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House of Cards and Psychology | Season 4 Preview

(This post contains spoilers for Seasons 1-3 of House of Cards.)

This weekend Netflix released the fourth season of the phenomenally popular political drama, House of Cards. Truly one of the first TV series to be born out of the binge watching era, House of Cards hit Netflix with all thirteen episodes available instantly. The instant availability of the show is only half the appeal. Fans love the show for its stunning plot twists, sleek cinematography, and, above all else, characters, mainly anchored in Frank and Claire Underwood. Frank and Claire are extremely psychologically complex characters.

When viewers left the Underwoods at the end of Season 3, Claire and Frank parted ways in the midst of Frank’s presidential campaign for re-election. Frank was, as usual, ruthless in every way, doing whatever it took to earn people’s votes and win the Iowa Caucasus against rival Democratic candidate, Heather Dunbar. In the process, he relied on Claire to stump for him when his favorable ratings plunged, and he did nothing for her needs. Fed up, Claire walked out.

Here are three psych-vision points to watch for Season 4 of House of Cards.

  • Will Frank use propaganda and persuasive messaging to win the election?

One of the reasons why Frank is so successful and so able to make things go his ways is his brilliant (and frightening) ability to manipulate people to do what he wants them to do. Time and time again in the show he rewrites or redirects negative messages against him often in ways that are crushing to his fellow politicians. Given that Season 4 takes place during Frank’s campaign to be re-elected president, viewers will likely see all kinds of subtle messaging and propaganda going on. Propaganda is effective when it plays on the psychology of perception. People might make decisions because of how they perceive things to be, and in some cases that image they base their feelings and actions off of is a careful fabrication.

  • Will Claire exist outside Frank? Can she see herself as her own person?

Seasons 1-3 saw the gradual shift in Claire from someone whose primary purpose was to serve her husband into someone who had her own needs and desires. Season 3 was the breaking point, with Claire walking out on Frank in the final scene. For so much of the series, Claire struggled to identify herself and her personality as something not absorbed by her husband. Season 4 will focus on Claire’s ability to distance herself from her husband and become her own person. For many years Claire has repressed her goals and aspirations; in this season, expect her to pursue them even if that means she does so aggressively and perhaps without a clear idea of how to get where she wants to go.

  • Will Frank be able to justify things when the ends justify the means, even if that means breaking the law?

Time and time again in House of Cards Frank Underwood has done outrageous things to serve a higher purpose, such as killing off Zoe Barnes to shut her up and going behind President Garrett Walker’s back to make shady deals that would eventually put himself in position to become president. Frank is able to justify things in his mind because he rationalizes them as the things that need to be done. He distances himself from the horror and ramifications of his actions as they occur, experiencing an almost depersonalization which you see on a face devoid of emotion. These could be seen as indications of some kind of antisocial or perhaps even pathologically disturbed mind. Given the election in this season of the show, it would be nearly impossible for Frank to avoid actions that are not ends justifying the means, however desperate, however illegal, however immoral, and however lethal.


Are you going to watch House of Cards Season 4? What do you think will happen?

House of Cards and Psychology | Season 4 Preview

Sarah Davis

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APA Reference
Davis, S. (2016). House of Cards and Psychology | Season 4 Preview. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Mar 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Mar 2016
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