What Does "Common Woe Be Done" Mean? 'House Of Cards' Sends Frank To A Secret Society With A Hedonistic Purpose
Spoilers for House Of Cards Season 5! During the fifth season of House of Cards, Frank Underwood's search for power leads him to Elysian Fields, a secret society filled with some of the country's most powerful and influential men. The ceremony that opens the episode that introduces the organization begins with the group chanting "Common Woe Be Done." And the episode ends with Frank burning a leaf from the Elysian Fields meeting place while chanting the same phrase. What does "Common Woe Be Done" mean, and what does it tell House Of Cards fans about Elysian Fields?
Elysian Fields appears to have a precedent in the real world in the form of a retreat named Bohemian Grove. According to The Washington Post, men gather in the woods of California for rituals, talks, and concerts, all of which have been the subject of much speculation. But the phrase "Common Woe Be Done" doesn't seem to be a known motto of Bohemian Grove.
Both Elysian Fields and Bohemian Grove seem intended to be places where the rich and powerful can go to pay tribute to giant animalistic figures that represent their stature (in Elysian Fields, a crow; in Bohemian Grove, an owl), without worrying about business. "Common Woe Be Done" is never fully explained in the House Of Cards episode and could have many meanings, especially depending on who is saying it. It's likely that the members of Elysian Fields and Frank could be saying different things with the same phrase.
What I believe are the phrase's two possible meanings are almost polar opposites of each other. When the episode starts, the members of Elysian Fields chant "Common Woe Be Done", and there's a good chance that they're talking about ignoring their own daily worries. Elysian Fields, for all its odd pomp and circumstance, is essentially a vacation for these powerful men who are supposed to leave their careers at the door to get back in touch with nature. They may wish to be finished with common worry, while Frank is counting on it continuing.
When Frank utters "Common Woe Be Done" at the end episode while burning a leaf from Elysian Fields, there's a menace to it that isn't present during the ceremony. Frank has spent all episode conniving and manipulating the most powerful people on Earth to make sure that he'll go home with the election firmly in his grasp. When he repeats the Elysian Fields motto, he's literally wishing woe on the people of America, further expanding his reach of terror so that he can continue to rule the country with an iron fist.
Frank's ability to take what someone else has said and shift it to suit his intention is exactly what has kept him afloat for five seasons of House of Cards, despite frequently turning democracy into a monstrous version of itself. Frank's twisting of the Elysian Fields motto shows that he's not aligned with anyone but himself, and that the only traditions he cares about are the ones he has set for himself. Not even the powerful crow-God of Elysian Fields can claim ownership of him, because as long as he or his wife sits in the Oval Office, he will do his best to ensure that common woe is being done across the United States Of America.