February 23, 2014

House of Cards (Season 1)

Beau Willimon, 2013
Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is a sharp Congressman who is politically proficient. He is loyal to those who serve him and unrelenting to those who cross him.

Never before has a series so quickly exposed the rather deplorable behavior of a Washington politician without build-up. You don't even reach the five minute mark before Kevin Spacey's sharp-minded congressman character Francis Underwood does what he believes is a rational move in taking care of a dog that had fallen victim to a hit-and-run driver. This is clearly a deliberate move by the shows creators who want you to get an instant feel for the character, without making any attempt to humanize him beforehand. You find that this is the tip of the iceberg with Frank. Frank is just another moving part in the political machine of Washington, D.C. The city feels much like the shows characters: grim, cold and unforgiving. It comes as no surprise that money is not the active currency in our nation's capital, that it's power and influence. Frank even says while breaking down the fourth wall: "Money is the Mc-mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries." Frank is tenacious, calculating. He doesn't waste any calories. Much like the chess board sitting in his den, he's always thinking a few steps ahead.

The casting decisions on the show are remarkable. Spacey never disappoints but his role here he shows that he can bring nuance to a dark figure, although his southern accent is a bit weak at times. In Seven he showed you how far to the dark side he can go. With his Underwood character he shows you a depraved figure that is more multi-dimensional, more unpredictable. Robin Wright, who appears to be channeling Mika Brzezinski from MSNBC's Morning Joe, is another veteran actress who brings a lot of depth without playing it safe. In a way her character is more frightening at times with it's restraint. Kate Mara steps out of her sister Rooney's shadow here, and proves that she has some talent as well. Michael Kelly is another cold force, brilliantly playing Frank's strategist.

One of show's best attributes is it's ability to get you hooked on these very questionable characters, even early on. You get behind them, you root for them at times. Perhaps it shows you your own dark side, and reinforces the fact that we are still the same creatures. Saying that these characters are morally bankrupt is probably an understatement. Like the saying goes: "if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog". In a matter of minutes a loyal friend becomes a political tool that may be used for leverage.  The show constantly surprises you. It shows you characters that will now be in your brain forever. You would think that these characters would be morally subdued, being in such high profile positions. But they sink lower and lower. It will be fascinating to see how far it continues to go.

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