In House of Cards‘ fifth season, one storyline that left a lot of viewers confused was that of Aidan Macallan. So what exactly was going on with Macallan this season? What did he do that was so terrible, and what lead to his death?
The saga of Aidan Macallan actually began in Season 4, when he is introduced as a brilliant data scientist and a friend of LeAnn Harvey’s (in Season 5, we find out that he dated Harvey’s mother). In Season 4, the Underwood Administration decides it is going to use domestic surveillance to spy on American citizens. In theory, this will be to help fight ICO, the show’s analogue to ISIS. But in reality, the Underwoods will be gathering information on voters which they can feed to Aidan Macallan, and Macallan can use that data to help the Underwoods refine talking points, target people for robocalls, etc.
In Season 4, Aidan Macallan assured the Underwoods that the algorithm they were using was the same algorithm that would be used to fight ICO, and all he’s doing is inputting different variables, and so his tracks should be covered.
Then we get to Season 5, when Aidan Macallan gets in even deeper. In Chapter 53, LeAnn Harvey tells Aidan Macallan that they’ve done some illegal things and that the only way they can survive them is if the Underwoods win the election. Harvey therefore asks Macallan to join the NSA and to help the Underwoods from the inside. Later in the episode, Macallan goes into the NSA’s system, and he discovers zero-day exploits which can allow him to backdoor into social media websites.
In Chapter 54, some NSA forensic auditors show up, and Macallan is worried they’re going to discover the illegal actives he’s been up to. He tells the Underwoods that he needs to cover his tracks, and the only way he can do so is to let hackers temporarily invade a Capital East Telecom switching center. When the U.S. government’s systems go down, this will give him the opportunity to delete some files that would be damaging to him and the Underwoods and have it look like the work of hackers.
Macallan says this will only take 20 minutes, and then he will anonymously send out a fix to the problem. But this gives Frank an idea: he can capitalize on this in order to manufacture fear over a potential terrorist threat, even though Frank knows no such threat exists. As soon as Macallan is done deleting the files, he asks LeAnn Harvey if he can send out the fix, which would allow all the systems to go back online. But Frank Underwood says “not yet.” 20 minutes later, Macallan is freaking out, texting LeAnn, “We need to move on this NOW or things will get BAD.” Of course, Underwood wants them to get bad because it will help him politically. Finally, Macallan just says screw it and he sends out the fix without Underwood’s approval. Frank Underwood then goes on television and lies to the world by saying this was an ICO attack. This is more evidence that the U.S. needs to formally declare war on ICO, he says.
That’s not it for Macallan, though. The Underwood Administration soon gets Macallan to again make it look like ICO is executing a cyberattack on the United States. This time, the reason is so that the governors of Ohio and Kentucky can be pressured into shutting down voting on Election Day. Stamper calls the governor of Ohio and tells him that the “NSA just picked up on some credible chatter,” with this being the excuse the governor can use for stopping the voting. In reality, no such chatter exists. Aidan Macallan didn’t really want to get involved in this, but Stamper threatened him and said that bad things would happen if he doesn’t do what the Underwoods want.
Afterwards, Macallan freaks out and drops off the map, as LeAnne Harvey desperately tries to find him. Macallan subsequently calls her and asks her to get the FBA, CIA and NSA to stop looking into him because he wants out. He warns that if they don’t leave him alone, he’ll start leaking things about the Underwoods. Harvey tries to get Stamper to have everyone back off of Macallan, but Stamper says that Macallan sealed his own fate.
In Chapter 58, Macallan makes good on his word and leaks information to Wikileaks; he gives them information suggesting that the federal government knew that an explosion at a convenience store in North Carolina was a gas leak long before the FBI was called in to investigate, with the implication being that the Underwood Administration intentionally made this look like an ICO attack when they knew it wasn’t.
Soon, the White House receives a picture of Aidan Macallan, who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. It is soon revealed that Russian President Viktor Petrov has Aidan Macallan. The Underwood Administration wants him back, mainly because he knows too much about what they’ve done and could reveal this to Petrov. LeAnne ends up contacting reporter Kate Baldwin, hoping that Baldwin can go to Russia, interview Macallan, and Macallan can lie and say that LeAnne had nothing to do with any of this. Macallan sits down with Baldwin, but he suddenly freaks out and runs to call LeAnne Harvey, who informs him that there are men outside ready to kill him.
However, Macallan ends up escaping, and he finds LeAnne Harvey in a parking garage. He says he wanted to see her one last time, as he’s got a visa and a flight for tonight. LeAnne gives him a gun for his own protection, but by the end of the episode, Macallan is found dead in his hotel room, shot in the head by that same gun. He sends her a bunch of files that can only be accessed using personal information of Harvey’s. Then, in the season finale, Jane Davis gets this information out of Harvey, only for Harvey to be driven off the road and apparently killed.
We all know, though, that in television, if we don’t see a dead body, that means the character may not be dead, and so it seems that there’s a solid chance that LeAnne Harvey will return next season knowing far too much about the Underwoods and about the fate of Aidan Macallan.