I’m not quite sure how it happened, but somebody at Netflix has successfully delivered an incredible new TV show and, by the way they’ve done it, sent lightning bolts of fear into the hearts of network and cable executives. In a brilliant move, Netflix has made the 13 episodes of the first season of House of Cards available all at once with no waiting, streaming into your TV or device of choice. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the show stars Kevin Spacey and boasts David Fincher as an executive producer (and director of the first two episodes).
The series begins with an accident on a Washington DC street at night. I won’t go into detail, but this is where we encounter Congressman Frank Underwood (Spacey) for the first time, handling an emergency situation. Underwood does something in this opening that tends to cause either resigned admiration or utter disgust, yet he does it unflinchingly. This scene quickly gives us a picture - although not a complete picture - of who Frank Underwood is.
A new president has just been elected and Underwood, the House Majority Whip, has had a leading role in making the victory happen, so much so that the President elect has promised Underwood a nomination for Secretary of State. If you want to go into House of Cards completely spoiler-free, read no further, although what I’m about to tell you happens in the first 10 minutes, and you’ve probably heard it anyway: Underwood discovers that the President elect has broken his promise, wanting Underwood to remain in Congress where he can do the most good. From that moment on, Underwood is on an all-consuming mission to bring down the entire new administration.
The web of characters and their manner of manipulations is fascinating to watch. I’ve said it before, but many of my Christian friends see movies and shows like House of Cards and ask, “How can you watch that?” I watch it because there is often honesty in fictional works. That sounds contradictory, but it’s not. Here we see fallen men and women, making decisions and taking actions that are largely selfish and manipulative. But sometimes they’ll do the right thing. Although we may not have any role in Washington politics, we have a role somewhere, and we, too, are fallen. House of Cards also is a fascinating study of how we look at the concepts of truth and falsehood. If there is no absolute truth, then why are these people in such conflict? Why are there secrets? Why are there cover-ups?
House of Cards is features a mostly smart script and a superb cast including Robin Wright as Frank’s wife Claire, who runs a non-profit organization called the Clean Water Initiative, Kate Mara as a young reporter on the way up, Corey Stoll as a bad-boy Pennsylvania Congessman, and many more, all of whom are part of this complex, yet fascinating inner world of DC politics. The script is not air-tight all the time; many of the Clean Water Initiative scenes are unconvincing and tend to drag the show down. The suspension of disbelief often gets a bit strained and some of the political events and plot advancements happen too easily. But this is, after all, both television and fiction. I’m certainly willing to give in to a few quibbles for a show this good.
Many people have compared House of Cards to A Game of Thrones, which is not an unreasonable comparison. Both shows are about complex political structures, lying and manipulation, ruthless and reckless behavior, secret and open relationships and moral bankruptcy. Both contain great storytelling. Both contain great acting. What separates the two shows (and this will be an important consideration for some) is that House of Cards has been completely written is projected to be a two-season series for a total of 26 episodes. (Filming on the second season is scheduled for later this month.) When will Season Two air? I don’t know, but I’d imagine you’ll have once again have all the episodes ready for viewing at one time. Besides, when you’ve finished Season One, you’ll want a little time to reflect and speculate on what just happened. Maybe the networks and cable channels will use that time to figure out how to combat a powerhouse series like House of Cards.