House Of Cards, With No Spoilers

House of Cards is a wonderful show.  A bold statement I know, but in a time when really good television shows are few and far between, it is actually a joy to write that statement.  The DNA of this show is from the original BBC series of the same name and Macbeth and Richard III.

Kevin Spacey has the look of an actor having the time of his life playing Gaffney, SC native Congressman Francis “Frank” Underwood.  Robin Wright unspools a character that is more than just a calculating Lady Macbeth as Underwood’s wife Claire.  Corey Stoll should be nominated for an Emmy for his painful portrayal of Congressman Peter Russo.  Those are the three standout performances in a cast full of wonderful performances.

The best part of watching it in one binge is you see how Underwood creates his plan and how he improvises along the way.  Also, we know only slightly more than Claire as to what the details of the plan are so we are left in the dark as she is, which is fine for viewers but leaves her in positions that often are at odds with Francis’ plans.

The show is primary concerned with the beautiful, venal amorality of Underwood.  He is completely mesmerizing and magnetic as the devil often is.  The show is also about power and asks all of its characters, “What are you prepared to do to gain and keep power?”

Francis and Claire have signed their deal with the devil.  They are done, their fates sealed.  They do love each other, but there is little romantic patina surrounding their love.  It has more the feel of a pragmatic use of each other to be “significant” as Claire explains to another character.  They know of each other’s affairs even to the point of encouraging ones that aid in their gain of power.  There is also very little suggestion that they have sex with each other.  This is a show with a fair amount of sex, but the sex is rarely about sex and even more rarely about love.  It is one of the ways character exert and to show power over another character.

My favorite characters are Stoll’s Peter Russo, Mahershala Ali as Remy Danton, a former Underwood press secretary turned high priced lobbyist, and Michael Kelly as Francis’ capable and stoic Chief of Staff David Stamper.  Russo, drawn into Francis’ web by his indiscretions chooses to chase power as a way to redeem himself in his own eyes as he fights for sobriety.  Danton left Francis choosing “money over power” as Francis tells us in one of his soliloquys to us.

Stamper doesn’t seem to be doing his job for money or power, unless it is to exercise power over himself and his sobriety.  He, like Russo, is a recovering alcoholic and has been sober for over 14 years.  The only thing in his life is seemingly staying sober and doing bad things to people for his job.  There are a couple of moments where it seems the weight and amorality of what he is doing touches some part of him, but he pushes those emotions down and plows ahead in his job.

That is why he is the most interesting character to me.  Everyone else in the show is defined by the tangible thing they want, money, power, access, sex.  Stamper seems to only want to do his job in helping Francis and stay sober.  His lack of emotion and ruthlessness make him the perfect weapon for Underwood to use in his rise.  He makes an emotional connection to maybe two characters:  Russo and Rachel, a young prostitute.  However, even those connections are dictated by the master plan Stamper and Underwood are unspooling.

I haven’t even talked about the reporters played by Kate Mara and Constance Zimmer.  They are essentially playing the same character at different points in her career who slowly become allies.  Nor have mentioned the prominent and rather important appearance of the Gaffney Peachoid, which sits less than 20 miles from house.  I will watch the show again to see what I didn’t catch the first time through, but not in binge.  I finished last night around midnight slightly dazed and emotionally exhausted.  Which I suspect what the writers and producers wanted.

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