New political thriller on right track
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013
Updated: Sunday, March 10, 2013 23:03
The idea of distributing a slow paced show like “House of Cards” on Netflix was a smart move. While never boring, the show gradually develops and gives more and more information. Waiting week to week, this would probably turn off viewers. However, by having the entire season available at once on Netflix people hit next if they are even mildly interested which is probably part of why House of Cards has been so successful when political thrillers tend to turn off viewers.
“House of Cards” tells the story of Democratic Party majority whip Francis Underwood. Underwood has just used his power and popularity to help the new president get elected for the promise of a cabinet position. After the election, he finds out that they used him and he will be staying in the house while someone else takes his promised seat. As angry as this makes Underwood, he plays along, meanwhile plotting to ruin the careers and even some personal lives of those who did this to him with the help of his assistant and wife. He never reveals his full plan to the audience, but he does hint early on that his ultimate goal is to become president.
While at times absurd or ridiculous, there is a strange realism to the plot. Politics play out convincingly and congress is depicted in an extremely unflattering and unfortunately realistic light. According to “House of Cards,” there are two kinds of people in Washington D.C. There are bad people who want to be good but can’t and there are the worst people who embrace evil. The first category can be counted on your fingers and none of the big leads fit into it. In the opening scene, Underwood finds a dog left for dead by a hit and run driver suffering in the street. Before he tells his neighbors their dog is dead, he suffocates it as he narrates to the audience that he is the kind of man who has what it takes to put the dying dog out of its misery rather than watch it suffer. He later finds the driver and has him arrested. Even with an entrance like this, I eventually came to like him.
I was almost always rooting for Underwood. In the beginning, he’s bad and he only gets worse, but there was a strange guilty pleasure in watching his complex and calculated planning pay off and actually work. Also, there are very little likeable characters. At the end, I found myself hating Francis, but I wasn’t really rooting for his opponents to win. Most of what makes the character so interesting is what Kevin Spacey brings to the table in his portrayal. There are so many layers to the characters and so much deceit going on that it takes a while for the audience to figure out when he’s lying and when he’s telling the truth, even with his vague narration of his every move. I don’t want to say another actor couldn’t bring this character to life the way, but Spacey certainly steals the show.
I think somebody without background knowledge of politics can understand and enjoy this show. I’m not the kind of person who watches C-SPAN all day with a bowl of popcorn, but I enjoy political thrillers. Most people do not and while this is a political thriller, there is plenty to interest everyone. There’s this tense atmosphere and an underlying feeling that any moment one of these congressmen is just going to attack another. Eventually they do, but this is also about more than politicians staging coups left and right and backstabbing one another. Without spoiling anything, I will say there are plenty of other crimes and thrills that will surprise you. I expect this show will make some write angry concerned letters to their congressmen questioning their daily activities, but maybe that should happen.