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Season in Review: House of Cards


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With each and every year giving rise to technological innovations, it was only a matter of time before the likes of television programming became subject to substantial change. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are making waves by releasing entire seasons of shows at once; thus, creating a new digital platform for the widespread viewing of new, original programming. Who knew, though, that the initiation of this new platform would be executed with such a deliciously evil and manipulative offering in Netflix’s series House of Cards.

Grade:

A

Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is on the wrong end of a political promise when the President revokes his assurance to make Underwood the new Secretary of State. Consequently, Frank vows to use all of his power and political savvy as the Majority Whip to undermine the President’s plans. Frank is aided and supported by his equally manipulative and stoic wife, Claire (Robin Wright). Her non-profit business occupies her time, as she demonstrates a comparable level of intimidation and power, making Frank and Claire the singular couple you do not want to cross in DC. Meanwhile, the careers of reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), and countless others are impacted and used in Frank’s effort to get what he wants.

Based on a British series of the same title, House of Cards may have a political plot, but it is ultimately about the depths competitive individuals will go to in order to grasp unrelenting power. Greed, manipulation, backstabbing, and all kinds of evil, conniving behavior prove to be the norm here, and let me tell you, it’s fantastic all the way through.

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Each episode has Frank focusing on a certain goal that is made clear by the occasional breaking of the fourth wall. These moments, which stand out as the most brilliant scenes of the season, give the audience an insight into Frank’s plans to make sure you are able to keep up with his numerous shady dealings.

Helping make the story as seamless as possible, Kevin Spacey is at his deceit-filled best with a South Carolina drawl that would make Forrest Gump chuckle with delight. Spacey has always played an excellent villain, but here he has the leeway to make that villain into the antihero we all want to support. With scathing smiles and sinister eyes flashing the hellish fire burning within, Frank is the kind of man you’d rather meet in the dark alley so you don’t have to see how little your own murder would play on his conscience.

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As mentioned, Robin Wright does an amazing job, as well. When your character chooses the potential for power, wealth, and excitement via deceit over love and children and still acts as a role model for women of all ages who view the show, I think that means you have succeeded. Wright is more subdued than Spacey, but that allows Claire to showcase her cunning in a stealthy manner that almost surpasses the rest of the cast.

Now, Wright and Spacey may be the power couple running the show, but that is not to say an incredible cast of characters and actors does not help them. Namely, Corey Stoll and Michael Kelly, who plays Frank’s right-hand man, Doug Stamper. Stoll and Kelly have vastly different roles, yet they find a way to become easy favorites. Peter becomes the heart of the show since he is fighting personal demons that keep returning. You feel for him and cheer for his success at every turn and Stoll does a great job evoking those emotions.

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Meanwhile, Doug, for lack of a more appropriate phrase, gets shit done. When Frank needs something done, Doug is there with no questions asked even if illegal methods are required. As the season progresses, we see that Doug may deserve more fear than Frank—a chilling thought indeed.

The only faults are minor. The season finale ends with a somewhat dull thud, as the cliffhanger that remains was anticipated for a few episodes. It’s still a much better finally than American Horror Story, but a little underwhelming. The other fault is the annoying Zoe. Whether this is due to a miscasting of Mara or simply attributable to a lousy character, I cannot say—though I lean towards the latter. There are attempts to make Zoe a deeper character than she seems, but they largely fall flat as you want to focus more on the developments in Frank’s world, not hers. Much like Frank, you feel as if Zoe is an expendable character.

Considering the fact that the entire season had to be made without any feedback from widespread audiences, House of Cards is a rousing success. Honestly, if personas had been changed as a result of public opinion, the season could have failed. In that regard, the new platform works brilliantly. I can only hope this success continues into May when we get back to the Bluths. Until then, watch House of Cards to hold yourself over; it’s worth it.

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    • Cathy Connors
    • March 26th, 2013

    Hi Michael! If you ever have a chance to watch the original House of Cards, do so. It was a terrific series which ran for three seasons (around 4 episodes per season) in the early 90’s. Francis Urquart, FU to his friends, was masterfully played by Ian Richardson. All the best, Cathy!

    • Hi Cathy! Thanks so much for commenting! I have seen that the original is on Netflix, but have not gotten around to watching it. My mom watched it first and has been raving about it since this version came out (she also liked the American version, as well). I definitely plan on watching it at some point though.

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