Last week, Netflix fired actor Kevin Spacey from House of Cards due to accusations of sexual misconduct and assault dating back to the 1980s. Crewmembers who work on House of Cards also say that Spacey created a toxic atmosphere on set, with at least one former employee of the show alleging that Spacey assaulted him.
Needless to say, Spacey had to go. But now the show’s creators have a problem: How do you carry on when the star of the show suddenly leaves? Spacey’s role of Francis Underwood is despicable, machiavellian, and utterly irredeemable. His portrayal of a South Carolina politician who schemes his way to the presidency — sweet as honey bourbon one moment, cold and calculating the next — is fascinating to watch for his laser-focused raw ambition. While his wife Claire (the brilliant Robin Wright) is his partner in political conspiracy, she too often exhibits twinges of humanity that Frank would never allow for himself. In short, House of Cards is built on Frank Underwood.
So what does Netflix and House of Cards’ production company do now? Here are six ways House of Cards can move forward — or not.
Spoiler alert! Don’t continue reading if you haven’t watched all the way through Season 5 of House of Cards.
Cancel the series
Given how integral Spacey has been to House of Cards, the best solution may be for Netflix to just cut its losses and cancel the show outright. Maybe produce a Spacey-less two hour movie to wrap up the dangling plot lines from Season 5. As reported by The Blast, Netflix may have no other choice — Spacey’s contract reportedly has no morality clause, meaning that he can only be suspended or fired from the show if he becomes unavailable or incapacitated.
Likelihood? Depends. House of Cards is one of Netflix’s most successful original series, so it doesn’t seem likely that the plug will be pulled just yet (though I’m betting Season 6 will be the show’s last). Besides, there are those potential House of Cards spin-off series in the works that need to be set up. However, if Netflix has no other choice but to cancel the series due to Spacey’s contract, then it probably will — leaving the spin-off (if it happens) to do the heavy lifting of explaining what happened after Season 5’s cliffhanger.
Recast Frank Underwood
Much in the same way that Kevin Spacey’s role as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World was recast with Christopher Plummer (after Spacey had already filmed all his scenes), House of Cards could move forward with a new face for Frank. (In fact, is Plummer available?) It’s certainly not the first time that a major role in a TV show has been recast in the middle of its run: Bewitched famously replaced Darrin Stephens between seasons and nobody noticed. There’s always the “I went into hiding so I got plastic surgery” trope to rely on.
Likelihood? Nope, not going to happen. Audiences aren’t likely to accept another actor in a role that Spacey has made his own over the course of five seasons. Sorry, it’s not like he was playing bland second banana on a TV sitcom.
However…if Christopher Plummer IS available, I would watch him play Frank Underwood in a proverbial heartbeat.
Frank goes missing
Whenever an actor leaves a show, but the producers want to leave an option open for the character’s return, they usually say he or she is “away” or “missing.” Silicon Valley is doing this with the character of Erlich Bachman, stranding him in Tibet, even though the actor who portrays him, T.J. Miller, says he’ll never return to the show. A major theme for Season 6 could be a “Where is Francis Underwood?” whodunit in which Frank mysteriously disappears, leading Claire and the Washington press corp to hunt him down. Is he plotting against his enemies in secret? Pulling the strings through surrogates? The Saw movies pulled this off with a puppet, so anything is possible.
Likelihood? It’s very possible…but also not very likely. The success to any good mystery is its resolution, and the audience already knows that Frank isn’t “missing”; the actor who plays him is a sexual predator (allegedly) who got fired and won’t be coming back. Once you’ve taken away the element of a surprise return, the mystery aspect falls apart. Having Frank simply disappear won’t be very satisfying to the audience.
Frank goes to prison
The tidiest solution to House of Cards’ woes may be to send Frank away to a dank prison cell where there isn’t a camera for him to talk into. It’s certainly plausible: At the end of Season 5, Claire had ascended to the presidency and shut Frank out of the White House, hedging on whether to pardon him for his past crimes. Her last words to the camera: “My turn!” Once she openly acknowledged the audience, it became the Claire show.
Likelihood? 50-50. The problem isn’t that Frank would be in prison, it would be that we couldn’t see him. But it would be an interesting challenge for the creators to make Frank a credible unseen villain who’s still able to pull strings from behind bars.
A more permanent solution would be to kill Frank between seasons or off-screen during the first episode of Season 6. Claire’s advisor, Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson), even subtly suggested to Claire that Frank’s demise would be a weight off the new president’s back. Could Claire arrange an accident to take Frank out, much like Frank did to poor campaign manager LeAnn Harvey (Neve Campbell)? Definitely. But would she? Claire may have fatally poisoned her lover Tom Yates to further her political ambition, but killing Frank could be too much.
Likelihood? Almost certainly. The death of Francis Underwood would not only be just desserts for an immoral character, it would be a clear statement that Kevin Spacey is off the show for good. Claire’s overthrow, and even murder, of Frank would reveal House of Cards for what it’s been all along: Claire’s journey. The question is, who could ever replace Frank as Claire’s rival? The Vice President? Will Conway? Hammerschmidt? Jane? I can’t wait to find out.
Frank pulls a Maris
Maris Crane was the unseen, but often talked about wife of Niles Crane on the TV sitcom Frasier. For Season 6, Frank is alive and scheming — but always on the phone or in the next room, never seen or heard. Hey, he can even send texts! House of Cards shows text message pop-ups all the time. “Oh, you just missed Frank,” characters would tell each other. “But he told me to deliver this creepy soliloquy directly into the camera in a thick Foghorn Leghorn accent.”
Likelhood? C’mon, be serious. Leave that silly stuff for Stan on Will & Grace.