— By Carly Twehous —
If you’re not sick of the constant news coverage from the most recent election cycle—the scandals, the Russian hacking, the debate whether or not our current president is a reincarnated prophet or the antichrist—or if you prefer to drown yourself in fiction and ignore all of life’s infinite problems, yet still have an inexplicable craving for shady political drama… Well, I’ve got a show for you.
In retrospect, House of Cards is brilliant.
Kevin Spacy delivers an outstanding performance as Frank Underwood from the very opening of the pilot episode. For those of you who don’t know, there’s a method that writers use—called a “Save the Cat” moment—to introduce a character and immediately have the audience fall in love with him. Often times, this means the character performs a minor heroic deed, like helping a cat out of a tree, so that the audience automatically roots for him.
The first time we see Frank Underwood, he’s strangling a dog and we know exactly what kind of man he is, even without his fourth-wall-breaking narration. The dog was hit by a car. It was suffering. Someone had to put it down. It’s a bizarre amalgamation of cruelty in the guise of compassion, cynicism and practicality, and just the right amount of foreshadowing to this man’s ends-justify-means philosophy and eventual rise to power. Mix all those ingredients together, add a suit and tie, and poof. You have yourself one hell of a politician.
Kevin Spacy delivers a phenomenal performance, especially in the first season, and has a number of Emmy nominations (and snubs, in my opinion) to show for it. Of course, I cannot review House of Cards without mentioning the equal brilliance of his co-star and on-screen wife, Robin Wright. Portraying pretty much the exact opposite of her iconic role of Princess Buttercup, Wright’s Claire Underwood is as clever and ambitious as anyone in Washington. More than that, she is a reckoning force, both in her own home and within the political poker game going on around her.
This completely fictionalized Washington D.C. is pretty much exactly what you’d expect of the real Washington D.C.: wealthy white men running the country, yet always pursuing their own clandestine ambitions in whispers and behind closed doors, semi-illegal journalism with shady and anonymous sources, affairs and political back-stabbings, unpaid interns who more or less become evil henchmen in order to further their careers, and secrets and classified information up the wazoo.
Turn on CNN, and you’ll see pretty much the same story, except without Kevin Spacy’s clever, poignant, and sometimes horrifying exposition.
Each season comes off as a novel: thirteen chapters, with no need for recaps or reintroductions thanks to the brilliance of Netflix streaming. It’s Shakespearean characters, with Machiavellian wit and dialogue, with a flair of realism that allows just about anyone to follow the conspiracy from start to finish.
Although the fifth and most recent season lost some of the show’s flair for the dramatic with the introduction of flat characters and unfortunately more than one foreseeable plot twist, even at its worst, House of Cards is far from boring and will undoubtedly still pick up several Emmy nods, come award season.
Whether you’ve lived and breathed political dramas since West Wing or whether you just have a thing for engaging fictional and a secret love of political philosophy ever since you took that one class in high school, House of Cards is worth the watch. The characters might not be able to claim the moral high ground at the end of the day—or even earn consideration for redemption—but this show has just the right mix of reality and fiction to render it thrilling and captivating to the very end.