By on May 6, 2015

House of Cards Ignition_snip(1)_snip

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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86 Comments on “Here’s Why Frank Underwood Should Be in Jail Instead of the Oval Office...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    If they had leather soles (which any public representative worth his salt would be wearing) I doubt there would be much to draw from. I didn’t/can’t see the scene but I doubt he was wearing construction boots or Air Jordan VIIIs.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Yeah, that was my first impression too. Plain-soled shoes don’t leave identifiable prints, unlike the more practical variety that us rabble wear.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Unless his shoes were particularly dirty, they likely wouldn’t have left much of an imprint anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        All of these things, yes.

        And prior to the 11th episode, we’ve seen Frank in the basement polishing his shoes (which is what he does when he’s stressed, along with video games). They ARE leather sole shoes.

        There wouldn’t be much evidence at all. And I doubt his shoes were dirty either. Leather soles just don’t hold onto anything, unless it’s raining (which it wasn’t) or you step on something pretty sticky/gooey.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      True. But leather soles also have unique wear patterns based upon your stride and the environment in which you walk. If someone could get a detailed shoe print (unlikely), forensic experts could probably match it to your shoe as easily as they match slugs and cases to specific guns.

    • 0 avatar

      My feeling is considering it’s such a high profile death, there would be some remnants on the pedals to at least differentiate the footprint from that of Russo in the passenger seat who hadn’t gotten out of the car at all since he rode from the police station.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        CSI is a bunch of bunk. In a realistic universe forensics doesn’t have the ability to find such insignificant things. They often can’t find fingerprints much less match them to an unknown suspect.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    wow someone wrote 1,000+ words on this

    if i use a standard leather shoe with synthetic sole, it wouldnt leave an indictable imprint on the pedal?

    also I put this in the basket of a Glock pistol making a ‘clicking noise’ when you point it at someone

    mine doesnt make that noise, it doesnt have a hammer

    i let this stuff slide… hell, I dont believe many senators know what a playstation or PS Vita is… nor do i believe that frank has ‘all the games’

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Once the car has been started then the engine stays on doesn`t it? If so why couldn`t someone who wants to commit suicide just start the engine and then let nature take its course?

      • 0 avatar
        Zoom

        Yes, but in this case, Russo was found in the passenger seat.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          The unrealistic part was having Underwood kill him (and his reporter/squeeze.)

          The show took the easy way out by having him murder people. It would have been more intriguing and realistic to have Underwood use his power and influence to discredit and destroy them, but that would have required better writing.

          • 0 avatar
            RHD

            The other point that hasn’t been made is that new cars with properly functioning emission control systems don’t emit much CO at all, when compared with pre-catalytic converter cars. A 1969 Chrysler would poison the car’s occupant and anyone in the room above the garage. Whether a new car would kill someone in a garage before it runs out of gas might be worth looking in to, if just for the sake of argument.
            The plot would have been very different if the car had less than a quarter tank of gas and the intended victim survived to testify against Mr. Underwood.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            It’s often too much of a soap opera for its own good, but Mad Men was clever with its Jaguar suicide scene.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Lol, I liked how at the time Jaguar officials were watching that scene with baited breath, and went on record as saying they were glad the E-Type didn’t start, so one of their cars didn’t kill someone.

            I liked the part too where Don and Joan pretended to be together. I’ve always liked that they had a closeish relationship and -not- slept together like Don is so wont to do with any woman he knows.

          • 0 avatar
            mike978

            Pch – the US version is based on the original UK programme from the early ’90’s. In that the politician kills the reporter who he had an affair with too.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I think he had to kill Russo to advance the plot but using his influence to discredit/destroy Zoe Barnes would have been more interesting (previous versions notwithstanding).

  • avatar
    Driver8

    “Here’s Why Frank Underwood Should Be in Jail Instead of the Oval Office”
    “Audi Ireland Subverts Sexist Stereotypes Via Social Media Campaign”
    “I Keep Forgetting…”
    “Sexist comments about women being too scared to drive in competitive racing aside,”
    “Editorial: Serial Woman Beater Buys 39 Cars (And Counting!) From Opportunistic Salesman”

    The Jalopnikafication of TTAC is complete.

    Bring on the Dothraki.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Who ever wrote the screenplay should be put in jail. I’m not a fan of the hackneyed mr Spacey but anyone involved with homocide will tell you that modern cars run a bit too clean and it’s takes forever for carbon monoxide to kill you now ,unlike back in the old days when Mr Spacey was learning how to act and model T fords could kill you in minutes if you wanted .

