I have this crazy overwhelming sense of fangirling bubbling up inside of me when I think about House of Cards. Has this been a great season of great TV or what? It seems like with every show I seem to get into, my mind is being blown into smaller and smaller fragments that there’s nothing left and I’m just a vapid, vacuous TV viewer that doesn’t even bother to wipe the drool from her mouth. I feel like this show is the pinnacle of that. It reflects much greatness and structuring and performances that leave my brain a shivering, addicted naked thing in the hollowed space of my cranium.
With that said, here’s my mini-pression about House of Cards.
The only political drama I’ve ever been into is Battlestar Galactica. Even then, some people say it’s reaching to call it a political drama (asshats). I’ve never really been into the West Wing or Commander In Chief either, so you should understand that it’s really an achievement to hear me call a political drama as “riveting” based on its pilot alone. Usually it’s just “cool”, or “nice”, or some other neutral, non-committal adjective to describe something that doesn’t completely suck eggs. And that’s what House of Cards is. Riveting.
Here’s the gist of the pilot’s setup: Kevin Spacey is Frank Underwood, in line for a promotion to Secretary of State. He’s committed, voracious, and all prepared to receive the confirmation, when the White House’s Chief of Staff, Linda, informs him that he’s been passed over.
Yup, this is a story of revenge, something simple to understand and easy to latch onto. It’s a thousand times more nuanced and slick than a certain ABC network offering.
There could possibly be nothing better than seeing Kevin Spacey in his evil element as a sinister political shark who casually sets up his grand takeover. You do not promise Kevin Spacey something and then not deliver. You just do not. This will be drilled into your head over and over as you see Frank try to destroy everyone who’s ever had a hair in the decision to pull the rug out from under him. He’ll speak to you cordially and slip the knife between your ribs with everyone present – but nobody will know who did it. That’s how crafty he is. In one of the episodes he stands before a church congregation and practically preaches a message he doesn’t even believe in, but is so convincing that no one ever questions him.
Frank breaks the fourth wall a lot. House of Lies does it well with Don Cheadle, but when Kevin Spacey has that secret aside moment with me as the viewer, I always feel a faint flutter in my stomach. It’s just that heady combination of incredible southern charm and ruthless wit. You’re this highly guarded mastermind’s confidante, and it feels oh-so-good to be the one on the sidelines being fed scathing opinions instead of staring down the barrel of his shotgun. Ari Gold may have entertained me when he was stomping around his agency being a huge alpha jerk, but Frank Underwood kind of scares me. He has more Don Draper suave in him, more Machiavellian instinct. I can’t think of anyone who can do a sassy eyeroll better than Frank. He’s dark and funny and cutthroat when delivering tips and life lessons on how to emotionally manipulate the vulnerable and inattentive You can just tell that he revels in it, is pleasured all the way through his soul doing it. And he has a wife who’s his equal.
There’s so much I also love about his relationship with his wife, Claire. They do everything together; true partners in life. She may run a non-profit, but she’s far from a saint. She’s every inch the political wife; she unleashes a fraction of the deep, burning scorn she’s capable of when she finds out that Frank didn’t take any of her calls in light of the news of rejection – they’re partners through and through. It’s enough to make me wither inside a little. She’s ineffably gorgeous, but she can and will bite your head off. No doubt she’s the perfect match for our scheming politician.
The rest of the ensemble are a wily lot with a heightened sense of self-preservation, but most of them are oblivious that they’re dangling from the strings around Frank’s fingers. When you see the pieces of his master plan fall into place, you’ll probably share his satisfaction. I know I felt thrilled. I was practically awestruck. But Frank doesn’t have time to gloat and bask in success; he already knows he’s the shit. He wants to win the war, and he’s taking out his enemies one by one like little tin ducks at the carnival.
House of Cards is so fresh for me because everyone is ice cold. Zero display of compassion, no softness to pad their personality flaws. You know how shows tend to have a character that restores your faith in humanity a little? There’s no one like that here. I feel like any of them could kill someone in cold blood without feeling a pinch of remorse. It’s hard to pity characters like this. You tend to pity the casualties of Frank and Claire’s relentless thirst for revenge and domination.
Even Zoe Barnes, the odd-news correspondent who relies on Frank as a news source, is seemingly driven and fully of journalistic integrity at first, but she quickly falls into desperation and begins to take on Frank’s own cravings for bigger, meatier things. With everyone at each other’s throats (or for Congressman Peter Russo, snorting a coke line the length of Broadway) all the time, it’s a wonder how I’m still tuning in. These people are supposed to be unlikable In real life I would be completely disgusted in their presence. But the ensemble is astonishing to watch. David Fincher divulged that every cast member was the producers’ first choices, and told his handpicked actors not to “fuck it up”. Obviously with that kind of intensity you’re sure as hell to get ballsy, brilliant performances.
The reason why House of Cards is so enjoyable is also partly thanks to Fincher’s visual direction. The cinematography is mind-blowing. The lighting is mind-blowing. The camerawork is so magnificently executed that I find myself so engrossed with the scene’s beautiful composition to concentrate on what characters are saying sometimes. The production is so signature.
I’m already hooked, and like a really engaging book you can’t put down, I find myself stealing opportunities to watch it during the brief empty pockets of my day. Each episode feels like it’s one chapter of a long movie and it’s hard to go without it for long, which is why I’m infinitely grateful that Netflix decided to release the whole season at once. A show with this many mind games and amount of intrigue has to maintain a certain momentum that can’t be disrupted by a week-long wait. Pretty smart move, if you ask me. Being able to watch a whole season at once makes it easier to digest its proposed concepts and themes and connect some dots while important milestones are still fresh in the mind.
Personally, I think House of Cards is fabulous. Not only is it smart, it’s kind of terrifying to witness Frank having so much control over people’s lives. I think that’s what makes it so captivating – the hand of God is at work, and you’re in the front row seat to his public demonstration. Is it worth looking at? Yes, absolutely. Even if you turn out to hate every single character. Even if you eventually think that there’s too much hypocrisy floating around for you to take. Trust me guys, this one’s for the history books.