Here's Why Frank Underwood Should Be in Jail Instead of the Oval Office

Satish Kondapavulur
by Satish Kondapavulur
here s why frank underwood should be in jail instead of the oval office

If you’re into American politics, have access to a high-speed Internet connection, or you’re a Kevin Spacey fan, you’ve watched – or have heard of – House of Cards. You know, it’s that show where Kevin Spacey puts on his best Southern accent and somehow manages to manipulate his way up the political ladder from being the majority whip to the presidency of the United States. At this point, if you’re planning to replicate Frank Underwood’s journey to the top, it should be noted that no House whip from either party has ever become President of the United States, with Dick Cheney (House Minority Whip for two and a half months in 1989) coming the closest to the prize. But ladies and gentlemen, Frank Underwood’s rise to power never should have happened, due to a particular, automotive-related moment during the first season.

(Spoiler alert from here onwards if you’ve never watched House of Cards. Seriously, watch it. You’ll be worse for it in so many ways, or maybe you’ll be a lot better at playing office politics or at imitating a Southern accent, but watch it.)

Instead, Frank Underwood should be in jail, hanging out with some felons rather than his loyal bodyguard Meechum. He should be far away from Congress, unable to strip funding from FEMA to fund his America Works program. Zoe Barnes should be alive. Claire perhaps would have divorced him. Lucas Goodwin shouldn’t be in jail. Freddy would still have his barbecue joint. The billionaire Raymond Tusk would have a tremendous influence on executive policy. Garrett Walker wouldn’t have been the second president in American history to resign. And it all has to do with a feature found in most new cars: the keyless ignition system.

Keyless ignition systems are quite simple in how they work. You can leave the key in your pocket, purse, briefcase, wallet, kid’s stroller, and as long as you’re in close proximity to the car (usually 15 feet), you can press the “Start” button and drive off. This feature is standard or an option on most cars on sale today. They have become so ubiquitous in modern cars that whenever I get into a car without the system, it takes me five seconds to realize I need to take the key out of my pocket and insert it into something. However, keyless ignition systems require you to put your foot on the brake pedal when pressing the “Start” button. This is to ensure there’s someone in the driver’s seat and a child crawling around the car didn’t switch it on while you were, say, loading the trunk with groceries. Also, this is the point where House of Cards gets things wrong.

For those of you who have watched the first season, you may remember a scene in the 11th episode where Frank Underwood killed a man by carbon monoxide poisoning. The man Underwood “neutralized” was Peter Russo, a Congressman from Philadelphia who Underwood built up by having him run for governor of Pennsylvania and then tore down by getting Russo drunk and back to his drug abusing ways. While Russo was passed out from the multiple drugs in his system, Underwood used Russo’s hand to press the Start/Stop button to switch on the engine of a Chrysler 300. After that, Underwood uses his handkerchief to mask his fingerprints when exiting the car and closing the garage door to ensure that Russo dies from breathing the exhaust fumes.

Watch the scene. (If you’d like to stream the episode on Netflix in case the video goes down, the moment begins at around 40:00.) While Underwood takes special pains in making sure his fingerprints aren’t on the car, he doesn’t do anything about his footprints. More than a full minute goes by where Underwood wipes down the steering wheel, the door handles, the keys, the bottle of alcohol, his jacket, and even uses the handkerchief when lifting Russo’s hand to press the Start/Stop button. At no point does Underwood attempt to wipe down his footprints on the pedals. There are no visible scenes of Underwood doing something about his footprints even on the floormats. Frank Underwood is has actually left evidence that he was present at Peter Russo’s death.

Now, there are ways Underwood could have gotten away with it. He might have been wearing the exact same shoes as Russo, down to the shoe size, but in a world where an iShoe doesn’t exist (yet), that’s highly implausible. The men of Washington may tend to wear very similar looking suits, I’m not quite sure it applies to their shoes. Another possibility is with the same handkerchief Underwood could have wiped down the pedal; however, there’s no footage of him doing so, considering we saw Underwood even wiping down the side of the car. A third possibility could be that the Chrysler 300’s ignition software was modified to allow the car to start without a foot on the brake pedal, but I doubt someone like Peter Russo would make the effort to perform such a conversion.

Ultimately, the investigators of the Washington D.C. police department, FBI, and Secret Service (I imagine the last two agencies would’ve been involved due to the high profile death), must have been very unintelligent to think Russo’s death was simply a suicide. After all, these agencies probably have Chrysler 300s and definitely have the closely related Dodge Chargers (have you seen any law enforcement vehicles lately?) in their fleets. If any detective worth his or her badge had done a bit more investigating, they likely would have noted the most recent footprint on the brake pedal (or even the gas pedal, for that matter), didn’t belong to the congressman. Entire crimes have been solved based on a person’s footprints left at the scene. The investigators would then have looked into the building’s security camera footage, which almost certainly would’ve showed a mysterious man with a cap walking out of Russo’s garage in the underground parking area.

