Frank and Claire Underwood probably won’t grow more sentimental this weekend on the third season of House of Cards, which premieres on Netflix on Feb. 27. Fans know by now that everything on the show is about power — and love, as creator Beau Willimon tells TIME, is no exception.
“I think that love, even the purest love, is also about power and transactional. I don’t look at ‘power’ as a bad word, and I don’t look at ‘transactional’ as a bad word,” he says.”Even the phrase ‘unconditional love’ is almost the terminology of contract law. It’s saying I am making a bargain with you to make myself completely vulnerable and open, to always be there for you. And I expect that in return. That is transactional.”
Willimon’s philosophy on relationships is neatly summed up by Frank (Kevin Spacey) in season one. He quotes Oscar Wilde: “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.”
While critics have said characters on the show use sex for leverage or involve power politics in the bedroom, Willimon says that’s how sex often works. “I would argue that if you look at a lot of relationships, those extreme power dynamics exist in them where one of the two people is prostituting themselves,” he says. “And that could be a man or a woman.”