February 18, 2013 by David K. Sutton
House of Cards Review: Frank Underwood’s Insatiable Hunger For Power
In one of Frank Underwood’s many asides, delivered with great aplomb by Kevin Spacey, he breaks the fourth wall to say, “Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.” Those two sentences capture the essence of the main character and great antihero of a dark, almost sinister political drama.
“House of Cards” is a bold entrance into original scripted television for online streaming service, Netflix, which paid $100 million for two seasons of the political drama. The show, a remake of an original BBC series, stars Kevin Spacey as South Carolina congressman and House majority whip, Francis (Frank) Underwood.
Exposing the ugly side of politics and human behavior is precisely what makes House of Cards such delicious entertainment. We are witness to human ambition that knows no limit.
The show begins with Underwood losing out in his bid for Secretary of State in the new administration of the president-elect. As the season unfolds, Underwood takes advantage of his power-broker status to exact revenge. Or is he instead demonstrating artful human manipulation to scheme his way into another high-level position, up to and including the Oval Office?
Among the strong cast of characters is Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), a reporter who believes she is using Underwood to advance her career. But it turns out she is the one being played as she serves a paramount role in Underwood’s duplicity. The reckless desire of the Barnes character is reminiscent of another young female reporter in the short-lived “Political Animals” on USA where use of sex and questionable morals are mere tools of the trade. Whatever it takes to get the story.
Faithful in joint mission, if not in marriage, is Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), who displays her own contentious ethics as head of a charitable organization. She is equally as driven as Frank, and is a source of strength and support for his power plays, even while he manages to manipulate her later in the season.
House of Cards contains a full deck of nasty human beings, with each of the principle characters showing concern for their own aspirations at the cost of everyone around them. There is nobody to root for in this show, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The show paints Washington D.C. as a city where human benevolence exists only when it serves the self-centered. While it may not do much to improve the image of congress and politicians, the dark underbelly that is House of Cards makes for addictive television.
All 13 episodes of the first season of House of Cards are now available on Netflix. Season two will begin filming this spring likely for an early 2014 premiere. And look out, House of Cards could get serious attention at the Emmy awards later this year. An Emmy win (or more) could solidify the future of online television.
And if you don’t watch House of Cards, at least do yourself a favor and check out the excellent visuals of the opening credits along with the masterful musical score by Jeff Beal: