Welcome to the mind of a megalomaniac. Congressman Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) operates out of the dark corners of our political system in pursuit of power. He tugs on strings here, tightens cogs there, subtly manipulating those around him to his exact purpose. He is the type of man we fear never runs our country, but simultaneously hope for his success so there’s a second season.
House of Cards is a political revenge show. Underwood, betrayed by the president he helped elect, turns his considerable talents in the political dark arts against the administration. Though his end goals appear only hazily and are not fully revealed until the last few episodes of the season, there’s never a doubt that he is vigilantly and effectively pursuing them. Votes are bought and sold. Political power is leveraged. Underwood treats friends, family and colleagues as human playing cards.
From time to time, Underwood turns to the camera and addresses his audience in a syrupy, South Carolina drawl. Often it is to pull back the curtain shrouding the political process. Midway into a conversation with the president’s Chief of Staff he’ll raise an eyebrow at the camera while she’s talking and say, “Now for the real meeting.” Sometimes he simply admits his own deceits and weaknesses.
Underwood’s house of cards is populated by a slew of provocative characters.
Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) – an exceptionally ambitious young journalist, renders her services to Underwood in turn for leaked information she uses propel her career.
Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) – Underwoods chief of staff, takes care of the Congressman’s extra dirty work. He is every bit as diabolical as his master.
Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) – a lesser Congressman whom Underwood owns through a combination of blackmail and psychological bullying.
The most compelling character other than Underwood himself is his wife Claire (Robin Wright). She is beautiful, cold and calculated. Yet, at certain moments Claire seems fragile, as if she is at the edge of unraveling. She is Lady Macbeth to Underwood’s Machiavelian puppet master.
The production quality of the show is not what you would expect from an online only series. The Netflix series is beautifully and artfully shot. Dark, shadowy scenes prevail. Selective use of light is striking. The shots constantly draw your eyes to the center of the screen. The music echo’s the shadowy tones caught on film.
If there is one noticeable weakness in the series, it’s that it keeps you in the mind of a dangerous and unsympathetic character. Frank Underwood is dauntingly manipulative. Just barely enough love, humility, and humanity make it into the show to keep viewers hooked. There’s just enough of the human experience present to resonate with. Another downside of the plot line for anyone who is intimately familiar with what happens behind the scenes on Capitol Hill is that the show is based on the assumption that Congress is inherently corrupt and anyone who is incorruptible gets screwed. Characters must manipulate or be manipulated in House of Cards’ on screen nightmare.
House of Cards is a story of revenge, but it’s undercurrent is cost – the heavy cost of love, family, ambition, and power. Every move Underwood makes has a cost, and each character pays a cost for having his or her desires fulfilled.
You only need to watch one episode of House of Cards to know if it is for you. If the first episode is too dark for your taste in entertainment, you’re despise of the show is only going to grow as you become a virtual accomplice to Frank Underwood’s dark deeds.
More likely, you’ll stand up with no feeling in your legs and no concept of what time it is having watched the entire 13 episode season. We suggest you go ahead and clear your schedule now.