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Mr. Arkadin

House of Cards

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I just like the Netflix description of episode 11. "Francis crosses a line."

Reminds me of the time I saw this description of an episode of 24: "Jack takes matters into his own hands."

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Former Congressman Barney Frank reviews House of Cards:

 

I admit that I only watched three episodes of this cartoon version of congressional reality. Not having to sit through presentations that neither instruct nor entertain me is one of the nicest things about never being a candidate again. So it is possible that later installments corrected the mistakes of the first few.

 

Even if they did -- and the only adequate way would have been to portray them as dream sequences, a la "Dallas" -- mistaken impressions never go completely away.

 

Dramatic criticism is neither my interest nor my forte.

 

What troubles me is that people will watch this, think that this is the way government functions and be further disillusioned from trying to influence it.

 

I hope people will enjoy the drama, but ignore the message.

Edited by Darryl A. Armstrong

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I'm taking a class this semester in Victorian literature, and one of the texts we're reading is The Woman in White. It's a marvelous novel--and an easy read, which is a point both for and against it. I bring it up here because, part-way through the "Second Epoch" we find the following curious exchange between Count Fosco (the novel's villain) and a chained bloodhound:

 

This fat, indolent, elderly man, whose nerves are so finely strung that he starts at chance noises, and winces when he sees a house-spaniel get a whipping, went into the stable-yard on the morning after his arrival, and put his hand on the head of a chained bloodhound—a beast so savage that the very groom who feeds him keeps out of his reach. His wife and I were present, and I shall not forget the scene that followed, short as it was.
 
"Mind that dog, sir," said the groom; "he flies at everybody!" "He does that, my friend," replied the Count quietly, "because everybody is afraid of him. Let us see if he flies at me." And he laid his plump, yellow-white fingers, on which the canary-birds had been perching ten minutes before, upon the formidable brute's head, and looked him straight in the eyes. "You big dogs are all cowards," he said, addressing the animal contemptuously, with his face and the dog's within an inch of each other. "You would kill a poor cat, you infernal coward. You would fly at a starving beggar, you infernal coward. Anything that you can surprise unawares—anything that is afraid of your big body, and your wicked white teeth, and your slobbering, bloodthirsty mouth, is the thing you like to fly at. You could throttle me at this moment, you mean, miserable bully, and you daren't so much as look me in the face, because I'm not afraid of you. Will you think better of it, and try your teeth in my fat neck? Bah! not you!" He turned away, laughing at the astonishment of the men in the yard, and the dog crept back meekly to his kennel. "Ah! my nice waistcoat!" he said pathetically. "I am sorry I came here. Some of that brute's slobber has got on my pretty clean waistcoat." Those words express another of his incomprehensible oddities. He is as fond of fine clothes as the veriest fool in existence, and has appeared in four magnificent waistcoats already—all of light garish colours, and all immensely large even for him—in the two days of his residence at Blackwater Park.

 

 

 
The scene, as I read it, inevitably reminded me of the one in HoC where Underwood confronts the mentally-challenged vagrant ("No one can hear you. No one cares"). So now I'm wondering if there isn't a little intertextuality going on here; Underwood certainly partakes of some of Fosco's traits (an older man--though not elderly, in Frank's case--who prizes power, master manipulator, etc). If this is the case, it might cause an otherwise unexplained scene in the series to make a little more sense.

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Oh, man. I'm there.

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Netflix has added director commentary tracks to all of the season 1 episodes.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBabKoHSErI

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LARB: Fantasy Casting Congress:

 

Watching Underwood’s political gift for manipulating the desires and vices of those around him, it’s tempting to imagine that House of Cards has traded a naïve fantasy about virtuous representation for a more cynical one about an antihero politician who knows how to get things done. Spacey himself said as much in an interview just after the show’s premiere, where he described Lyndon Johnson as the “diabolical” figure who got the Civil Rights Act through Congress. But Underwood’s goals — power and revenge — aren’t lofty. He has no legislative agenda comparable to Johnson’s Great Society. His one big legislative success of the first season, an education reform bill, seems driven less by idealism, or even good governance — the show never says how giving standardized tests every three years instead of every five will improve the public school system — than by Underwood’s own ambition.

 

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I was undecided about watching the second season, but the show definitely has my attention after the premiere episode.

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I just watched the first episode of Season Two during lunch.  It has perhaps what is the creepiest "breaking of the fourth wall” moments of all time.

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I just watched the first episode of Season Two during lunch.  It has perhaps what is the creepiest "breaking of the fourth wall” moments of all time.

 

Yeah, that felt like something from Funny Games. The cufflinks were a nice touch, too.

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Four episodes in and I'm digging it. There's a much stronger "ripped from the headlines" feel, but that isn't entirely bad.

 

FWIW, the first novel in the original trilogy is available for Kindle on Amazon US.

 

EDIT: One of the interesting things about this season is how very Clinton-era its political touchpoints feel. Not only is there the possibility that the President is having an affair with Christina Gallagher, but there's an interesting conflation of the Underwoods with the Clintons. In season 1, Claire had touches of Lady Macbeth (in keeping with the original, no? Still haven't seen it)--but season 2 takes the comparison into a more American direction by explicitly collapsing Claire with the Hillary-Clinton-as-Lady-Macbeth mythology of the nineties (still existent, I think, in some corners of the political landscape). There's one very subtle cue--a photograph of Frank and Bill Clinton--that shows up in episode 2 or 3, but the clearest connection is in episode 4, and perhaps explains the shift in tone between this season and the previous. Whereas season 1 felt Shakespearian in some ways and Machiavellian in others, it never felt densely paranoid like season 2 does so far. So, then, the Clinton stuff [and I should note, just to make it obvious, that I'm talking the Clinton myth--conspiracy theories et al--not the actual Clintons]. Spoilers for everything up through episode 4:

 

First, in episode 4 Claire admits to having had an abortion. There seem to be a couple of rumors swirling around Hillary Clinton, and one of them--so ubiquitous that I thought it had been confirmed until I started researching--is that Clinton has had an abortion herself. The fact that Claire is a strong-minded go-getter and that people heavily imply that her marriage to Frank is political rather than personal is another data-point; there's an apocryphal story swirling around that Michelle Obama once pointed out an old beau to her husband, and when he said "Aren't you glad you married the man who became President?" she responded, "If I had married him, 

he would be President." What folks circulating the story don't seem to remember--but I do--is that this is exactly the same story as was told about Bill and Hillary back in the day; the story probably originated with them, since the only previous First Lady I can think of with as high a profile as an activist is Eleanor Roosevelt. The idea that this is a power-couple, united in their desire for control more than for love, is part of a mythology that strikes me as distinctly Clinton-era

 

Another factor tying the Underwoods into the Clinton-myth is, of course, the trail of bodies following Underwood to the top--which does, presumably, have their roots in the source material (I recall reading that Urquhart kills the journalist at the end of the original run of HoC, whereas the American version saves it for a first-episode shock). And then there's the use of the FBI, which struck me as a bit on the hokey side while watching it, but if the series is self-consciously trading on the Clinton myth, it makes sense--Clinton had scads of deaths pinned on him, and often the FBI was somehow implicated, iirc.

 

Back to Claire's interview--can it be an accident, then, that she mentions the death of JFK--another President who is associated with sex (with Marilyn Monroe) and murder (his own)? Oliver Stone's JFK can't be far in the background, since this is the very episode in which it's confirmed--which, we knew it anyway, but still--that Lucas is being entrapped by the FBI?

 

Incidentally, my favorite sequence in the series so far is Claire's television interview. It immediately brought to mind Frank's disastrous performance in season 1, but watching Claire work the situation was a pleasure. I mean,

 

She goes from disaster--"Yes, I have had an abortion"--to very cleverly making herself sympathetic--"because I was raped"--to totally moving the focus away from herself--"by this famous general." And, in the end, it's hard to recall that it was never planned to go that way. Kevin Spacey may be the flashiest star in this series--and there's no doubt he's good--but Robin Wright nearly has him beat based on that sequence alone. She's fabulous

 

EDIT EDIT: One more--on Episode 5

 

This episode does something quite remarkable, and I'm not sure if it's been done before or not--simultaneously keeping to the series' purported realism while at the same time allowing Frank the chance to interact with a long-dead ancestor. The mechanism is actually pretty simple: the filmmakers took the real-life tradition of Civil War re-enactors (memorably chronicled in 

Confederates in the Attic) and delved into it for its uncanny possibilities. It's simple, but it's also surprising, and it permits the series to go in interesting directions. It is not, perhaps, as character-intensive as Frank's visit to the Citadel in the last season, but it's pretty good.

