House of Cards: Hard to look away

Kevin Spacey / Steve Jurvetson

Kevin Spacey / Steve Jurvetson

House of Cards, a Netflix miniseries, pulled me in like a book you can’t put down. The main character is Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey. Underwood is a shrewd U.S. congressman with a perverse moral compass. He worships no god other than himself and his almost-as-ruthless wife, Claire. Frank and Claire have strong feelings for each other, though their marriage is atypical in that it is a marriage for political advantage and selfish ambition. Season two, which recently came out, has a darker tone than season one.

The acting is very good though there are few redeeming qualities about Frank and Claire. The series prompted some uncomfortable questions for this viewer, such as: What is the allure of watching the schemes of someone in high office who makes immoral decisions solely for the sake of selfish ambition? Perhaps the allure is the open display of crossing boundaries of decency that society has traditionally held in high regard. Maybe it is simply that we are fascinated by people who appear good yet are utterly pernicious. I started out liking Underwood because I thought he was a flawed person who would eventually do something noble. But like a classic tragedy, his character digs himself into an ever deeper hole while leaving a growing pile of human wreckage behind. I don’t know if I can bear to watch any more episodes. Hopefully our real-life elected officials do not rise to the level of evil personified by Underwood, but some probably come close.

Perhaps the series provides viewers with an addictive feeling of moral superiority (if so, Underwood is terrible benchmark) or confirmation that what we have occasionally suspected about some of our leaders might contain grains of tantalizing truth. The latter is a disturbing thought. Whatever the allure, House of Cards will not improve the public’s perception of our real political leaders.

All stories have just a few possible outcomes, such as: Evil prevails, good prevails, evil partially prevails, good things happen despite the evil, or a greater evil overcomes the evil. I wonder which outcome the writers for House of Cards will choose.

If you are thinking about watching House of Cards, be aware that it contains rough language and strong sexual content. Maybe I will skip to the last episode to find out if good prevails. Or maybe it is better not to know.

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Posted on February 23, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. My husband and I just recently started watching House of Cards as well, we are still on the first season. I, too, liked Underwood when I first began watching. It took me a while to understand that he wasn’t just flawed, as you mentioned, but actually terribly evil and perverse.

    I hope good prevails. I hope that in seasons to come a politician ends up being the hero that overtakes the villains. I need some faith in our politicians, even if it’s false faith from a well-written television show.

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