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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

TV on Demand: House of Cards

Earlier this Summer, I watched Netflix's "House of Cards", as the first season was available on the service. For those who don't have Netflix subscriptions or aren't able to use someone's television who does, the program is now available on DVD. This entry discuss the entire first season, so expect spoilers, but it doesn't touch upon every story.

The thirteen episode series stars Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, as a Democrat from South Carolina. He's corrupt and manipulative, and his initials are appropriate for his personality. Robin Wright plays his wife Claire, who is far from pure even if she runs a charity to provide clean water overseas. Frank and Claire dream about power, and most of their behavior is motivated to get him to the top. In many episodes, Frank speaks to the audience to tell us when he is lying, as usually he is. The only person other than Claire, he tends to be truthful to is Doug (Michael Kelly), who was his Chief of Staff. One of Frank's early plots is to embarrass the President of the United States, by destroying his choice of Secretary of State.

Claire's ruthlessness was shown when she fired much of the staff of her charity and then let the person go who did all the firing. She also double-crossed Frank by making a deal with Remy (Mahershala Ali), an ally of Frank's in the past, who now was a lobbyist. Another victim of Claire's was Gillian (Sandrine Holt), who had her own independent charity, who agreed to go under the umbrella of the Clean Water Initiative. Gillian fought back for her beliefs. Adam (Ben Daniels) was Claire's lover, he was nothing like Frank, but Claire couldn't be happy with a mere photographer.

Zoe Barnes played by Kate Mara is a journalist who Frank uses. They first have a platonic relationship, but later they start having sex. She was a minor player at "The Washington Herald", and leaves for "Slugline" and online news blog because Frank wanted her to be independent. What was interesting is that Claire knew about Frank's affair with Zoe and paid it no mind as it seemed like she felt it was a business transition. As part of the affair, Zoe allowed Frank to take suggestive photos of her. Zoe's rival was Janine (Constance Zimmer), but eventually eventually they became friends. After her sexual relationship with Frank ended, Zoe became romantically involved with Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) and they figured out what Frank had done.

Frank and Claire use a lot of people within these 13 episodes. Frank becomes a supporter of Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), a freshman Congressman from Pennsylvania. Peter has a substance abuse problem and Frank takes advantage of that. Once Peter has fulfilled his usefulness, Frank dispatches with him. Peter's love interest Christina (Kristen Connolly) tried to help Peter fight his demons, but was unsuccessful.

Eventually Frank gets the ear of the President (Michael Gill) as he wants to become Vice President. President Walker uses his friend Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney) to find out if Frank would be an acceptable partner in power.

"House of Cards" is an interesting program, and I can understand why it was nominated for many Emmy Awards. While it is dark in tone, the show becomes engrossing. Part of the realism came from how it was taped in Maryland right outside of Washington DC, where most of the action happens. I viewed it over a two day period, and I didn't regret it. If you tend to enjoy cerebral programs with morally ambiguous characters and don't mind nudity, cursing and drug use you should check it out. If any of those things offend, it would be better to skip it and find something else to enjoy.

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