WARNING SPOILER ALERT. DON NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE FINAL EPISODE OF HOUSE OF CARDS AND WANT TO DISCUSS THE ENDING. If you haven’t seen House of Cards I recommend you stop reading and go watch it now. It’s a political drama starring Kevin Spacey and unique in that it is only available online and not on television.
Alright, as I’ve given a warning, I can jump right into it. What was with the ending? Or should I say the lack of an ending? It was like someone cut the last episode out of the series. The episode ends with all the characters on collision course, but before any impact occurs. Talk about anti-climax. Perhaps this is a good thing, as it allows a more detailed conclusion in season 2 rather than just a rushed messy ending. Even so, I think it’s safe to say that every fan was frustrated by the ending. It could have been so much better.
I think that’s a good point about the show in general. House of Cards is a good show, but it could have been great. The first episode left my jaw hanging at how amazingly awesome it was. I loved the manipulative, back-stabbing cynicism of it. The asides by Kevin Spacey/Frank Underwood were a good novel touch. They allowed the viewers in on his secret scheming so we too got to join in that great feeling when a plan comes together. I liked the broad range of characters and their interactions. I’m a political junkie so I hardly need to spell out what I loved about it.
So you can imagine my disappointment when the show started to drag midway through the season. It was though they had used up all their good stuff on the opening and had run out of steam. The union episodes were particularly bad with an otherwise imaginative show going for lazy union stereotypes. Union leaders were backward, autocratic dictators who could tell their unquestioning rank and file what to do and it would be done. That would have been a good plot in the sixties but it just looked like bad writing today. The handing of food to protesters at the gala has to be the worst scene in the series. I know unions aren’t popular in America, but these Teamsters (it’s always the Teamsters at the end of the cheap shots) looked like homeless bums. Whatever your view of unions you had to cringe at this sloppy script.
In particular the show seemed to stop around episode 8 and 9. The visit to Frank’s old college was pretty much an empty episode. Sure it provided some background detail and developed his character (while hinting at a homosexual past) but it didn’t advance the plot at all. It was as though the writers forgot what the aim of House of Cards was. For me, it’s all about political Machiavellian manipulations. If no one is being manipulated, nothing is happening and the show gets, well boring. It worth noting that at this point Frank does a lot less side monologues to the audience, a sign he’s scheming less and therefore less interesting. At this point Frank seemingly stops trying to screw people over and just does his job. Which is what he should do, but not what makes us watch the show. I found this switch particularly perplexing, after all, I though Frank was seeking revenge on the President. I thought the whole reason he took the education bill was to make it fail, not help it succeed. While I turned out to be wrong, I think a politician deliberatively undermining his own administration is much more interesting than one who is helping it succeed.
The show got into rather pointless side plots with Claire and Adam Galloway. In fact, Adam seems like a rather pointless character. Don’t get me wrong, he’s excellent at being smooth and pretentious but there is little point in having a non-political character in a political drama. Also why would such a driven women like Claire run off with a hipster like Adam? Also the character of Zoey never gets fully developed. She seems to just walk around pouting a lot and doesn’t really seize the initiative she showed at the beginning until the last 2 episodes. I liked the intrigue and subterfuge of a having Zoey as Underwoods mouthpiece but I felt she got stuck as only an item. Janine too doesn’t quite work as a character (though she nails the look of an old fashioned print journalist) and would such a veteran journalist really join an online newspaper? In fact with the exception of Claire, the female characters were a bit weak. Linda is described as tough but by the end of the series she’s little more than a secretary passing messages to and fro. Christina is absolutely gorgeous, but that’s the only thing I can think of about her character. Gillian is pretty much the only honest character in the show but I think part of that is just to reveal how dictatorial Claire is.
Without a doubt Frank and Claire are brilliant characters. They are certainly anti-heroes and by the end of the series they are effectively the villains but that’s what makes them interesting. Frank schemes are the best part of the show. When he manipulates people, you cheer him on and feel delight when people fall into his traps, even though you know you shouldn’t. His destruction of the Education Secretary, the Speaker and his winning support through a speech in a Church are all brilliantly manipulative actions. Claire too is an excellent ice queen and just as manipulative as Frank (though it takes longer for this to be revealed). Her cruelty towards Franks dying former bodyguard is a lesson in how to depict refined malice. She also shows that intrigue is not limited to the political world as that charities can be just as The show is at its best when her and Frank are scheming and plotting. That is the Underwoods we want, and the show suffers without it.
Doug and Remey are minor characters but are done well. They are cynical and could easily be cast as the villains but also have some good in them. Giving them depth shows good attention to detail by the writers. Peter Russo is probably my favourite character and I was cheering him on to overcome his struggles. House of Cards is good for its neither black or white characters, instead everyone is a shade of grey, everyone is flawed. Peter was probably the most believable character and we felt his pain and despair. It also meant a few occasions where I might have shouted “No Peter don’t!” His suicide/murder was the biggest shock; I expected trouble but not that. My thoughts from that scene were pretty much: “I have a bad feeling about this. Why is Frank acting strange? I don’t like where this is going. I got a bad feeling about this . . . No Frank, don’t!” It was a bit sloppy (though extra dramatic) for Frank to do the murder himself. I mean surely the police will wonder why Peter was in the passenger seat? What if Frank missed a spot and left even a single finger print? What if someone saw him or caught him on camera?
So, all in all, what do I think of House of Cards? It was good but not great. It started so well and the ending had me gripped to my screen, but the middle was a real let down. It dragged unnecessarily and got side tracked away from the juicy scheming. It was at its best when it did political back dealing, the journalist element didn’t quite work. Mind you, I can’t wait for the next series and it is certainly better than most TV shows. So I’d say 7 or 8 out of 10.