Edited by NBooth

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Two episodes in and I'm loving it (I'm hoping to watch this season at a slightly more relaxed pace than my two-day binge of season one). The end of season one spun its wheels a bit, so it's good to see some immediate, confident course correction (which definitively separates this House of Cards from its British predecessor, which is not surprising, given that we know House will be going on to a third season). The finale of this new season's first episode is one of the show's best moments.

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Four episodes in.

 

Looks like Zoe Barnes' career is 

derailed!

Edited by winter shaker

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Four episodes in.

 

Looks like Zoe Barnes' career is 

derailed!

 

ustv_csi_miami_horatio.jpg

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There's a much stronger "ripped from the headlines" feel, but that isn't entirely bad.

Most of it is good, a little of it is silly. The stuff with Lucas and the FBI-enslaved hacker doesn't do much for me.

 

But I entirely agree re: Wright's excellence (I was pleased when she won a Golden Globe for her performance). She's incredible.

Edited by Ryan H.

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There's a much stronger "ripped from the headlines" feel, but that isn't entirely bad.

Most of it is good, a little of it is silly. The stuff with Lucas and the FBI-enslaved hacker doesn't do much for me.

 

 

Yeah, that bit seems to push too far into the paranoia/conspiracy thriller direction. I tend to prefer Underwood's machinations when he's using other sorts of power.

 

That said, at six episodes into the season, I'm thinking it's stronger than the first in several key ways. Of course, part of that is because the stakes are higher--fittingly, given Frank's new position.

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That said, at six episodes into the season, I'm thinking it's stronger than the first in several key ways. Of course, part of that is because the stakes are higher--fittingly, given Frank's new position.

Oh, absolutely.

Additionally, the show now has a far stronger sense of who the Underwoods are and what drives them (particularly as far as Claire is concerned).

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Every time the hacker guy shows up, I think, "It's Liam McPoyle!"

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Seven episodes in. Once again, I'm very appreciative of the way the Underwoods are portrayed. The show doesn't simplify them--they're not just a power couple whose ends happen to coincide. There's real affection. But it's cold, twisted, terrifying. Their relationship is the most functional one on the show, but it's ruthless and self-absorbed so that they become at once a model for all the other couples and a warning for those couples. The scene where they confront Claire's ex-lover the photographer shows them at their most ruthless, their most mythic--these are almost gods, outside the scope of human understanding entirely (oh, and the fact that both of them have had affairs--with each other's knowledge--suggests Zeus and Hera, perhaps). They are united by a bond that, at least at this point, seems stronger than any political considerations--except that we know from last season that they will retaliate mercilessly on each other if crossed. They are, in short, irreducible to any simple set of motivations, and I enjoy that as much as Frank's more straight-forward political maneuvers.

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Seven episodes in. Once again, I'm very appreciative of the way the Underwoods are portrayed. The show doesn't simplify them--they're not just a power couple whose ends happen to coincide. There's real affection. But it's cold, twisted, terrifying. Their relationship is the most functional one on the show, but it's ruthless and self-absorbed so that they become at once a model for all the other couples and a warning for those couples. The scene where they confront Claire's ex-lover the photographer shows them at their most ruthless, their most mythic--these are almost gods, outside the scope of human understanding entirely (oh, and the fact that both of them have had affairs--with each other's knowledge--suggests Zeus and Hera, perhaps). They are united by a bond that, at least at this point, seems stronger than any political considerations--except that we know from last season that they will retaliate mercilessly on each other if crossed. They are, in short, irreducible to any simple set of motivations, and I enjoy that as much as Frank's more straight-forward political maneuvers.

This. The Underwoods' interactions in this season (both in public and behind closed doors) have brought out the best from the writing staff and from Wright and Spacey. Their relationship is just so... alien.

Additionally, I have to say I'm also pleased with how season two has gradually introduced a set of stronger, more formidable individuals (Jackie, Feng, Grayson, and Lanigin), which is nice, given how season one was awash in largely dopey, pliable politicians.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Ryan: just wondering why you call Robin Wright "Penn"? I know that was her name when she was married to Sean Penn, but now...?

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Ryan: just wondering why you call Robin Wright "Penn"? I know that was her name when she was married to Sean Penn, but now...?

Force of habit, nothing more.

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