The season 3 finale of House of Cards saw Claire walk out on Frank, which was probably the most significant thing to happen to the Underwoods thus far, even accounting for Frank being a two-time murderer who organised the systematic downfall of the President of the United States. The dynamic of these two anti-heroes sits at the very heart of this series, and with that dynamic so altered, we should expect season 4 to take on a very different feel from what's gone before.
But without any solid gossip about what's to come when the show returns in March, apart from the news that a new power couple will be joining (one half of which to possibly be played by new addition Neve Campbell), I got to thinking about the real-life political storms that the series could incorporate into the story of season 4. And where better to start than with an ongoing saga which has been dominating headlines throughout 2015?
Hillary Clinton and the email saga
It might not exactly be Watergate, but the never-ending saga of Hillary Clinton's emails is the story that just won't die, and it's not a stretch to imagine Frank or Claire being struck by the same controversy. Just in case you've been in a deep stupor for the past six months, here's a brief recap of emailgate:
In 2008, Hillary paid IT director Bryan Pagliano to maintain her private email server in advance of becoming Secretary of State under President Obama. The next year, the State Department hired Pagliano separately, unaware that he was being employed by the Clintons. Hillary used her private email account for State business, generating controversy about the possibility that hackers or foreign security services could have gained access to classified information, although that never happened. After the scandal broke, Hillary turned over 30,000 "work-related" emails to the State Department whilst deleting a further 32,000 that she considered personal, which didn't sit well with everybody in the media. As of the end of September 2015, the story is still dominating her narrative.
See the Future President discussing the contents of the emails with Jimmy Fallon a couple of weeks back.
In all honesty, a story arc about a bunch of emails would seem pretty small-fry for a series like House of Cards. It's not sex, murder or blackmail. It wouldn't necessarily raise the stakes for Frank. But done well, it could help give the show some focus - and as Hillary herself has found, even a seemingly minor scandal becomes hard to shake off if you don't deal with it quickly and efficiently. Her earlier refusal to disclose the emails only amplified the scale of the controversy, to the point where a small deal became a big deal.
How House of Cards could use emailgate to give Frank problems in season 4
Here's my idea: Frank uses public funds or a government credit card to pay for something. Perhaps a handbag in a boutique, bought for Claire in some kind of an effort to get her back on side. It's a simple mistake, he intended to pay back the money from his own account, but it got overlooked. He hires a PR strategist to help him ride the story out once it breaks, but the audience finds out long before Frank does that the strategist is actually working for Jackie Sharp as a mole, sent in to do the President some serious damage in the run up to the Presidential election. His name becomes tainted. Suddenly the floodgates are opened up to all those really juicy stories - the murder, the blackmail - and we see Francis begin to come undone.
More real-life scandals that were stranger than fiction
What other political storms could be ripped from the headlines in season 4? Well, if they wanted to be super topical they could cross the Atlantic and borrow from the story of Britain's PM David Cameron allegedly putting his "instrument" in the mouth of a dead pig as part of a bizarre initiation ritual in a posh boys' society at Oxford University - but sadly, Black Mirror got there first, entirely by accident.
Skip to 35:30 and enjoy - it's probably the only time you'll get to see a politician initiate sex with a farmyard animal (no Cherie Blair jokes, please). Black Mirror might have dared to go there, but it's hard to imagine an American series having the balls to do something that shocking, and it's not exactly a great fit for the Washington, DC corridors of power anyway. Best to leave this one to the Brits.
But what about the assassination of JFK? The murder of one of America's most beloved Presidents is one of the defining images of the nation's history, and there's been speculation since the beginning of House of Cards that Francis' story might play out in similar fashion - although given his low approval ratings, it might be an idea to have him enjoy a resurgence in popularity first. But would Netflix kill the star of their flagship show, and could House of Cards survive without Kevin Spacey? Maybe - if the First Lady herself orchestrated it all, ready to make her own bid for President on a wave of public grief and sympathy. That really could be the perfect political storm.
Do you have an idea for where House of Cards could go in season 4? Could the saga of Hillary's emails be a suitable jump-off point? What do you want for Francis and Claire? Leave a comment or write your own post about it!