Character Study: Political Animals on Scandal, House of Cards, & The Good Wife, Part II

Read Part I here. a radioactive...ballot.
Bitten…by a radioactive…ballot.

Gemma: So we were going to talk Political Animal Origin Stories, yes?

Rasha: Yes, though it did also occur to me earlier this week to wonder which of our Political Animals would win if they were pitted against each other in a three-way election.

G: Ooh, let’s start there!

R: I feel like Eli’s the first out. Not murdery enough. But between Cyrus and Doug, it’s hard to call.

G: Yeah, Eli lives in a lower-drama world, and I don’t know that he could handle the pace at which Doug’s and Cyrus’s worlds exist. I mean, if they are actual candidates, Cyrus, without question.

Keep moving like a shark.
Keep moving like a shark.

R: Oh, for sure. I guess I was thinking: if they were running a campaign for another candidate. I was conveniently forgetting about Cyrus becoming Vice President, which honestly, I think he won’t do, or won’t do for very long, but Scandal delights to thwart me.

G: Between Doug managing and Cyrus managing, I have no idea who would win. Something’s going to crash for Cyrus’s candidacy this season, for sure. Likely perpetrated by Liv. Anyway. Actually, you know what, I’m going with Doug.

R: I was going to say that without B613 and Rowan, Cyrus is much less scary.

The shadows behind the political monster.
The shadows behind the political monster.

G: No self-interest. Doug’d take folks out without worrying about what it meant for him and his own future. Cyrus still has an identity in the game.

R: That is some zen-level warrior truth right there. For Doug (I keep typing “Dough”), there is no sword, there is no opponent, there is no self.

G: (I have the same problem.) Doug fully erased himself with the Rachel situation. He would do anything for Underwood ’cause otherwise he’s genuinely got nothing, including a sense of what he should be doing, which Cyrus would have.

Cyrus would not be this far out in the Mountain time zone burying the bodies himself.

R: I think you’re absolutely right. I’ll add that Dough doesn’t get other people to do the murdering for him. Doh, I did it.

G: It’s true. Doug is not a machinator the same way Cyrus is. But it’s an interesting thought that Cyrus and Eli are both devoted to Their Jobs, as Elizabeth North is, while Doug’s devotion is genuinely to Underwood himself. Like, Peter and Fitz happen to be who Eli and Cyrus have hitched their wagons to, but it’s the work that they love.

R: Yeah, Eli was full ready to helm Alicia’s political career when Peter’s was dead, and Cyrus made Vargas so he could have an avatar to play with. Your point about the murder of Rachel erasing the entity we know as Dough (I’m just going to embrace it now), means whatever we get now in his story could be such a radical departure from what we’ve seen so far. Which makes me now think about the Origins and Evolutions of Political Species.

Definitely starts in a secret laboratory. Or with a phone call. Something.
Definitely starts in a secret laboratory. Or with a phone call. Something.

G: Go on.

R: Is Doug just going to play out his addict’s obssession with the wife of the man who donated a liver to F.U.? That is certainly going to come crashing down; that woman is bound to learn or see more than is safe for her or Doug or the Underwoods. Is this an escalation for Dough, or is it a return to old patterns? Will we ever get peekbacks for Dough the way we do for the Underwoods?

G: I suspect we will get some sort of peekbacks, and certainly dude has been seeking a new focus to his obsession after his physical therapist didn’t work out. It’s funny, though, that the women he’s obsessed with basically count as his only outlet/escape from the Underwoods. Or he seems to be looking for one, and then discovers again and again that he cannot have it. That he is, in fact, made from the Underwoods.

Not twisty enough, will never last.

R: That’s why the therapist wouldn’t work. Rachel and the widow are both made of the Underwoods, since they are the only reason he enters into the life of either woman. Dude, the part of me that blogged with you about The Fall really has to take a step back and comment on HOW F^CKED UP the murdering is, especially of women, on HOC. Like, will Frank Underwood one day have to call Annalise Keating?

G: Unquestionably. Both HOC and Scandal take place in these universes of conspiracy theories made manifest.

R: Though seriously, he would need her and Olivia Pope to get out of the sh*t he’s done. One thing that I appreciate about Scandal and HOC (over something like ahem Blindspot) is that their conspiracies are perpetrated and laid by the protagonists.

G: Yes. They have these odd and somehow more painful human relationships in the center of them, because of that.

R: Than Blindspot? Oh yes.

