A true poker face, ‘House Of Cards’

Pitchforks: 5/5

 

The frustrations of today’s political landscape might leave some wondering how or why governance seems so inept and polarizing. If Netflix’s recent release of “House Of Cards” is any indication, debates over policy matters should be the least of our concerns.

In its first financially backed endeavor, Netflix has dusted off and reinvented the acclaimed 1990 BBC mini-series “House Of Cards,” which had originally been adapted from the novel by Michael Dobbs.

With the release last week of the complete first season, Netflix introduced its audience to Francis “Frank” Underwood, a congressman from South Carolina and House Majority Whip.

Played by actor Kevin Spacey as a man with great influence and pride, the series begins on the New Year’s Eve before 2013. The country has recently elected a new President, one who has promised Underwood a promotion to Secretary of State once in office.

This promise, as one might imagine in Washington, is broken.

From here, the wheels of revenge plotting begin to spin in Underwood’s mind. With the complicit or unwitting aid of those around him, to include his wife Claire (Robin Wright), Underwood looks to take what he can while bringing down all who stand in his way.

While it isn’t made clear how much damage he plans to create or how much power he hopes to ultimately wield, being that it was the recent President-elect who spurned him, it’s fair to assume his ego will drive him as far.

The long held belief that “truth is stranger than fiction” might become a far more frightening concept to embrace as the depths that Underwood goes to achieve and satisfy his own selfish desires seems to know no bounds.

Be advised, this is no Aaron Sorkin drama that looks to play off heated “topical” debate subjects like pork barrel spending; “House Of Cards” is about fear. In many ways, it’s about that kind of fear no one wants to admit to having, the fear of another’s own vanity and the lengths it will drive them.

One of the show’s tag lines is “Bad, for the greater good,” and while many have embraced challenging anti-hero characters like Walter White (“Breaking Bad”) or Tony Soprano (“The Sopranos”), Francis Underwood defies convention.

Over the course of 13-episodes, we are given an inside perspective on how one might go about furthering their own career, while destroying however many lives in that pursuit.

Truthfully, there is no “greater good.” It’s either Francis Underwood’s way, or the highway — if not the ditch along the way.

As the season comes to an end, the pawns that Underwood has positioned begin to challenge their directives, and while the audience might wish for the eventual downfall of Underwood, we are left with an unsettling premonition of things to come.

In the show’s entirety, “House Of Cards” is a fine representation of a captivating political thriller.

Currently, many are praising – or questioning – what a release like this by Netflix means for the industry and future of television. While the convenience and exclusivity is nice, what is more exciting about this form of entertainment is the possibility that American television might fully move past the cookie-cutter approach of its own production procedures.

While we wait for a release date for season two, our imaginations will run wild – much like it will for Francis Underwood, as he plots to surprise even our most wild of expectations.

 

Reach the reporter at jbfortne@asu.edu or follow on Twitter at @JOMOFO40.