Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Mr. Arkadin

House of Cards

Recommended Posts

Oh, Underwood's definitely going down next season. I wonder whether they'll do a variation on the ending of the British series or come up with something entirely new.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, Underwood's definitely going down next season. I wonder whether they'll do a variation on the ending of the British series or come up with something entirely new.

 

I'm actually hoping they work it so that Frank is dead--by Stamper's hand or in some other way--and Claire winds up as President. I'm not sure how they would work it, but it's a direction I would love to see the series take. Anyway, at this point anything short of death would be an anticlimax, I think.

 

EDIT: The AV Club:

 

House Of Cards isn’t perfect and is infected with its own hubris, as its writers attempt to juggle balls that don’t belong in the air. One of season two’s dullest storylines plays too prominent a role in season three, and while the show has more real estate to occupy now that it’s rid of the administration Frank was working to topple, its time-management choices are curious considering the always-welcome Kim Dickens is relegated to the periphery. Despite its missteps, House Of Cards’ third season is by far its leanest, most focused, and most absorbing. With any luck, Washington isn’t nearly as venomous and sharp-elbowed as House Of Cards, but if only the actual government could as nimbly reshuffle its deck.
Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm about halfway through and I'm disappointed so far.  It feels like the storytelling went off the rails somehow.  I'm afraid that they've weakened Underwood's character, which undercuts the whole basis for the show.  I still want the show about a Machiavellian master of manipulation who does not let anything out of his control within the complex intricacies of American politics and public opinion, not another relationship drama.  But here Underwood's letting too much go, relying on luck and convenient plot devices instead.  He's almost not the same intelligent character that he was in the first two seasons.  If he treats everyone like pawns, just watching him eventually underestimate one of the pawns who will then take him down is ... well, rote and just not very interesting.

 

What this season is missing is a good antagonist for Underwood.  Raymond Tusk gave him someone to match his wits against, someone else who would play other pawns on the other side of the chessboard.  I disagree that his being president now eliminates this possibility.  Unlike the king, Richard III, a Machiavellian U.S. president could still have a worthy adversary (and it couldn't just be President Petrov or some other foreign leader, either).  The show has been such a large success, it shouldn't have been that hard to bring a new character on the show to play as the Speaker of the House or as a particularly obstructive Supreme Court Justice (and then to cast that opponent with someone like Anthony Hopkins, Ian McShane, Tommy Lee Jones, Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, etc. - someone would have been happy to do it).  The myriad ways that they could show a president fighting with a supreme court justice using the political system that we have could be clever and fascinating.

 

Molly Parker's character still has some potential here, but while she gives Underwood trouble, the show doesn't seem to be building her up to be Underwood's equal.  Claire is limited by being his wife, and unless they wanted to do a more serious, big-stakes national politics version of Adam's Rib, she and her husband are both much more fun as a Macbeth couple who work together anyhow.

 

In other words, please give Underwood a real antagonist again.  Watching a loony Stamper or using a deus ex machina (which, while historical, the Earl of Richmond essentially is in Richard III) to just take Underwood out at the end would be dull.  The writers of the show have already shown that they can be more clever than that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The New Yorker wrote:
: Running for election in an honest-to-goodness campaign is less fun than rigging the game by moving pieces on both sides of the board.

 

Though Frank *has* had to campaign -- multiple times -- in order to be a Congressman. It's good to finally get a sense of what he's like in that mode.

 

J.A.A. Purves wrote:
: What this season is missing is a good antagonist for Underwood.

 

Agreed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The New Yorker wrote:

: Running for election in an honest-to-goodness campaign is less fun than rigging the game by moving pieces on both sides of the board.

 

Though Frank *has* had to campaign -- multiple times -- in order to be a Congressman. It's good to finally get a sense of what he's like in that mode.

 

I agree, although it should be noted that Frank's previous campaigns have been implied to be far less intense--and far more good-old-boyish--than his presidential run (see his ssn1 trip home to Gaffney).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Warts and all, this is my favorite season, so I'm not among the disappointed.

I'm afraid that they've weakened Underwood's character, which undercuts the whole basis for the show.

I like the direction they've taken Underwood. He's the same character, but his new position comes with significantly less freedom. He can't be the manipulator he was because he's unable to maneuver like he could when he was under the radar. He's burned too many bridges, become too isolated. His ruthlessness got him where he is, but it's a political liability.

 

What this season is missing is a good antagonist for Underwood.

I disagree. I didn't care much for Tusk, and I don't think a singular antagonist would feel correct given Underwood's new position. I've been pleased that this season consists of numerous smaller fights, numerous smaller foes. Petrov alone is infinitely more compelling than any of Underwood's enemies from past seasons.

