When I announced my plan to do this…whatever it is to the other Gabbing Geeks, both as a head’s up and to invite anyone who wanted to chime in to do so, i explained the reasoning behind the shows I picked as having something that reminded me a bit of Game of Thrones.
That prompted Ryan to ask what the Thursday show, House of Cards, had to do with Game of Thrones. That’s not a bad question, especially as I think Ryan himself has been something of a House of Cards fan while not being much into whatever was going on in Westeros.
But now that I’ve seen the first episode, I have a partial answer to that.
But first, allow me to repeat myself with…
I gave myself some rules for this project. All shows would be hour long dramas. All would have a reputation for some level of quality. And all of them would be mostly new to me. That means Breaking Bad is out since I’ve seen it already.
Why House of Cards?
What is the titular Game of Thrones but power plays and political moves to acquire power? Granted, politics in a medieval style society can be a bit bloodier than modern America, but that doesn’t make the players any more or less ruthless. One gets the impression that Cersi Lannister would fit in rather well with Frank Underwood’s crowd. And if she didn’t, then her father Tywin certainly would have. And yes, though I am new to the show, I do know that House of Cards can be surprisingly violent at times, though not as often as Game of Thrones.
Can we get a better introduction to Kevin Spacey’s ambitious Southern Congressman Frank Underwood than the opening scene here? Awoken in the night by a dog being hit during a hit-and-run, Frank goes over to the (unseen) dog, explains the difference between necessary and unnecessary pain to the audience, and then kills the (again, unseen) dog with his bare hands.
John Wick he is not.
Spacey supposedly based the character off former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, and the series itself is based off a British version. But the title itself suggests a very delicate touch, since a house of cards can topple very easily. So, the question remains whether or not Underwood is building a house of cards or toppling someone else’s. He could be doing both, but that may be the ultimate point of the series in the fleeting nature of modern political power.
Spacey, with film director David Fincher behind the camera (reuniting after the two paired for Se7en), set up something that seems more Shakespearean than anything else. Frank’s frequent addresses to the audience come across as soliloquies, and his wife Claire (Robin Wright Penn) seems to be a good partner to the man and his plans. In fact, she’s angry with him for not calling her back after he gets the bad news which sets the plot in motion.
Yes, Frank threw all his political capital behind a new presidential candidate who won the election, when a certain promise to make Frank Secretary of State was broken. The new president believes Frank will be of greater use in Congress than in the Cabinet, and has selected a rather inoffensive Senator instead. Frank seems determined now to get revenge.
The whole Shakespeare thing seems very appropriate. I couldn’t help but see Frank and Claire as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, though the relationship seems more equal here than in Shakespeare’s work. There, Lady Macbeth had to chide her husband into following through on his murderous ambitions. Here, once Claire is in on the plan, she’s in. These two are a match made in political heaven…or hell for the rest of us.
Again, how far up the ladder Frank is willing to strike is hard to say at this point. Does he just want that Secretary of State job? Is he looking to embarrass the president? Is this all because of a broken promise, or is it more than that? Did he have ambitions that this set-back derailed? At this point, the idea of making these moves just due to a broken promise are more Iago than Macbeth, but Macbeth was the ambitious one.
Ambitions runs through the show, and not just with Frank Underwood. Young reporter Zoe Barnes clearly wants to go up the ladder too, and she seems willing to do what it takes, but she doesn’t have Frank’s agenda for herself. Kate Mara might as well have been an invisible woman before she landed her confidential source. And yes, I did that on purpose.
Now, this being a Netflix show, it was designed less for episode by episode viewing and more for binge watching. But I can never get into binge watching, so we’ll see how this one works out on an episode by episode basis.