Francis J. Underwood, the political climber whose ministrations we followed for the past five seasons of House of Cards, is dead. But the House of Cards universe is still teeming with deviousness— and new characters, like Bill (Greg Kinnear) and Annette (Diane Lane) Shepherd, the siblings who are very close to the action in the Oval Office, despite not being elected officials.
Watching the first few episodes of the final season of House of Cards, you may be perplexed by the Shepherds' role. Why do these two private citizens have so much sway with the executive branch? House of Cards may depict an exaggerated version of the government's proceedings, but the show does have basis in reality. The Shepherd siblings, and the power they wield over the country, are greatly reminiscent of a real-life set of brothers whose name often appears in the news: billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
In 2013, Jane Mayer's seminal book, Dark Money, uncovered the enormous role the Koch family has played in shaping the American political landscape since the mid-1970s. According to Meyer's book, the Koch family has used its influence and money to further libertarian and conservative ideologies. For example, the Koch brothers donated hundreds of millions to boost the Tea Party movement's rise after President Barack Obama was elected. NPR estimates the Koch network will spent $400 million during the 2018 midterm campaigns.
In the book, Mayer also argues that the policies the brothers supported happen to benefit the their business, Koch Industries, and their bank accounts. “It was impossible not to notice,” Mayer writes in Dark Money, “that the political policies they embraced benefited their own bottom lines first and foremost. Lowering taxes and rolling back regulations, slashing the welfare state and obliterating the limits on campaign spending might or might not have helped others, but they most certainly strengthened the hand of extreme donors with extreme wealth.”
The creators and actors behind House of Cards have been forthcoming with the comparison to the famous family. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lane said as much, telling Joy Press she "basically played a Koch sister.” The siblings run Shepherd Unlimited, a vast conglomerate that uses lobbying, contributions, and intimidation to enact policies that will aid them. Like Koch Industries, which has prongs in energy, agriculture, and electronics, Shepherd Unlimited spans multiple sectors.
Judging by the season premiere, the Shepherds had forged a mutually beneficial relationship with Francis. The siblings appear to be quite chummy with the new president, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), because they have history — Claire and Annette attended the same high school. However, it doesn't seem their former relationship with Frank will transfer over to the new president.
If anything, the Shepherds want Claire out of the presidency and replaced with someone more pliable. "They sort of pull the levers from behind the scenes and basically, at the end of the day, we want Claire to get the hell out of the White House,” Kinnear said on Live with Kelly and Ryan.
The past few seasons of House of Cards probably made you doubt the nobility of the public sector. Now, in case you needed any encouragement, season 6 will make you question the private sector's influence over our politics. If that's the case, you know where to go: To Jane Mayer's Dark Money, and to the polls.