Cutting the deck – A House of Cards Review
So I know I’m late to the game, but I have recently started watching House of Cards.
My brother raved about this show after watching it when he lived in the states and so I requested the boxset for my birthday. I was looking for something new to sink my teeth into after devouring 5 seasons of the Good Wife and chomping my way through Damages – which I ingested much like a drug addict getting their next cocaine fix. My god that show was good. Is there anything more delicious than getting completely and utterly hooked on a show that you actually think in the morning, ‘Ok I’m going to work now, but later, I’ll be watching *insert favourite show here*- yippee’ When the credits roll at the end of an episode and you think ‘NOOOO. Must. Watch. One. More.’ Even if it is 1am and you have to be up in 5 hours…
I tried Breaking Bad. I was thoroughly bored for the first season. The arid scenery did not help its cause. Is it just me that feels like a city/setting should be another character that adds to the show? I also found it repetitive and formulaic. Guy has cancer, guy coughs his guts up. Guy kills a guy and takes like 3 episodes to dispose of the body. Guy gets horny and shags wife. And repeat.
I heard that it gets better, that you have to persevere before it really kicks off – but I don’t want to ‘persevere ’ – this isn’t hard graft or a job I’m trying to get through – it’s meant to be escapism.
I tried three episodes of Game Of Thrones, but in truth I hate fantasy – there is only so much you can do and I find the genre very limiting: battle, death, shagging, dragons – and again . It’s so intangible and unrelatable – for me anyway. My sister is absolutely addicted – along with the rest of the population.
So to the political drama that is House of Cards which exploded onto Netflix, taking a hearty chunk of the viewer base along with it for the ride. In a nutshell, and according to Wiki:
Washington, D.C., HOC is the story of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Democrat from South Carolina’s 5th congressional district and House majority whip who, after being passed over for appointment as Secretary of State, initiates an elaborate plan to get himself into a position of power.
Ooh.. Sounds juicy right? It certainly is, if a slow but steady burner. You get a hint of the characters’ intentions right away. It’s all very softly- softly; I would almost say that the approach is somewhat insidious, with each episode slowly burning on your psyche.
It definitely has a lot of appeal right off the bat. Sumptuous shots of Washington DC; a stellar cast lead by the ubiquitous Kevin Spacey, and supported by Robin wright who I thought was sublime in Forrest Gump and whose performance made me weep during that film. Set in the White house, with an array of guest stars -It was definitely an exciting prospect.
The pilot has lots of setting up to do. The dynamic of Frank and Claire is the driving force behind the show and the powerhouse combination of Spacey and Wright propels the drama where it needs to go. Their relationship is extremely complex, and as is revealed, far from perfect. For the first couple of episodes you feel almost voyeuristic as you try to decipher their unconventional and sometimes very stifled pairing. What is the true subtext here? Before long you realise they are linked like chain metal – although not without any chinks in the armour.
Stuff happens for no apparent reason, although I am sure there is plenty of symbolism at play. This perturbed me a bit to start with – I guess I search for (and like) meaning in everything. Little moments that the music seems to give weight to – I’m still wondering the significance of the rowing machine (anyone?!) seem to plant the seed of doubt, and yet you are not entirely sure why; it’s more of an uneasy feeling. All designed to make you slightly on edge, which is something that permeates the drama – who can you trust? Will they die? Was that a double bluff? I certainly love to be kept guessing.
Together they are utterly compelling to watch – I love their scenes together. I love their devotion to one another, despite the fact we still don’t 100% trust their motivations
There are so many layers to these characters; it’s like peeling an onion. Just when you think you have figured them out for the vindictive schemers that they are, another layer is revealed which makes them seem much more human, almost as if their spiteful behaviour were justified, a tiny but. The show is very good at this. Too much vitriol and we would hate these characters – but we find ourselves sort of rooting for them – and sometimes sort of not.
It’s a kind of ambivalence that is almost risky to play with – shouldn’t the audience always love the protagonist? Sometimes I find myself hoping Frank will fall on his face – because I think he deserves it. The key is in Spacey’s gravitas of course. At first I wasn’t so convinced about his dodgy southern accent that kept slipping in and out (I have learnt to accept this now – a bit like the fact that no matter who Sean Connery plays – he will always be Scottish and I don’t even notice any more.) And the fact that he breaks the fourth wall and talks to camera I wasn’t so sure about either, but now it has been weaved into the very fabric of the show, I can usually tell when he’s about to do it, and it doesn’t actually detract from the show itself. I quite enjoy him confiding in us.
There is of course the issue of the political jargon. I have no idea about American Politics. A lot of it goes right over my head, which is a shame – perhaps I’m missing out there – but I would have to sit on Google whilst watching the episodes to decipher the political machinations that they are hashing out – and I think that would make it less fun to watch. To be fair though, despite my political ignorance, my rudimentary understanding allows most of it to make enough sense that I am not scrabbling for answers to the inner workings of white house etiquette. I’m too busy trying to work out who is screwing who – metaphorically and in actuality.
Although the show is definitely not one that relies on a twist or a shock at the end of every episode, I think that by not doing that it packs more punch when something gasp -worthy happens. There are certainly some ‘Did that just happen?’ moments. All I will say is that if you want someone bumped off, don’t look to the mafia, just call a politician. Does this stuff really happen? Probably more than we think.
House of Cards is definitely worth a watch for Wright alone. She is stand out for me. She’s so intriguing and multi-faceted, giving humanity and genuine credence to a character who could so easily be reduced to a Cruella De Vil type.
Don’t be fooled though – House of Cards is definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Start watching it today, and don’t trust anyone.