Netflix has been slowly attempting to turn itself into a network. They are doing so by producing original and exclusive content and market them as “Netflix Originals”. They have produced some amazing shows like BoJack Horseman and Daredevil and they show no signs of slowing down. One of the best Netflix Original Series, to date, is House of Cards. I was interested in this show in part because it starred Kevin Spacey who is an amazing actor in his own right and I love to see him play a sort of all-powerful villain-type. And he definitely delivers in this series at portraying that sort of character, at least in the first couple of seasons.
Season One Breakdown and Thoughts
In the first two seasons we get to see Francis “Frank” Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Democratic Party Congressman and majority whip, as he attempts to ruthlessly gain power and exact his revenge on those who recently betrayed him for their own political gains. Francis is incredibly ruthless, conniving, cold-hearted and calculating throughout the first two seasons. He resorts to blackmail, set ups and even murder to get what he wants but still does it in such an amazing way that you still root for him to some degree. He plays a sort of Mega anti-hero in the company full of less-abled anti-heroes. While he is, without a doubt, evil you still get the feeling that you would much rather leave him in charge instead of the other evil people within his party that seem far less capable.
His wife is equally ruthless and I would argue even more than Frank throughout the first couple of seasons. And their dynamic is extremely different in the show and, while they do love each other, it is not always clear if they are married for political reasons or for action affection for each other. Frank cheats on his wife but is completely upfront and honest with her about it and she, quite literally, asks him, impassively, “What do we gain from this?” and when she is satisfied with the answer, she walks away. It was a weird dynamic to get my head around but it certainly brings and interesting twist to the show.
In the first season, Frank is initially passed over for being appointed by the President to be the Secretary of State. This devastates Frank because he helped get the president elected in the first place as part of an agreement to get said promotion. He is told that Garret, the president, would prefer to keep Frank in Congress to push his own agenda. In response to this blatant backstabbing, Underwood begins working on a plan behind the presidents back to gain power for himself while posing as an ardent supporter of Garret.
To help push his own agenda, Underwood begins a relationship with Zoe Barnes, a reporter for a political newspaper, which leads to her publishing many damaging stories against his political rivals. There relationship helps both of them by advancing Zoe’s career as well as advancing Frank’s own personal agenda. She gains nationwide notoriety and even starts appearing on television news stations. But Zoe, while initially naive, slowly begins to distrust Frank and their relationship starts to become merely one-sided.
It is great to see Frank in full control throughout the show and see him take down many of his would-be opponents even if the odds were stacked against him. He is even, for the most part, pretty likable while doing it. Sure he is manipulative, but there is no doubt that most of the things that he does is to push forward a well-though out agenda. There is rarely a situation Frank cannot overcome and he plays the role as if he is a con artist rather than a politician (or is there really a difference?).
And the best part is, by the end of the season he succeeds! There is a payoff at the end… All the crap he has gone through and all of the hardships he has overcome were not in vain as he actually consolidated real power.
This is a theme that continues in season two as he begins the next phase of his plan. He no longer has his sights set on mid-level rungs of the government and, instead, has his eye on the presidency. This season follows, for the most part, his battle to become president and his rivalry with Raymond Tusk.
Tusk is the presidents private and secret advisor and he is filthy rich. He made his fortune in foreign oil and seeks to push forward his own agenda through the president and sees Frank’s manipulation of the president as a threat to his own plans. They are pretty similar, Frank and Tusk, in both methodology as well as skill level when it comes to manipulating others to do what he wants. And it is truly a nail-biter of a season as Frank teeters constantly from being seen by the public as an incompetent figure who is doing dirty side-dealings to someone on the cusp of becoming the president of the United Stated.
Now I should also note that Zoe Barnes is not in season two and I feel as if her presence was severely needed if for no other reason than to be a sort of heroine and moral compass for the show. Without Zoe as our leading female, we have very few underdog characters in the show that have enough redeeming qualities so that you WANT them to succeed in their endeavors. Barnes, as a character, was a bit misguided and naive but there was always and overarching feeling of wanting her to succeed and wanting her to uncover the truth about Underwood. Without her there is no balance in the show, it is just a show full of powerful people making powerful moves and, with the exception of Underwood who is barely passable as the protagonist as he seemingly escalates his underhandedness at every turn, there really isn’t anyone to root for in the show. Everyone is a terrible person in the end and the world is just…well… fucked up.
By the end of the season, just like season one, there is a real pay off. Underwood is able to secure the presidency by ousting both Tusk and Garret from the White House. This sets up, hopefully, for a great third season as Underwood seemingly has everything he has ever wanted and he always gets what he wants…right? So he should be the most bad-ass president ever!
Season 3 disappointment
We begin the latest season a few months into the presidency of Underwood. Rather than being in control, like he has been so many times in the past, he is seemingly against the ropes. The Democratic party does not like him, public opinion is extremely low and he has not accomplished much in his term thus far. He is attempting to spearhead a bill called “America Works” (or AmWorks) that will essentially eliminate unemployment in America but congress will not approve the funds and there is far too much opposition to his proposal.
But let’s face it, Frank has always been smothered with opposition and he has always come out on top. And therein lies the biggest issue with the third season of House of Cards… Frank, up until this season, has been all-powerful and an unstoppable force in the U.S. Government. Now that he holds the highest seat in the government, however, he lacks the ability to get anything done. The moment something DOES start working in his favor, AmWorks for instance, it is stripped away from him as a bigger threat comes along.
He is constantly on the defensive in this season and he appears weaker than he has ever been. His marriage is basically falling apart and Claire, his wife, once a devoted and equally conniving partner in their relationship is slowly starting to see Frank as a weak man as she slowly and inexplicably becomes more human throughout the season. Basically, they took everything that was great about the show and did the opposite. Frank and his wife are weak, the more corrupt-but-less capable politicians are all winning, Frank’s confidence and stern demeanor that we have grown accustom to his shaken to its very core. And this could just be me not liking change, but I feel like season three is a completely different show than when we started.
I really do hope that Underwood is back on top in season four. I really like the show but I do not like the directions it is going in anymore. How do you guys feel about it?