Washington politics are tedious. Filibusters, pigeonholing, and stagnation based on partisanship are the norm in Congress. So if I told you that “House of Cards,” based on this day-to-day monotony, is one of the most shocking, disturbing, and riveting shows today, would you believe me? No? Well, you clearly haven’t met Rep. Francis Underwood.
“House of Cards,” which streams exclusively on Netflix, with entire seasons released at a time, begins on New Year’s Eve, 2011. Frank (Kevin Spacey) and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), are at a ball also attended by the recent president-elect, Garrett Walker (Michel Gill). Frank briefly explains to the camera how, despite his dislike for the man, he sensed a winner and attached himself to Walker, assisting greatly in his presidential victory. In return, Frank expects to see the favor reciprocated with a nomination for Secretary of State, a prestigious step from his current position as House majority whip. When the president goes against the plan and revokes his unofficial endorsement at the last minute, Frank is taken aback by the betrayal. Privately, he and Claire seek vengeance, and, formulating a plan to be carried out over the course of the show, they prove their cunning as well as their ruthlessness.
Frank’s obsession with power leaves us, equally improbably, pulling for him to accomplish his twisted, sociopathic goals, even though in the process he ruins the lives of many more moral, sympathetic, and not “fundamentally deceptive” people, in the words of one of Frank’s many vanquished colleagues in Congress.
The overarching plot of this series is truly ludicrous, yet each individual episode makes you feel that a realistic, urgent, threat-presenting matter needs to be addressed by your hero, or villain, depending on how you come to view Frank. The visual elements of the show are amazing; camera work, sets, and wardrobes all leave you thinking you’re really seeing a congressman on his way to a crucial meeting in the West Wing of the White House.
With regard to the story, one might only wish for a truly challenging rival to emerge – someone Frank is not capable of easily outmaneuvering. Without a consistently formidable opponent, he has, despite some brief setbacks, remained undefeated in his political and personal battles.
Frank’s Macbeth-like rise to power seems to suggest a Macbeth-like end. We can only hope he and Claire continue their brutish power climb as far as their rarely detectable consciences can bear.
This series is rated TV-MA.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.