Watching a loony Stamper or using a deus ex machina (which, while historical, the Earl of Richmond essentially is in Richard III) to just take Underwood out at the end would be dull.  The writers of the show have already shown that they can be more clever than that.

If they follow the BBC original, then the one to take out Frank will be Claire. That looks like a real possibility, given how this season ends.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What Ryan said. Underwood was tremendously powerful in the first season, and if he had continued in that vein I think the show would quickly devolve into what (quite honestly) many of its nay-sayers claim it is: a show that features at its center an unbelievably superhuman manipulator (which is a bit rich, anyway, considering the source material featured Urquhart taking down the King of England). The show as it stands, however, is at least a little smarter than to let Underwood continue his forward rampage; it exposes this masterful manipulator for the penny-ante hayseed politician that he's been from the beginning. He is masterful, as well as magnetic, but he's strictly small potatoes--particularly when he comes up against unmovable forces like Petrov or the collective stubbornness of the Congress.

 

Put another way, if the show up to now has been a fantasy that someone, somewhere, holds the strings of power--even in an era when it seems like no one knows what's going on--even in an era when even parties can't manage to cohere, let alone Congress--then the third season is where that fantasy starts to come apart at the seams (just as the Underwoods themselves start to fray, who have until now been the most functional couple I can remember on television). This is where the real truth starts to sink in: it's not that the system seems chaotic while being secretly controlled by a malevolent deity. Quite the opposite. The illusion of order created by the malevolent deity is, itself, a mask for chaos.

 

EDIT: It actually occurs to me that, in this sense, the article I posted earlier from The Atlantic is correct. Francis Urquhart may be descended from Richard III, but Frank Underwood has more in common with Willie Stark (and, therefore, Huey Long, George Wallace, etc etc etc)--a whole tradition of homegrown Good Ol' Boys who start out with ambition or ideals and inevitably find themselves caught up in the machinery they thought they could control. The Atlantic sees this as a fault--why can't Americans produce satire as biting as the British?--but it is a distinct tradition in American political fiction, as well as political reality, and it seems only fair that the US House of Cards should look to Robert Penn Warren, rather than to Shakespeare, for its inspiration.

 

[And I might as well admit that part of the reason I want to see the series end with Claire becoming President is because of Lurleen Wallace, though without the equivalent of George's involvement]

Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with Purves above that Molly Parker was interesting and underutilized in the storyline. The problem with Claire this season is that she is just so boorish. Her character arc is really paint by numbers. The scenes of her actually emoting just end up being odd and poorly executed. But yet she dominates the bulk of the season as a key part of its inner machinations. (The pettiness of the whole Petrov/Claire thing was particularly grating and farcical.)

 

So my big problem with the show as it has turned out is its poor writing. Or to put a slightly better spin on it, its average writing. It looks great, and has a consistent tone throughout that makes it a bit more watchable than your average network sturm und drang. But when you really start scratching beneath the surface, it doesn't have anything more to offer than your average prime time drama. 

 

I suppose a reasonable comparison would be The Americans which actually explores US/Russia politics in far more thoughtful and existential ways.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Claire is sooooo in over her head as ambassador -- so utterly lacking in the diplomatic cool that she needs *when it really counts* -- that I'm really kind of shocked that Frank (or the writers manipulating him) appointed her in the first place. I mean, just look at what Mendoza did to her in the hearing. It seriously brings into question Frank's good judgment, which he really ought to have if he's the master manipulator that the first two seasons made him out to be.

 

And now that Vox has pointed out how ridiculous it is that Frank wins the primaries even *after* Jackie throws her support to Heather Dunbar... yeah, I just don't buy this any more.

 

I mean, I'll still *watch* the next season, just to see how it wraps up. But "empty calories", as Vox put it, is pretty right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Claire is sooooo in over her head as ambassador -- so utterly lacking in the diplomatic cool that she needs *when it really counts* -- that I'm really kind of shocked that Frank (or the writers manipulating him) appointed her in the first place. I mean, just look at what Mendoza did to her in the hearing. It seriously brings into question Frank's good judgment, which he really ought to have if he's the master manipulator that the first two seasons made him out to be.

