Majority House Whip Francis ‘Frank’ Underwood (Kevin Spacey) takes us for a ride when he puts plans into motion to enact his revenge on all those who have done him wrong, including his cabinet members and the POTUS. After being denied the Secretary of State role he was promised by the President, he takes it personal. Charming, cunning, calculating and cruel, Frank Underwood with his equally brilliant wife Claire (Robin Wright) take on Washington by climbing the feudal ladder to power in this political drama based on the British BBC series of the same name. On his corrupt climb to to the top, there is nothing Frank Underwood will not do to win.
To me, it was the first season of House of Cards which showed us Netflix’s capabilities as a network. It whipped them into shape, and now four years later they’re setting the gold standard of modern television. They’re up there with HBO, the BBC, FX and Starz, who are my favourite networks at the moment. Netflix have proved their mettle time and time again, and it all began with House of Cards. Season one is TV gold and it’s perfect. A top quality political series in partnership with the leading streaming service is an unfailing collaboration. They deserve a round of applause for being bold and audacious in a time when too many networks were content with playing it safe.
From executive producers David Fincher (Fight Club), Beau Willimon (The Ides of March) and Eric Roth (Forest Gump), we follow House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Spacey) and Claire (Wright), who want to oust anybody that has ever wronged them. Revenge to the Underwoods is their unicorn blood, with each person being compared to taking a “bite out of a whale”, and that’s politics. Kate Mara (The Martian) co-stars as reporter Zoe Barnes, who is as ambitious and somewhat as conniving as Underwood. But when you make a deal with Satan reincarnate AKA Frank Underwood, nothing good is ever to come of it.
Coming off the back of a British miniseries and Michael Dobbs’ original novel, this Netflix original series is a searing portrait of Washington politics, global capitalism and perhaps the most shocking yet accurate depiction of not-so-charitable charity organisation AKA Claire Underwood’s non-profit organization CWI (Clean Water Initiative). It goes to show that “we are nothing less than what we choose to reveal” and how even charity organisations are just as unethical as corporations like Apple or Amazon. We should never assume people are good just because of our preconceived narratives attached to such symbols, like the moral standing and ethics in charity giving.
The renowned film director David Fincher (Social Network) directs the first two episodes. His leaning for gloomy colours has duly been noted, which is in direct comparison to the dark minds of the characters. Off the back of this is Spacey’s love of breaking the fourth wall and it’s flipping brilliant. Frank’s direct-to-camera monologues are the stuff of TV legend and Kevin Spacey brings that home. Nobody else could play Frank Underwood like Spacey and nobody could play the character to his sheer brilliance. For better or worse, Kevin Spacey is Frank and there is not damn thing anybody between Washington and Gaffney can do about it. Not a tinker’s damn I tell you!
House of Cards is a character study of government that isn’t just exclusive to the United States. Though, many may call it a dramatisation of the said thing. The show is not just about politics, it’s about the human spirit and what humans will do given half the chance in the situations of our characters. We have that killer instinct, greed, jealousy and ego: it’s in our nature to kill, to deceive, to take what isn’t ours for ourselves. This is all very Shakespearean isn’t it? Martin Amis did so with his Iago in his 1985 novel Money: A Suicide Note. Macbeth, Richard III, Claudius and other evils in Shakespeare’s works are all to be found inside every political player in this show, not just Frank.
To be frank, this show is a grand depiction of humanity’s dark side. Frank’s brilliant pragmatism is understandable, as it allows him to get things done, unhindered by things like sentimentality and emotions. Everyone, even his wife at times, is to be used on his political chessboard as pawns, bishops and rooks, all to be used at his behest. He uses people like chattel and does not care who gets hurt. In chess, you can’t afford to be emotional about things. Sometimes, it is wise to sacrifice the bishop to take out the queen and sacrifice the queen to get checkmate. Always be ten moves ahead, and that’s Frank Underwood. By Chapter 13, you may end up rooting for him.
Claire (Robin Wright) is as ruthless as her husband, and you can’t help but like her fieriness. It’s outrageously attractive, and Robin Wright plays this to perfection as she reacts to each environmental encounter. Wright’s performance is concentrated, refined and impossible not to like. When she talks, it’s like hearing birds sing in the wilderness. Yet, you know those very same birds have talons to claw one’s eyes out. Spacey and Wright work well together, a little too well and they are two of the best castings in any television in the last ten years. And when you look beyond their badness, you begin to understand why they do what they do and you may even begin to like it.
It’s a milestone when a show can create multiple interesting characters without them becoming caricatures. They are ones I admire from afar, but not ones I’d like to meet in the flesh. They are interesting individuals, made so by the acting performances and well-written teleplays. House of Cards shows politics as it is, a wild animal that can’t be tamed. And in order to get to the top of the food chain, you need to butcher a few pigs. We are on a road that doesn’t follow natural selection, but an ecosystem of who Frank Underwood deems fit and who he deems expendable.
And that’s how you devour a Netflix series, one season at a time