It's very easy to dismiss Zoe. The show doesn't really give her the same kind of personal hook the other characters get, the soft spot. Underwood is the chilliest power-at-all-costs pragmatist of them all, but his asides to the camera invite us into what's on his mind and make us co-conspirators. Robin Wright's Claire may be Underwood's D.C. Lady Macbeth, but she also has very human yearnings for the more traditional life and love she could have had. Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) is a mess, but he cares deeply and genuinely about his constituency and is haunted by the idea of letting the people in his home district down.
"I think you're an ungrateful, self-entitled little cunt," the Washington Herald's editor-in-chief Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) tells her when she turns down his offer to become White House correspondent. She responds as a true creature of the 21st century by whipping out her smartphone in front of him and putting his words on social media -- he ends up stepping down because of the turmoil, while she lands a new gig at the Politico-with-edge website Slugline.
Yes, Zoe is a Millennial monster, an opportunistic bloggerzilla who values self-promotion over being part of a team, who jumps at any chance to be on camera even when she's told not to. The thing is -- she's not wrong. Journalists on both the big and small screen tend to be drawn either as holy crusaders or ethics-free parasites, online writers mostly the latter, but it's too easy and unfair to simply condemn Zoe's behavior.
In the brave new media world that Tom so bristled against, writers are the brands, and it's in their best interest to build their own names up over the places they work. Those places are changeable and certainly can't be counted on in the long term, and anyway, as Zoe's new boss at Slugline puts it, why would you want to stay at a job for more than two years anyway? Zoe could take the White House correspondent position, give up her juicy in with the House Majority Whip and settle in for years of controlled press briefing coverage at a paper slowly whittling away at its staff, or she could leap into an online world where the rules are always changing but opportunity is there to be seized. "House of Cards" presents a fabulously conflicted portrait of new journalism and the factors driving it.
Zoe's apparently lack of a moral compass is troubling, but it seems part and parcel of her most maddening and compelling quality, which is her inability to think ahead, to look at things from a larger perspective. She knows she's being used by Underwood as much as she's attempting to use him, and the power struggle between the two of them grows nastier when she start pushing back, but she doesn't give a thought to her place in his schemes until another reporter starts to unravel them. She starts sleeping with him because she thinks it's a way to keep him close, then tries to cut the affair off when she thinks it may tarnish her reputation as a journalist. She makes moves and says things impulsively, wounding or angering people she later needs to win back.