Even though the investigators couldn’t find out the truth, it was the reporters who came a lot closer to figuring it out. At the beginning of the second season, Zoe Barnes tells Underwood that Russo was found in the passenger seat, raising the possibility that a second person might have been involved in Russo’s death. Barnes even manages to get her reporter colleagues to scrutinize the details of Russo’s death and figure out what really happened. Alas, Zoe Barnes can’t get to the bottom of the story since she’s pushed in front of a train in the end of that same episode, allowing Underwood to get away with killing a member of Congress as well as a member of the press. Consequently, no one is able to question Underwood’s relation to Peter Russo’s death.

The best part of the whole thing is that Beau Willimon, the producer and showrunner of House of Cards, basically acknowledges that a mistake had been made. In an interview with Vulture, in which Willimon answered readers’ questions, one reader noted that keyless ignitions require a foot on the brake pedal to start the car. Willimon’s response? “ You should be hired on CSI immediately.” By the end of the first season, there was a Reddit thread devoted to the keyless ignition topic. So even the creators of House of Cards know the mistake, but are hoping most viewers overlook the discrepancy so they can imagine what an Underwood vice presidency will be like.

Considering what the audience would’ve missed, such as Underwood becoming president, Underwood attempting to figure out a Middle East peace process, Underwood having to take part in a party primary, and Underwood making out with his Secret Service bodyguard (I mean, who saw that coming?), I’m fine that the producers intended for the DC Police/FBI/Secret Service investigators to be wholly incompetent. I’m fine that investigators who have almost certainly used a Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300 at some point in their professional careers couldn’t fathom taking a look at the pedals and comparing the footprints with those of the dead man in the passenger seat. I’m fine that a House Majority Leader could somehow become the leader of the free world in two years while personally killing two people in the process.

In Underwood we trust.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He’s now watching Sons of Anarchy and any 30 for 30 documentary he can find on Netflix.

Image credit Media Rights Capital.

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10 of 86 comments
  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on May 06, 2015

    Oh I meant to say - if you REALLY wanna hear Spacey put on the southern, watch Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I really enjoy that movie, but you need a whole free afternoon to watch it.

  • TW5 TW5 on May 06, 2015

    The show is based upon the premise that Democrats, particularly Southern Democrats are capable of capturing Eisenhower's political territory, which Republicans vacated during the Reagan Revolution. A Democrat who wants to raise labor force participation and curb excessive entitlement spending? Pure fantasy. By the time you've pressed play, disbelief must be fully suspended. HoC should be a must-watch for everyone in the US, regardless of automotive inaccuracies. It is the only accurate representation of US politics by the American media. Everyone else is hell-bent on their ideological conspiracy theories.

    • See 7 previous
    • TW5 TW5 on May 06, 2015

      @Freed The news is fanciful tales about bigots run amok and socialists making grand alliances to scuttle the US in the name of social justice. After a cursory glance at the facts, it's straight to the talking points and editorials. Print media is nearly as bad. The blogosphere is worse. While the characters and circumstances in HoC are dramatized, the political issues are actually relevant. They don't have the ability to hammer away on the inane talking point of the day so they examine enduring problems and central conflicts. Battles between the various branches. International negotiations, symbolism, and totem. Conflicts between social spending and investment. Conflict between entrenched special interest and reform.

  • Inside Looking Out You should care. With GM will die America. All signs are there. How about the Arsenal of Democracy? Toyota?
  • DenverMike What else did anyone think, when GM was losing tens of billions a year, year after year?
  • Bill Wade GM says they're killing Android Auto and Apple Carplay. Any company that makes decisions like that is doomed to die.
  • Jeff S I don't believe gm will die but that it will continue to shrink in product and market share and it will probably be acquired by a foreign manufacturer. I doubt gm lacks funds as it did in 2008 and that they have more than enough cash at hand but gm will not expand as it did in the past and the emphasis is more on profitability and cutting costs to the bone. Making gm a more attractive takeover target and cut costs at the expense of more desirable and reliable products. At the time of Farago's article I was in favor of the Government bailout more to save jobs and suppliers but today I would not be in favor of the bailout. My opinions on gm have changed since 2008 and 2009 and now I really don't care if gm survives or not.
  • Kwik_Shift I was a GM fan boy until it ended in 2013 when I traded in my Avalanche to go over to Nissan.