 

But that's the point, isn't it? Hubris leading to overreach and culminating in a tragic fall? Frank's problem this season is precisely that his talent in manipulation is, as it turns out, limited to a very narrow sphere. When he gets outside that sphere and tries to conduct business-as-usual on a national level--well, things don't go well. The consequences of a misstep are far bigger than the minor inconveniences of season 1.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Atlantic has a decidedly mixed episode-by-episode recap.I'm on-board with some of their critiques and not so much in sympathy with others, but I can give qualified agreement to their conclusion:

 

As for the whole season—I’d say it was a qualified success. Some viewers probably found Underwood as president pretty boring, but while there were no murdered congressmen or journalists here, it was nice (or, nicely dramatic) to see Frank run up against some real obstacles for once. By keeping the portfolio of governing issues small, and by not expanding the cast of characters very much, the writers avoided having the plot devolve into a jumble of proper names and competing interests like it did in Season 2. Instead, they focused on the Underwood marriage, and came up with formidable adversaries in the form of Petrov (eviler than Frank) and Dunbar (a legitimately compelling candidate, and quite savvy). Next season, it's possible that even those two enemies of Frank will seem gentle in comparison to the one who just walked out of the White House.  

--though I think I've established my own opinion that the extent to which Frank hasn't already run up against "real obstacles" is vastly overstated.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else, but I found Petrov unnerving for a few reasons:

 

1. Looks like Bill Nighy.

2. Is the only person in the show with any actual ideological marrow. Everyone else are cardboard cutouts of "liberal" or "women's rights" or "republican demagogue" without any actual substance with which to interact. But Petrov... you can hear his politics loud and clear in fairly rounded biographical ways.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else, but I found Petrov unnerving for a few reasons:

 

1. Looks like Bill Nighy.

2. Is the only person in the show with any actual ideological marrow. Everyone else are cardboard cutouts of "liberal" or "women's rights" or "republican demagogue" without any actual substance with which to interact. But Petrov... you can hear his politics loud and clear in fairly rounded biographical ways.

 

Petrov is an absolutely magnetic character. 

 

FWIW, I just finished the British House of Cards. Very interesting to note the differences. Urquhart is, for one thing, a much nastier politician than Underwood. His wife is much less interesting, though--which makes her prominence in the final series a bit underwhelming. Interesting to note that the dog killing still occurs, but at a significantly different point in the narrative.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Meanwhile, Vox explores Kevin Spacey's Southern accent. They're right, of course--Spacey's accent is off, and in the ways he points out (I've known Southern men who drop the "r," but they're nearly all 90-or-dead now. I sometimes drop 'em, but it's situation-specific). I assumed it was intentionally a little over-baked, rather than accurate, but that probably says more about how I approach the show than anything (there's also the fact that Spacey's accent must be much more fun to play than a Lindsey Graham accent).

Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In the finale, the President's chief of staff can go on an extended kidnapping expedition right before the Iowa primary without anyone noticing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I understood that happening because he asked to wait for the announcement of the switch until post-primary.

 

But still - a really big stretch.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Spoilers for other shows, I guess.

 

It's hard for me to take the show seriously. Seems closer to the season or two of SCANDAL that I watched than to The West Wing, which is/was still more a character melodrama than a serious examination of politics. 

 

Actually, what S3 reminds me most of is The Sopranos as it neared its end. There have been other shows--most notably NYPD Blu,e that deliberately made characters as unlikable as possible in order to explore the question of whether the audience could be made to like/sympathize with a a reprehensible character. And there have been shows (The Shield) that eschewed the redemption arc altogether but still remained interesting in that they conveyed, a la The Talented Mr. Ripley, that the irredeemable character was horrified by his own depravity even if he knew, deep down, that he would do nothing to fix it. (Haven't watched enough Hannibal to comment.) 

But here, as with The Sopranos as it neared its end, one senses (or I did) that the writer(s) want/s to keep multiple outcomes in play--redemption or not, self-aware or calloused beyond repair. And the thing is, characters reach tipping points where even if the plot allowed them an escape from themselves, we wouldn't believe it...might even feel cheated.

 

I would argue that there are two fantasies in play in S3 and they are in tension with one another. The first is of the morally bankrupt character who really can do anything b/c he/she has jettisoned conventional morality. The second is that of a just universe where the wicked really are punished...either externally or, at least internally. 

 

House of Cards seems to want Frank to be...not punished exactly but.......hindered? And that's a poor, unsatisfying replacement. The notion that things are a little harder (or a lot harder) if you start down that slippery slope of compromise is not the same thing as saying (Ripley again, or Michael Corleone) that you usually cross the point of no return before you know it or that you can't gain the whole world by leveraging just some part of your soul.

 

Haven't seen the original, but I see no way this doesn't *end* badly for Frank.  At least no credible, narratively consistent way. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. But Frank doesn't seem to know it yet (unless one argues he does so at the very last moment of S3...the conversation with Doug right before implies he can't know it any earlier than that), and that's a problem, because the time in between when we know it and when he knows it is time spent spinning its wheels or making the narrative rubble bounce to convince anyone who wasn't sure already (like say when he pushes someone in front of a subway car) that redemption without repentance wouldn't be satisfying. Some of the end of The Shield was the increasing thrashing of a man who hadn't surrendered to fate yet but realizes that the balls he is juggling can't stay aloft much longer. (He is in the bargaining/depression stage of spiritual death.) Frank, like Tony Soprano, seems to still believe that his coping/living strategies are infinitely and perpetually sustainable, and that's just....boring once you've iterated it enough times. At least a little. At least to me.

