Now that you’ve had nearly 10 days to tuck into the fifth season of “House of Cards,” let’s talk about Frank Underwood‘s sexuality.
Not just because it’s pride month (in Netflix’s White House, anyway) or a compelling storyline to imagine an LGBT person in the highest office in the land, but because this is “House of Cards” at its finest — weaponizing humanity as political liability.
Season one told us that Kevin Spacey’s character enjoyed a romance with one of his military academy buddies, yet we never returned to that side of the politician seeing how busy he was burning down villages and eating souls in his pursuit of power.
But not this year. [Warning: spoilers ahead] A new male love interest is welcomed into the fold as the Underwoods clutch to their fragile power, and that college affair becomes a liability in the First Couple’s election campaign.
Frank’s new man is his personal trainer Eric Rawlings, an out-of-work actor who formerly played the role of Frank’s great ancestor in a Civil War reenactment.
“One of the things that was most fascinating to us is, he’s attracted to someone playing the part of his ancestor. There’s something very twisted and Underwoodian about it,” co-showrunner Melissa James Gibson told TheWrap during a recent chat with her counterpart Frank Pugliese.
“Like he’s trying to figure himself out through that attraction,” Gibson added.
Only Frank Underwood would kill two birds with one stone by securing a lover and simultaneously getting some narcissistic approval from a long-dead uncle.
“The arc there is about a character telling you the stories you want to hear about yourself, and what happens when those stories begin to change? It’s Frank grappling with his legacy and his ambition,” Pugliese said.
The lesson of which the Underwoods are keenly aware, yet never seem to learn, is that eventually everyone becomes a problem.
Frank and Eric’s idyllic cardio bike rides around D.C. and even attending major White House functions together escalates into a dark web of obsession, as the latter openly professes his love for Frank in front of security detail and staff.
Claire, happy to let Francis have something extracurricular as she has for two seasons with her live-in “speech writer” Tom Yates, dismisses the troubled man as “creepy.” Eric Rawlings ends up a question with a very predictable answer, which we won’t spoil for you here.
But Rawlings is an exhilarating kind of collateral damage because he represents a deeply human impulse in Frank — a longing for connection, which is something you’d think he and his Lady Macbeth would be long detached from by now.
It’s not all carnal, by the way. It could be argued that Eric is a bandage for an old wound twice opened. That college affair was with a classmate from their fictional academy The Sentinel, named Tim Corbett (David Andrews).
When another Sentinel alum named Ken Caswell, who knew Frank and Corbet, bumps into Claire during a campaign stop this year, he heavily alludes to the romantic relationship while expressing his dismay that the Underwoods weren’t kinder to him with favors over the years.
The scene is a drive-by threat to expose Frank’s sexuality at a pivotal point during their presidential campaign. Claire seethes at Caswell’s attempted power play. We later discover that Corbett disappeared on a hunting expedition and was never found, taking him off the table as a viable threat to the Underwoods.
It was a well-crafted reminder that, in the world of “House of Cards,” no one is inherently corrupt. But they sure wind up that way.
“There’s something about Francis this season, especially as he relates to Claire,” Gibson concluded.
“He chooses power over everything else,” she said.