House of Cards

This is a dream role for Kevin Spacey.

Spacey plays Francis Underwood,  a Congressman from the state of South Carolina. He is the Majority WHIP and he’s truly a force to be reckoned with. He is at once the master of the fake, the finesse, the feint, and the fuck you.

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We can’t help but feel that Underwood has aces up his sleeves, that he can double deal off the top or bottom of the deck, that he definitely carries a concealed weapon which is his brain, and that you don’t want to get on his bad side.

Underwood will pay you back for crossing him. And the beauty of it is that while he can cut your legs out from under you – you won’t realize that it is happening even while it is happening.

What Francis wants, Francis gets.

I’m talking about the new Netflix Original Content show called House of Cards. All thirteen episodes became available for streaming via your Netflix account on February 1st. This is a departure from the broadcast television standard scheduling platform, or even the cable tv method. Not only is the show free of commercials, but it is available on demand whenever you want. This series is made available to you not week by week. From the jump, the whole series is available to you. You can watch the whole thing at once or over the course of a weekend in what is called binge-watching.

Or you can watch an episode a night, or every other night, depending on your schedule. You can pick not only the day, but also the time. There’s no denying that in this format, we have viewing options other than being on the receiving end of what the networks decide for us. As an example, NBC’s Smash had its Season 2 premier with two episodes on Tuesday night, February 5th. But the next episode won’t be broadcast until the 19th. A two-week delay. Why? I’ve no idea.

Rather than write a straight review telling all and sundry that I love/hate the show, or recommend that you watch/not watch, I’ve decided to dispense with the normal review and give you a taste of the main character. I’ve selected from just two of the 13 episodes, and will basically not give much in the way background, plot points, or spoiler.

This will be all about the show’s main character and you’ll have to decide on your own what to think of the guy. Of course you will need a Netflix streaming account to see this show. While the episodes themselves are free of interrupting commercials, Netflix is not giving the show away.

Our first set up is from Episode 5. The new US President has asked Francis Underwood to get a bill drafted about reforms in Education in the United States. Frank will have to work with Marty Spinella who heads up the teachers side of things. He’s either the head of the union or the chief lobbyist and strategist hired by the union. Things haven’t been going well for Spinella and he is plenty pissed. We get this in Frank’s office.

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Marty Spinella: Fuck [with] me? I fuck back!
Francis (Frank) Underwood: [an aside to we viewers] I may have pushed him too far – which is worrisome. Friends make the worst enemies.

In Episode Six, Frank is at a meeting held by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The new Vice president is the former Governor of Pennsylvania, and they must replace him. Frank introduces us to the chair in an aside:

Francis Underwood: Patricia Whitaker. DNC Chair. A rare example of some one whose head is in the game instead of up their backside. Competence is such an exotic bird in these woods that I appreciate it whenever I see it.

Sakina Jaffrey as Linda Vasquez

Sakina Jaffrey as Linda Vasquez

Episode Six – the teachers have been out on strike. Underwood is called into the office of President Garrett Walker’s Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez. She suggests that he’s not got them where they need to be. The bill was supposed to ready in 100 days from inauguration. Frank pleads for and gets a week to get things done.

Francis Underwood: [an aside to we viewers as he leaves Linda’s office] This is the worst possible position to be in. If I water down the bill, the President will still see me as a failure. If the strike doesn’t end in a week, I’ve forced myself into a corner. Only total victory will put me back in his good graces. The alternative will be exile, which will mean the last five months were for nothing. I cannot abide falling back to square one.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

Later that night, Frank is at home and has asked his wife to help him draft a different bill, one about Pennsylvania, that will help Frank get his man a nomination.

Claire Underwood: Does Catherine Durant still owe us?
Francis Underwood: When you make some one Secretary of State, they owe you for life…
Claire Underwood: We’re having a problem getting our equipment through Sudanese customs.
Francis Underwood: I’ll call her from the car.

Talk about having friends in high places. As easily as you or I might pick up the clothing at the dry cleaners, Francis Underwood can call Hilary Clinton, sorry, Catherine Durant on the phone as he is driven to Capitol Hill.

Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes

Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes

But the teacher’s strike continues. Frank is called in for a closed-door conference in the oval office. President Garrett Walker, his Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez, and Francis Underwood are the only ones in attendance.

Francis Underwood: Mr. President.
President Walker: I want it over as soon as possible.
Linda Vasquez: Gut the bill. Do whatever’s necessary…
Francis Underwood: Mr. President if we give in now, the public won’t credit you with a victory, not even a hollow one. They’ll chalk it up a colossal defeat.
President Walker: That’s on you Frank. You let the situation devolve to where it is. I’ve already been blamed for the largest teachers strike in US history. I won’t be held accountable for it dragging on for months and months.
Francis Underwood: Mr. President, We have to end this strike on your terms, not on anyone else’s.
President Walker: How? By debating Marty Spinella on CNN?
Francis Underwood: Sir, you have placed your faith in me thus far. I would ask that you continue to do so.
President Walker: Whatever you’re doing isn’t working, so gut the bill like Linda said
Francis Underwood: No… I’m sorry Mr. President, but I will not do that.
President Walker: Are you letting pride cloud your judgement Frank?
Francis Underwood: Respectfully sir, you’re allowing fear to cloud yours …

[Frank turns to give an aside to us] Not an easy thing to do, to say no, to the most powerful man in the free world. Sometimes the only way to gain your superior’s respect is to defy him.

President Walker: ... Gut the bill as Linda said.Francis Underwood: No

President Walker: … Gut the bill as Linda said.
Francis Underwood: No

Now that was ballsy. What you could call Chutzpah with a capital C. But the stage is set. Frank has no more time. He must get the strike off the front pages and into the history books. He calls Marty Spinella in for a meeting. It is fractious to say the least. Spinella threatens to leave in five seconds. Frank starts the count down – One, Two, Three … Spinella says Kiss my ass and heads for the door.

Francis Underwood: You know the difference between you and me, Marty?
Marty Spinella: What?
Francis Underwood: I’m a white trash cracker from a white trash town that no one would bother to piss on. But here’s the difference. I’ve made something of myself. I’ve the keys to the Capitol. People respect me. But you? You’re still nothing. You’re just an uppity dago, in an expensive suit, turning tricks for the union. No one respects the unions anymore, Marty. They’re dying. And no one respects you.

And that’s just the one of the broadsides fired by Francis Underwood.

I think he’s an intriguing, interesting, and yet revolting character. He’s determined, devious, deceptive as well as indecent when appropriate, which is almost an oxymoron. Yet, you’re drawn in and you can’t take your eyes off him. If you’re attracted to power, then Francis Underwood is your man. The again, he’s a grotesque. Just like Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men. Okay, don’t care for ‘grotesque’? How about riveting.

Spacey has made an excellent career for himself by playing bad guys. You may remember him as Mel Profitt in the series from the late 1980’s Wiseguys. Do you recall him as Keyser Soze, the arch criminal in The Usual Suspects. LA Confidential, The Negotiator, American Beauty, Casino Jack, and Horrible Bosses, are just a few of Spacey’s finest efforts, and now we have House of Cards.

I give you Kevin Spacey, an actor we love to hate. And if you have an account with Netflix, then you should decide whether to take in House of Cards or not. By the way, film director David Fincher was at the helm the first two episodes, and episodes 5 & 6 were directed by another feature film director – Joel Schumacher who has Director’s credit on 32 film titles. Robin Wright, Kate Mara, and Corey Stoll also have prominent roles.

The trailer:

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One thought on “House of Cards

  1. Good summary, except I don’t like the sophmoric tone of the frequent soliloquies. I have nothing against addressing the audience directly (as in Shakespeare’s plays), but please keep the monologues interesting. Hamlet contemplates suicide. Macbeth debates regicide. HOC’s Underwood keeps poking me in the ribs hoping he can get me to snicker at his adversaries expense. Feels more like a sitcom than a political drama.

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