Edited by kenmorefield

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Newsbusters: House of Cards Sucks!.

House of Cards' Screenwriter: Not so fast.

 

This counterpoint to the original article is well worth clipping and saving for future use. It seems like it's in line with much of what A&F stand for.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The counterpoint is excellent (the initial article...not so much). I particularly like this bit:

 

The only shocking thing about this scene, is the writer…Has a religious leader correctly quote New Testament scripture in a positive way; gives the Christian big balls (he rides a motorcycle) to boldly speak Biblical wisdom to a dangerous President; bends over backwards to portray God is not silent, loudly answering the wicked; And, for bonus points, he made the bad guy a Democrat. I for one REJOICE!  

 

I don't exactly rejoice (and I kind of loathe the writer's habit of using ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATIONS! to make his points), and the motorcycle thing reads like part of some bizarre fetishization of masculine signifiers, but he's right--at a basic level of understanding-the-text, he's correct. House of Cards doesn't engage the metaphysical/spiritual quite as often as other shows I could name (ahem, Hannibal), but when it does it's startlingly orthodox. 

 

Now, to my understanding the original piece wasn't really upset with Frank being the villain so much as the image of him spitting on the crucifix (insofar as this concern wasn't a way to port in real-world political concerns)--and we've gone around about this issue with more, um, definite provocations (Piss ChristThe Passion of the Christ, etc). But I didn't have a problem with the scene as it played out (then again, I'm about as low church as you can get).

 

I also liked this bit, for other reasons:

 

While writing on a cop series for CBS, I convinced the showrunner (a lesbian, so there goes the agenda theory) one of our main characters should explore Christianity, eventually becoming ‘saved.’ But CBS balked. No agenda, they just didn’t want to offend their Christian and conservative viewers, who send hate-mail (very hateful, I’ve read them) whenever a show depicted faith -- even positively. So religion was off the table! 

 

--which is an interesting anecdote from all sorts of angles.

 

EDIT: Is the writer of the rebuttal one of HoC's writers, or is he just a writer/producer who came to the show's defense? It actually seems ambiguous in the article--and from what is in the article, I'm guessing this Brian Davidson is the one who worked on CSI: MIAMI, in which case IMDB doesn't list HoC on his page. [in which case, I'm kind of amused at his coy reference to a CBS procedural" when he has three writing credits on IMDB. It doesn't take a David Caruso to sleuth this one out]

Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

EDIT: Is the writer of the rebuttal one of HoC's writers, or is he just a writer/producer who came to the show's defense? It actually seems ambiguous in the article--and from what is in the article, I'm guessing this Brian Davidson is the one who worked on CSI: MIAMI, in which case IMDB doesn't list HoC on his page. [in which case, I'm kind of amused at his coy reference to a CBS procedural" when he has three writing credits on IMDB. It doesn't take a David Caruso to sleuth this one out]

 

I think it's pretty clear that he's not (apart from the title - but how often do titles reflect accuracy these days?). He mentions being part of television productions *like* House of Cards, and he "thanks" House of Cards for its portrayal of religion, which would be an odd thing to do for one of its writers/producers in this context.

 

 

I have a similar negative reaction to the all caps and over used italics/bold to underscore his paints, but I think his perspective is a good one to have -- thanks for sharing it, Nick.

 

And in regards to the scene itself, I found one line in particular to be very odd (borderline laughable). When Frank asks "Why didn't [Jesus] fight? Why did he allow himself to be sacrificed?" the bishop answers "I ask myself that question a lot." Really? The bishop often asks himself why Jesus didn't fight his way off the cross? Isn't that Christology 101? I wouldn't consider that one of the tough questions about the Bible/Christianity, and I very much doubt that a bishop would either. Maybe that's just me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Three episodes in. I really can't blame them too much for wanting to stretch out another season--although (as Ryan pointed out on FB) the real-life primaries are bizarrely more ludicrous and entertaining than what the show can offer. Still, it's fine so far--Claire is, of course, fantastic, and if they're going where I think they're going (assuming next season is the last), then I'm probably going to cheer when the show ends. 

Weird seeing high gas prices being such a major factor in the early part of the show, though, considering the irl state of gas prices.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, Jeb Lund doesn't get it.

Meanwhile, I'm about eight episodes in and I think I'm enjoying this season more than last, although you can hear the gears grinding as the show shifts from the first half to the second.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×