  • avatar
    danio3834

    “and as long as you’re in close proximity to the car (usually 15 feet), you can press the “Start” button and drive off.”

    In most, if not all systems, the key actually has to be inside the car in order for it to start the engine. If within the proximity zones near the door handles, the doors or trunk will unlock, but the ignition won’t activate.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      In Top Gear while they were in America once, Clarkson mentioned that Chrysler’s ignition system was particularly crude. He was then able to start Hammond’s challenger and drive it into the road, while Hammond was inside the restaurant with the key.

      Has anybody got a Chrysler vehicle and tested this?

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I had 90s Chrysler vehicles that I could start with the back of a spoon. Dodge/RAM trucks are almost always the most stolen vehicles in the Michigan. There are good reasons for that; they are desirable and relatively easy to steal. The newer ones are tougher to steal, and the Silverado and F150 are also often stolen (sometimes at a higher rate).

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        That won’t/shouldn’t work with Chrysler’s current passive entry system. If it was an older Challenger, it may have had a different system. It certainly doesn’t work that way on mine.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Oh it won’t work on current vehicles. The ’98 Dodge Ram I had was eventually able to start without a key at all. Just turn the ignition cylinder thing.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            Yeah, the 90’s really sucked for ignition cylinder fortitude. I had a Grand Marquis that didn’t require a key either. In fact, you could just turn the grip without any tool whatsoever.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I just used a spoon for conveinence, novelty, and ubiquitousness. The spoon is a great multitasker.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        The key definitely needs to be in my LX sedan to start it.

        In fact, some of the time the car doesn’t start even if the key is inside the car!

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        That moment on top gear is just for production value. It’s essentially a lie told for the benefit of making the show more interesting, or funny. Perhaps the producers used the second set of keys to move the car. Hammonds surprise is genuine however.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Satish,

    Do you not own a pair of dress shoes?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I have no idea why that merited that much ink (it’s TV, for goodness’ sake), but OK…

    (And I didn’t think the most recent season was even nearly as good as the first two. F.U. got boring once he became president. )

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      No kidding. S3 was all over the place, with Frank and Claire doing different (and usually not that related) plots. That didn’t work for me. And the whole 3 episodes spent on Russia felt forced, and like there wasn’t enough material there to make an episode.

      The part in the prison cell, ugh. That didn’t need to be more than 5 minutes – not 20.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Oh, and Doug ruining electronics in every scene got old too.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with you on S3, but they needed a “bridge” season between Underwood becoming POTUS and then having to deal with primaries. I’m hoping S4 will be much, much better, especially considering what happens during party primaries and the general election.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I did enjoy the town hall discussion between Frank, Dunbar, and Jackie. That part felt the most legitimate to me, and I was actually interested.

          And obviously we’ve got to get the two of them back together, and Jackie and what’s his face – just left Frank for the other side.

          So there is potential there. I’m not giving up on it yet.

  • avatar
    Vega

    If the catalytic converter is working there are only negligible traces of carbon monoxide left in the exhaust gas. The murder would have been impossible.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    What is suspension of disbelief, Alex?

    Next thing you know, we’re gonna start nitpicking on why spaceships in Star Wars make noise (even though there was a perfectly good explanation in the novelization).

  • avatar
    Car-los

    Just for the record Netflix’s House of Cards is an Americanization of a mini series of the same name made by the BBC and first aired in November 1990 where the main character, Francis Urquhart play by the great Shakespearean actor Ian Richardson, is the Conservative’s party whip whom’s Machiavellianism put him in Number 10 Downing St. This mini series was based on the book by the same name published in 1989 written by Michael Dobbs who is actually the executive producer of the Netflix production and who worked for Margaret Thatcher as Chief of Staff of the Conservative Party.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Russo could have remote-started it, too. ;-)

  • avatar

    Quite frankly, I’d be pleased if all TV shows were only *that* inaccurate. What I can’t stand is one of those through-the-windshield scenes wherein one of the characters is driving a car and you can see the steering wheel tilted sideways, yet the car is supposedly traveling straight…or when the character is sawing wildly at the wheel…and who drives like *that*?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Or they’re driving down the street and the column mounted gear shifter is clearly in park.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Some crap movie I saw recently, mom goes to pick up her son in a mid 90s Northstar Deville, and in an interior shot the car is clearly off, as the entire digital cluster is all black (while they are in motion).

