Here in Louisiana, where politics has always been indulged as a form of theater, a TV series like “House of Cards,” which just opened its third season on Netflix, has special appeal. But the plotline of the new season, in which a president uses FEMA to move his agenda at lightning speed, is bound to be a headscratcher for those of us in south Louisiana who can still remember the agency’s sluggish response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita a decade ago.
Not that “House of Cards,” adapted from a British series of the same name, aspires to documentary accuracy. As veteran viewers already know, the U.S. version stars Kevin Spacey as a Machiavellian congressman, Frank Underwood, who will stop at nothing to achieve his ultimate prize, the presidency.
The season 3 opener finds Underwood safely ensconced in the White House after committing various acts of depravity, including murder, to achieve his goal. But in a nod to today’s real-life headlines, Underwood finds his jobs program mired within a culture of deadlock on Capitol Hill.
That’s when he taps FEMA to administer his jobs initiative, declaring unemployment an emergency through executive order, and thereby enabling himself to raid the agency’s funds without congressional meddling. Farfetched? You bet. But the real fantasy kicks in when FEMA proves able, with the snap of a presidential finger, to advance Underwood’s scheme in a matter of days.
This is the world of television, we know, where everything — a court trial, a murder investigation, a scientific discovery — tends to conveniently conclude before the credits roll. But when “House of Cards” portrays FEMA as a cure for government inertia, Louisiana viewers might wonder if they’re watching a drama — or a situation comedy.