House of Cards is an intense, fast paced drama centered around Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the House Majority Whip. When Underwood is overlooked for a position promised to him, he sets into effect a series of chess moves to dominate the board, take control of his life, and increase the power for himself and his wife.
Underwood is a character who could be represented by the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. How deep will he go? Driven by retribution, unlike some of the recent shows that cover this topic, House of Cards does it in a different manner. Revenge has characters doing impossible things quickly where the betrayal and culprit are obvious. The Ringer, while awesome, gets muddled in terms of the twin sisters’ past and present lives. Yet, House of Cards rings true to its name. Frank Underwood’s two-faced, good guy facade reminds one of fairy tales where the wolf wears sheep’s clothing or Aesop’s Fables. Intelligent to the chagrain of his enemies and conniving beyond belief, he always has a bag of tricks. The Economist mentions Underwood’s thoughts directly to the audience “as a nod to Shakespeare['s Richard III].” While breaking the fourth wall can dissolve the moment and collapse a story, Underwood’s only makes him more interesting.
Everything happens quickly in this show, so turning away or multi-tasking is only recommended for the geniuses who know what they just missed while they were simultaneously reading homework or getting ready to call a client. Juggle at your own risk. Solely watching is not a difficult task, as this fictional world sucks you in and pulls you down in the riptide. The show’s strengths are its dialogue, profound analysis and cast of characters, and its ironclad story. It’s Game of Thrones if it focused solely on one character in present day (I won’t say which character, but if you watch/read Game of Thrones, you know of whom I speak). Although, House of Cards is supposed to be based on the British version.
Despite his manipulative nature, Underwood is likable to a point. It sounds inconceivable, but the reason we’re drawn to Spacey’s portrayal is simple. His objective is fairly cut and dry, but the way he’ll obtain it is undetermined. The man was back stabbed, and we see the world through his lens. The other reason is that Underwood sniffs out weakness and incompetency like a bloodhound. He trims fat from a situation and breaks it down in a realistic and impeccable way. The audience can simultaneously wince and live vicariously through his vicious and determined nature.
He is the king, and the king of the board makes all his subjects whirl around him. He’s the center. No move can, or should, be trivial. When he is cornered, he’ll make sure a pawn or jester falls to take his place or that another piece slips in to distract. He has an array of humans ready for puppeting, but one man that stands by him is his chief of staff, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). He has the talent to make things appear and disappear upon request from his superior. Both quiet and convincing, sometimes it’s impossible to see if through his work Stamper makes things better or worse. It’s hard to say that any character comes close to the intrigue created by the main character, but I would go out on a limb and say that I’d like to know more about Stamper.
Frank Underwood’s wife, Claire (Robin Wright), could double as an evil queen in his story. Claire does not conduct her life as her husband does, but no one on the show could be more frightening than her. Never faltering, she also moves like the chess piece, from side to side like a spider. While Underwood oozes charm at his fingertips, Claire merely keeps a consistent poker face and the same tone no matter what. She’s more forthcoming in her frostiness. Capable of showing vulnerability, it’s never for long, and it’s impossible to know when it will be snapped away and replaced by calculating cold. The only true kindness she shows are to children, and even that could be seen as motive for higher rungs on the ladder.
Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) makes all the mistakes. Like a character from Mad Men, he’s dark and his destined doom is never far. He’s the little orphan Annie of hedonism. However, unlike other characters in the series, Russo’s crookedness is apparent. His vices stick out like a sore thumb, but he wants to be a better man. While everyone else is snapping up bones and circling for carcasses, Russo is trying to heal and make a brighter tomorrow. His reasons for doing so could be questioned, but his authenticity is in his eyes.
Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), is playing a game called Six Degrees, but instead of Kevin Bacon, she’s working for an unstoppable career as a White House correspondent any way she can get it. Her moral fiber wiggles in the wind, and all I can say is with the end of the first season, it will be interesting to see what second season will bring for her. She is not a woman who lets things happen.
Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), this show is a Netflix original series. Rich with possibilities, I don’t have any criticisms of the show.
Political scandal shows do not make up my usual categories, but even I like this. This is the first show (and one of only a couple of films) regarding fictional politics that I’ve liked. If you like dark, dramatic, and constant intrigue, this show is for you. Fans of political television, have at it. If you disliked The West Wing and Spin City, fear not, you could still enjoy this. I speak from a seat of knowledge.