        • 0 avatar

          I remember watching “Weeds” way back when, wherein the main character, Nancy, got a Prius when the lease on her Range Rover ended. I distinctly remember that Prius having a leather interior, yet there was a later episode in which she had to transport someone who’d been shot in the back seat, and he got blood all over the upholstery, which was all of a sudden cloth. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal to me if Nancy’s effort trying to scrub all of the blood out of the upholstery hadn’t been a major plot point. But in all fairness, I doubt most viewers realized that the original car had leather. Besides, they must have had two cars anyway, because there were times when the car’s upholstery switched from cloth to leather mid-episode.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Talk about a show which should have ended after the second season! So many jumps of the proverbial shark.

            She had an old square body early 00s Range Rover, right? Then replaced it with a Prius when she needed to haul heavy drugs and also go offroading to the Mexican border.

            I do recall the Prius, and how that other drug dealer guy (the black guy, not the Mexican guy who’s on Scandal now) bought a black one because of her.

          • 0 avatar

            Yep. Hers was a P38. And I think the show debuted around 2005 or so, which meant that she had a very late lease on a 2002 Range Rover.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            And I recall in the starting sequence, we see lots of Disco II’s pulling out from every driveway and heading out of the subdivision.

            So those were old by then as well. I suspect posh Californians would have had shiny new LR3’s.

    • 0 avatar

      If anything, I get irritated when someone manages to hack into a car’s system in under 90 seconds. That has to be impossible, especially when someone is driving.

  • avatar
    Ian

    I own a 2014 Chrysler 300, and the brake pedal doesn’t come into play here unless shifting into gear from park. I typically remote start the car, press the start button to keep it running once I enter the vehicle, and never need to touch the brake until I select a gear to drive away. The story is entirely plausible that be never needed to touch a pedal, or clean it afterward.

  • avatar
    deanst

    The gaping hole in the scene is not an obscure footprint, but the fact that Russo was in the passenger seat. Did the cops just assume he wanted more room to be comfortable as he met his end? Hard to thing of a scenario where a drugged-up guy intending on suicide would walk around the car to enjoy the room in the other seat.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Another article of mind-blanking ten times too long boredom to go along with “Please visit your local off-road park” and “A few reasons an electric car might not be for you”. The off-road and electric car articles in particular read like Good Housekeeping nitwitedness for the novice, not something I associate with TTAC readers who are well-informed already.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    It’s because of TV shows like this that people also believe that there is such a thing as a “lie detector.”

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    TTAC writing has certainly become effervescent the past month or so. Reminds me of a job I had that required transposing witness statements into a coherent narrative of acceptable G-speak.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If you are going around trying to make sense of TV or movies…

    You’re gonna have a bad time.

    One of the worst offenders was “VEGAS” (CBS) when it came to historical continuity and vehicles, but I still enjoyed it. I wish it had been picked up for a 2nd season just to see Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis continue chewing up scenery. Oh that and Aimee Garcia was freaking hot as a secretary.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    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.

  • avatar
    TW5

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      OK then.

      Underwood was made a Democrat because if his character was a Republican, conservatives would whine endlessly about liberal media bias and avoid watching it. In contrast, Democrats and liberals couldn’t care less.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I don’t think you’re quite right, TW5 – I’d say the show operates in its own ideological universe, where there are Democrats and Republicans, but their politics don’t necessarily match what we see in the news. This was no doubt done on purpose – by operating in its own world, the show avoids becoming an ideological food fight in the real world. In this way, Frank Underwood isn’t a Democrat or a Republican as we know them – he’s his own animal (sometimes quite literally). It also leaves the show free to portray the machinations of politics as they are, not through some hazy ideological lens.

      By the standards of our modern political ideology, I’d peg Frank as slightly right of center but nowhere near as conservative as our actual right wing is. His politics remind me of Nixon…which is probably also intentional.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The show is based upon a BBC drama. In that one, the main character (also with the initials “FU”) was a Tory.

        The specifics of the real world parties are essentially irrelevant to the plot line. It’s just a drama (and an unrealistic one at that.) The problem is that in an American political drama, they’re pretty much duty bound to assign characters to the existing major parties — if they just made up party names for the show, it would confuse the audience even more.

        • 0 avatar
          RideHeight

          I’ve never watched the American version. Does Frank Underwood talk directly to the camera like Francis Urquhart did?

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I’ve seen only one episode of the BBC version, but yes, that device is carried over.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Yes and it’s always one of the best moments of the episodes when he does.

            It was more frequent in season one, and sometimes in season two, and rarely in season three.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Guess I’ll get a DVD or two and check it out. I know nothing of alternate forms of consumption like streaming. Watch all our British stuff on DVD. Thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        @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.

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