G: Oh, I haven’t even touched Blindspot yet. I mean that sometimes the self-made conspiracies can enhance the painfulness of the human relationships in odd ways.

Hurts so good.
Hurts so good.

R: For sure. I think it messes with the meta-narrative of American thrillers: there’s some vast conspiracy and only one rebel and his/her group of friends can untangle the madness at the heart of the world. Dude, in HOC and Scandal, our rebel heroes and their friends are the madness at the heart of the world.

G: What impact do you think that has on the metanarrative?

R: Well, I think it leans into the anti-hero qualities of a compromised protagonist more fully. Usually, you just get a functional alcoholic womanizer with a martial arts fetish and grief for a lost love/parents to offer than thin veneer of anti-heroness, but really, even all those unlikeable qualities never stop the protagonist from seeming like and acting like and believing they are right, and from centering the narrative around how right they are. I’m thinking James Bond, Jason Bourne, Batman, Jane Doe on Blindspot, etc. But on Scandal and HOC, the protagonists may still believe they’re right even as they doubt themselves, and we as the audience get to see the utter mess and horror they wreak, and so we don’t really love them as much.

G: Oh, that is fascinating. So protagonist as source of conspiracy undercuts the romanticization of the antihero…

R: That’s much more succint.

G: I mean, we don’t really love them as much, and yet we do love them. But it comes closer to compelling us to acknowledge our complicity.

R: Yes, bingo.

G: I like it. Well-theorized.

R: Which is why I’m so uncomfortable analyzing the effect of Rachel’s murder on Dough, when I’m all like: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ERASURE OF HER ENTITY? She really didn’t deserve to die.

I have a feeling we’ll be revisiting these storylines when we talk about The Fall, Series 3.

G: She didn’t. Not even a little.

R: Whereas on Scandal, as much as I enjoy most of our characters, they all have blood on their hands and I would understand it if other people have it in for them.

G: So does that mean Doug is more likely than Cyrus to generate actual Victims?

R: Yeah, I’d say so. He is reminding me more of Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall lately. And the world of HOC manages to be both more realistic than Scandal‘s olympic shark-jumping and more terrifying as a result.

G: I would agree with that, although it’s a Shakespearean version of “realistic.”

R: Yeah, that’s fair.

G: Back to origin stories: Underwood has positioned himself to take advantage of Doug’s addictions. Doug needs outlets for addiction and obsession, and Underwood has learned to provide them in a way that works to his own advantage.

R: Yes, by “caring” for Dough.

G: Eli, I think, is looking to be necessary. Which is distinct from Cyrus, who genuinely wants power. Eli wants to be indispensable, and this is the way he does it.

R: Yes, Cyrus is into some Julius Ceasar type ish. The only thing that tempers his lust for power (in that way, he’s so much more like Frank Underwood, including in physicality and homo-eroticism) is his fear that he can’t get elected because he’s gay.

G: Absolutely. And that’s where his age comes into play. (Side note: Frank Underwood’s homoeroticism is literally my favorite thing about him.) We couldn’t have a Cyrus who was younger. But Eli wants to be the best at what he does more than he wants to necessarily gain excess power from being the best.

R: Is Cyrus like if Doug and Frank became one person?

When two become one.


R: Yeah, I think that’s right. Geez, Eli seems so normal compared to the other two.

G: Well, we are talking the worlds of the shows a little. Overall, TGW took place in a much more “normal” world. It was less about conspiracy and more about the bare fact that people suck.

R: Is that all it amounted to in the end? Sigh, what a waste. People used to be good at the law, once.

G: People are still good at the law. That doesn’t make them better people, necessarily.

R: I meant at some point to get at the playing across sexual orientation in all this. But maybe that’s too meta.

G: No, talk about it a bit. We know that Eli and Cyrus are played by gentlemen who have different sexual orientations from their characters, but I don’t know anything about Michael Kelly.

R: Me neither. I guess I was thinking about Kevin Spacey in this case.

G: Michael Kelly did also have a guest role on TGW once. As a James Carville avatar.

R: Really, who was Dough on TGW?

That tie, though. Dough would #never.

G: Eli actually did consulting for him. I mean, all three of our Animals are filling a very deep need, and I’d say that need falls somewhere on the continuum of “belonging”; the question is, belonging to what?

R: Eli = social hierarchy. Cyrus = power elite. Dough = world of the living.

One thought on “Character Study: Political Animals on Scandal, House of Cards, & The Good Wife, Part II