“Representative Francis Underwood schemes to re-insert himself into a seat of power after being snubbed by the President of the United States.”
Available on Netflix Streaming Rated: TV-MA
Power, you either have it or you don’t. It’s what you are willing to do for power, as you grasp at the strings of your puppets, that sets you apart from the rabble. This is the underlying theme of House of Cards, the latest foray into original programming by Netflix. The $100 million gamble by the streaming service provider, executive produced by David Fincher and Kevin Spacey, takes us into the seedy underbelly of American politics and holds a mirror up to the true face of power, warts and all.
House of Cards follows Spacey as he portrays the ruthless Representative Francis “Frank” Underwood, the House Majority Whip from South Carolina, as he fights to regain his power after being denied the office of the Secretary of State, by a newly elected president. Underwood’s thirst for supremacy filters through all of his relationships, as he manipulates everyone from his wife Claire (Robin Wright), to his confidant Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and media mouth piece Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara). Most notably, Frank sets his sights on his fellow representatives, including Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), as he becomes the ultimate puppet master, scheming his way back into the President’s good graces.
The lust for power in Cards does not rest solely at the feet of Frank, but flows through each character, as we get a sense of what it is to be a player in Washington D.C. Claire, who heads a non-profit agency, evokes a cold compassion as she undermines those in her own organization and is duplicitous in her dealings with her husband and others with whom she is involved. Unfortunately for Claire, she is continually reminded that she is nothing without Frank.
Zoe Barnes, an eager young reporter looking to see her name on something other than the puff pieces she writes for the Metro section of the Washington Herald, also gets tangled up with Frank. Barnes wields her new found power, gained from the information Underwood feeds her, to antagonize her editor as well as the head political correspondent at her paper, Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer). All the while Frank reaps the rewards of the fallout from Zoe’s stories.
Caught in Underwood’s power struggle is Representative Peter Russo of Pennsylvania, whose own vices put him in an untenable position, and has no choice but to do Frank’s bidding. Russo and his girlfriend/aide Christina (Kristen Connolly) are the only real empathetic characters in the series, as Russo struggles with his addictions and crises of conscience while Christina waivers on her love for Russo as he self-destructs.
House of Cards, based on the novels and British mini-series of the same name (also available on Netflix), is a fast paced, biting, political drama. At times the show does drag and sporadically seems to become a parody of itself, but the writing, direction (Fincher helms the first two episodes, while seasoned directors such as Joel Schumacher helm the remaining installments)and excellent work of the cast keep the show on track.
As the power dynamic is revealed throughout the show, Cards also addresses the influence of media in shaping public opinion, as well as the role and influence of the lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Each character’s stories are woven together intricately, culminating in a satisfactory if not entirely unpredictable season finale. This striking first season provides a glimpse into what motivates the powers in Washington D.C., and as one can’t help but believe there are more than a few bits of truth in this piece of fiction, it is no coincidence that the American flag is upside down in the title of the show.
Straying from the standard weekly release of a single episode, all 13 episodes of House of Cards, running roughly 50 minutes per episode, are available at once. Some may be detracted by this, as it doesn’t allow for a synchronized viewing with the rest of the show’s audience, making it difficult to compare notes before the next episode airs. I, however feel this is an excellent feature, as many people, me included, tend to watch multiple episodes of a show on Netflix, in one sitting. This will also allow those who may not be interested in the show to discover that sooner, rather than later.
As the first season of House of Cards fades to black and we are left wondering what will happen to Representative Underwood next season (filming begins in March), it is difficult to not think about what is going to happen with Netflix as it transitions into a provider of original content. With push back from premium cable channels, such as HBO, that are not wanting to provide their content for streaming, as well as the struggles with major studios that won’t provide new releases unless Netflix raises its prices, the streaming service has little choice but to explore these new avenues for revenue and customer generation. If the care put into creating Cards, as well as the hype surrounding the upcoming reboot of Arrested Development, is any indication though, it seems Netflix has a firm grasp on their future and are ready to wield their new-found power in original, premium content.