“I have zero tolerance for betrayal, which they will soon indelibly learn.”Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Airs: Netflix | Air Dates: 2013-2018 | Number of Seasons: 6
House of Cards follows Frank and Claire Underwood, a prominent politician and his politically influential wife as they rise through the American political system. Frank starts out as a congressman from South Carolina who serves as the House Majority whip who knows how to play the political game. Eventually he works his way up to vice president and then eventually president through unsavory means which poses questions about the sanctity of the American government. The entire show is an outlandish representation of what truly goes on behind the pristine walls of the White House but begs the question: How corrupt is the man on the throne?
I’m not a fan of Kevin Spacey but I am a fan of political dramas. I feel the need to precede this review with this fact because of the accusations against Spacey, I was hesitant to support anything that he was part of. Unfortunately, he is an award winning actor and he plays Frank Underwood with such ease that I can’t really tell where Spacey ends and Underwood begins. This is good and bad. For the show, it makes the audience feel like they’re truly watching and hearing this man that represents the truly corrupt. For Spacey, it brings into question his character. For the rest of this review, I will refer to Spacey in terms of his acting and not of his person. Frank and Claire Underwood are the two best characters on this show and this is truly a service to the overall story. Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey act with such conviction that they embody their characters; it never feels like the audience can hear the strings being pulled by the screenwriters. Instead, the audience can almost see into their minds, watching them make decisions that carry them further up the ladder of power. They are what makes this show great.
The cinematography is the next best thing about this show. There are some truly iconic shots that tie the writing and the acting together in ways that not many shows can do. The screenwriters made some truly iconic decisions by focusing not only on the political decisions but also how the media portrays political decisions. The Underwoods’ greatest enemy is always the media; they’re almost always figuring out ways to outrun reporters that can do great damage to their reign. It’s such a brilliant way to play on the fears that real politicians must have; they must always fear the knowledge that their corruption is only one word away from ending their political careers. The Underwoods thrive in secrecy and use underhanded methods to keep the press constantly on their team. This complicated relationship feels like a cat and mouse chase and the Underwoods just barely seem to be one step ahead.
There are a few themes in this show that make it an important one. The biggest one for me is the allure of power. The Underwoods never seem to do anything unless it has the potential to make them more powerful. Some of these calculated moves even threatened the line of succession, making this show feel like we’re watching the United States turn into a dictatorship or monarchy of some kind. I find that the Underwoods see themselves as royalty – they feel entitled to power over the country and to be the ultimate dynasty. It’s completely well done in the sense that I never question the desire for power. It’s done so well that you almost root for Underwood to be president even though he’s clearly not a great man. It reminds me of The Americans in the sense that I know what they do is wrong, yet they do it with such conviction that what they’re doing is right that I believe in them and their cause. Plus, the duality of Frank Underwood’s character is what makes this show interesting. In some sense, he does care about the country and wants the best for the nation as shown through his AmWorks program. But, it’s the quest for ultimate power that makes Frank a villain. All of the themes seem to come back to characterization, so it’s a good thing that the show does it so compellingly.
Overall, I love this show. As much as I could do with a different actor playing Frank Underwood, Spacey does do a good job. Robin Wright plays the commanding, cold woman with such believability that I think she might actually be like that in real life. When I look on screen, I don’t see the actors; I see the characters. That’s the hallmark of a great show. In terms of plot, the threads are strong and believable, making it fun to watch. I recommend this show to fans of political dramas and those who enjoyed Macbeth and The Americans.