By TA Keating ’13| Executive Web Editor
“House of Cards,” Netflix’s first real attempt at original content, is already set to be one of the best new TV shows this year—if you could really call it a TV show. Traditional television dramas are meant to be aired in one episode per week on a particular TV station at a certain time. “House of Cards” is paced in an episodic format with 13 episodes per season, but the episodes were all released on Netflix’s digital streaming service at the same time, allowing viewers to watch the show at their own pace. However, regardless of the format, the show is definitely a must-watch.
“House of Cards” is a political drama centering on fictional Congressman Francis “Frank” Underwood, the Minority Whip in the House of Representatives. The plot of the series is based on a 1990s British parliamentary drama by the same name. Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, is a southern Democrat who loves nothing more than his wife, his country, and the people of his district—or that’s what he’d have you think. In reality, Underwood is a cunning and ruthless politician with an unquenchable thirst for power. Underwood was expected to become Secretary of State under the newly elected president Garrett Walker. Unfortunately, Underwood is passed over for the position, and now intends to undermine Walker’s administration as payback. Underwood has an extremely complex plan to do this without getting caught, so most of the drama comes from his increasingly impressive feats of political intrigue. However, as much charisma as Underwood has, he can’t always play puppet master, and it’s even more impressive to see how he reacts when things go awry.
By playing Underwood, Kevin Spacey accepted one of the more ambitious roles in television history. Most anti-hero protagonists are portrayed as people who do bad things for the right reason, such as vigilante serial killer Dexter Morgan, or mob boss/family man Tony Soprano. Instead, Frank Underwood is only motivated by his desire for power, which he craves more than anything. Spacey relies on pure charisma to make Underwood likable, even as the character destroys lives and ruins careers in his quest for power.
There’s a reason I keep mention power. While “House of Cards” may seem to be a show about politics, it’s really a show about power, the people affected by it, and the influence it has on the people who wield it. As Underwood says in episode two, “power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.” In many ways, “House of Cards” is a modern-day version of Machiavelli’s The Prince, a renaissance-era book about how to get and keep power. As the show goes on, it’s revealed that Underwood is truly amoral, and therefore will to anything to gain a political advantage. Whereas other characters struggle against the obstructions of lobbyists and opposing political parties, Underwood thrives, slipping through these obstacles with ease.
When it’s not focusing on Underwood, the show usually turns its attention to Zoe Barnett, a journalist for the “Washington Herald.” Barnett is a low-level metro news reporter until she begins a partnership with Underwood. Even Barnett, one of the more independent characters, is ultimately used as one of Underwood’s tools, allowing him to leak information to the press and effectively control the news cycle whenever he needs to.
Claire Underwood, Frank’s wife, is also prominently featured. As the owner of a nonprofit organization, she still manages to get her organization mixed up in Underwood’s political schemes occasionally. Her moments on the show are probably the weakest, as they are usually only tangentially related to the larger plot. For that reason, I spent most of my time hoping that she would get killed off (spoiler alert: she doesn’t… unfortunately).
Overall, I’d highly recommend “House of Cards.” Although it occasionally has its low points, the show is extremely enjoyable, and I hope the second season is even better than the first.