How far would you be willing to go to obtain immense power? How far would you be willing to go to maintain that power? Francis J. Underwood is on a mission to find out…
To review the series House of Cards without going into spoiler territory would be a difficult endeavor. However in the spirit of undertaking difficult endeavors, much like the main character of the series, I will attempt a spoiler-free review. In the series setup, Francis J. Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) is a Majority Congress Whip for the Democratic Party in the United States Congress. Upon the election of the Democratic Party’s President Walker, Francis is promptly stabbed in the back by his party and skipped over for his promised position of Secretary of State in the new administration. Understandably, Frank is full of rage at this betrayal and begins to plot his revenge (don’t worry, this all happens in about the first five minutes). These initial scenes set the tone for a series that is an unashamed full blown political thriller, filled with plenty more back-stabbings and betrayals to keep you delighted for (thus far) five seasons.
“…what could be called a sixty five hour long film…”
Francis and his wife Claire (played by Robin Wright) drive the series with incredible script delivery and acting that is far better than the vast majority of what even the most expensive films in Hollywood have to offer. An often overlooked aspect of the series that I personally loved throughout is the thoughtful and artistic cinematography and soundtrack that do more than just set out to deliver a quota of sixty minute episodes. The careful camera direction actually aims (and in my opinion totally succeeds) in creating what could be called a sixty five hour long film that has a consistent tone, style and distinct atmosphere throughout.
Pragmatism & Power
House of Cards rests its laurels on two main themes, pragmatism and power. Its thesis is essentially that without being pragmatic you can never achieve true power and without having any power, what do you have that’s worth being pragmatic about? Underwood is on a quest for power from the beginning, and though he occasionally pretends otherwise, (he wants revenge, he wants a legacy) he wants power purely for its’ own sake. The show doubles as an insightful commentary on the current state of the United States’ political system, and manages to avoid the temptation of taking episodes “straight from the headlines” and almost always uses original scenarios to convey its’ message. If you enjoy shows such as Breaking Bad that have a strong focus on character development and plot, you will love House of Cards. Though personally it is one of my favorite television series, if you aren’t a big fan of fast-paced dialogue or heavy references to politics, you could probably give this one a miss.
Library catalogue links:
- House of Cards on DVD – Seasons 1 – 4
- Original UK House of Cards TV mini series from the 1990s – on DVD
- The House of Cards novels by Michael Dobbs on which the original UK series was based.