Monday, 8 June 2015

Review: House of Cards Season One

*WARNING: Only contains very, very minor spoilers (from the first episode)*

One of the reasons I downloaded Netflix in the first place was because I wanted to watch House of Cards. My brother had been telling me for months that I needed to watch the show, and so as soon as I had finished Gossip Girl, I knew that House of Cards had to come next.

House of Cards is an American political drama, set mostly in the White House, and is released exclusively on Netflix. I didn’t actually realise until I did a little research before starting this post (my bad), but the show is based on a BBC mini-series from the 1990s, which was set after Margaret Thatcher’s stint as Prime Minister.

It took me a few episodes to get into House of Cards, although I did have very high expectations due to the hype that the show had already created, and the number of friends who had recommended it. Once I was about four episodes in though, I was hooked! It’s a very fast-moving show; a lot happens in the short season of 13 episodes, and it’s easy to get caught in that dangerous spiral of ‘oh I’ll just watch one more episode’.

House of Cards closely follows the personal and professional life of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Democratic congressman, although as we come to learn, there is not much separation between the two. In the first episode we find out that Underwood has been promised the position of Secretary of State by the current President, but this promise is not fulfilled. The rest of the first season sees Frank and his wife, Claire, carryout their pact to destroy the President. I won’t go into any more detail than this, in case you are yet to watch it – annoyingly I’ve already read the worst spoiler possible about Season Three in the paper. Never reading the Metro again!

Frank Underwood is a complex character, and it’s often hard to locate exactly where our loyalties lie as a viewer. Do we agree with all of his manipulation and scheming, because he was wronged by these people in the first place? Or do we just think he is a power-hungry and corrupt individual? The most likely answer is that we’re never really sure. His frequent asides to the camera suggest that we are supposed to empathise with his character, and it’s true that we generally will him to succeed, but at the same time this narrative viewpoint doesn’t shy from exposing his cold and brutal acts. At first I was a little unsure about Underwood’s direct addressing of the viewer. From a narratological perspective (hey look, my English Lit degree was useful after all!) it seems slightly confusing to have such a deep insight into Underwood’s thoughts, whilst simultaneously viewing events of which he has no knowledge. Having said that, I quickly got used to it, and these asides have now become an integral part of the style of the show.

The second protagonist is Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), a young political reporter. Zoe and Frank’s relationship is established in the first episode, and reveals the interplay between politics and the media, both of which feed one another’s corruption, failings and success. Zoe’s character is much easier to empathise with, although as the season progresses, we do begin to question some of her motives and decisions, and it’s sometimes difficult to decipher how she’s really feeling. However, this guarded nature of her personality is often the reason she earns both the viewer's and Frank Underwood’s respect, and their strange relationship certainly wouldn’t exist without her unbreakable backbone and unrivalled motivation and drive for getting what she wants.

If you haven’t seen House of Cards already, it’s definitely one to add to your list! I often compare it to the way in which I watch Suits: although much of the technical language and concepts are beyond my understanding, it is the characters, relationships and movement of the plot that carry the show, and keep you hooked from episode to episode.

Have you seen House of Cards? What do you think of it? Are there any similar shows you would recommend?

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