we have no one but ourselves to blame,” she wrote — though it never made it to print after the storm changed paths. It criticized Frank’s abuse of power by, for example, stiffening funds from FEMA for America Works, making Claire the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in a recess appointment when the Senate voted against her, and deploying troops in the Jordan Valley after Congress refused to support a peacekeeping mission there.
Kate narrates much of “Chapter 34,” reading her criticism aloud, alternating between author Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) reading his admiring prologue to his book about Frank. “Both are sort of investigating the same subject through a different point of view and trying to sort of nail it,” Dickens says of the dueling voices between her and her romantic fling. “But, who is really right? I don’t know.”
Intention is crucial, here. Unlike some of Kate’s earlier journalist counterparts—Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), and Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer), who became suspicious that Frank was involved in Peter Russo’s (Corey Stoll) death—Kate isn’t intent on bringing Frank down, per se.
“She’s just calling it like she sees it,” Dickens says. What Kate sees in Frank is a tyrant, but that’s not to say she can’t see otherwise. “I don’t think she’s immune to seeing a different side of him.”
Dickens believes in the power of journalism, and Kate as an extension of that. She appreciates the checks and balances that it offers on the government, noting that it can, and has, actually brought down politicians. Accordingly, Kate’s writings should force Frank to face at least some lasting consequences, but he doesn’t—not really, anyway.
In fact, Frank makes it out relatively unscathed, politically, and by season’s end he wins Iowa. The question now being, in House of Cards, does political journalism have any real power where Frank is concerned? Dickens doesn’t know, but a look at some of the earlier journalists suggests the press can’t stop him.
We all remember what happened to Zoe when she got a little too close to discovering Frank’s role in Peter’s death. When Lucas tried to recover Zoe and Frank’s messages, Doug had Lucas framed for cyber terrorism—now he’s serving time. As for Janine, she was scared off by what happened to her colleagues.
That’s not to say that the journalists can’t do anything to stop Frank. Zoe, Lucas, and Janine did get pretty close to exposing him after all. [In this writer’s humble opinion, the journalists, and hackers, are capable of bringing Frank down, but at this point, it seems less likely than say Claire, who left Frank, high and dry on his campaign trail, in the finale.]
There has not been an official announcement as to whether the show will move forward with a fourth season, so Dickens doesn’t know if she’ll return, but her story did end on an open note. “I didn’t get thrown in front of a bus, or anything,” she quips, alluding to Zoe’s tragic end. If the show moves forward, and Dickens does come back, she’d like to dig deeper and investigate loose ends such as Zoe and Peter. Maybe she could be the journalist to take it all the way.
As for the upcoming presidential election, Dickens expects Frank will win, with or without Claire. “The dynamic keeps the stakes so high,” she says. “We want to be inside that White House.” And inside that White House press room.