TV Series Discussion: House of Cards season one (chapters 1-13)

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A short synopsis and the cast list (from Wikipedia) so everybody knows what exactly we are talking about:

House of Cards is an American political drama series developed and produced by Beau Willimon. It is an adaptation of a previous BBC miniseries of the same name which is based on the novel by Michael Dobbs. The entire first season premiered on February 1, 2013, on the streaming service Netflix.

Main cast:

Kevin Spacey as U.S. Representative Francis “Frank” J. Underwood, a graduate of the fictional school “The Sentinel” (which is made to strongly resemble the real life school The Citadel, a military college) and Harvard Law School, a Democrat from South Carolina’s 5th congressional district and the House Majority Whip. He often breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the viewer. His name is derived from The Right Honourable Francis Urquhart MP, the protagonist of the BBC version and the novel version of House of Cards.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood, Francis’ wife. She runs the Clean Water Initiative, a non-profit that often gets mixed up in Frank’s political scheming.

Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes, a reporter for The Washington Herald (later Slugline). Desperate for a break, she makes a deal with Frank for insider information.

Corey Stoll as U.S. Representative Peter Russo, a Democrat from Pennsylvania’s 1st congressional district. Russo becomes loyal to Underwood after Underwood threatens to expose his alcohol and drug addiction.

Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper, Underwood’s Chief of Staff, abettor and confidant.

Ana: Rameau, you introduced me to this series – where and when did you hear about it? What made you watch it?

Rameau: Rachel Maddow show. It was some time last year when I was watching the show for the 2012 election shenanigans and the commentary, when she mentioned Kevin Spacey’s remake of the 1990 British miniseries House of Cards coming out in early 2013. A curious being that I am, I researched the subject, found the books, and the original miniseries. Then I waited until the remake had come out and I waited a bit longer.

Ana: I see, so it wasn’t completely a spur-of-the-moment decision, like: ‘hey, there’s a new series about high -profile Washington politicians, let’s watch it!’ Because I have to admit I would never started the series if not for two things: Kevin Spacey and your recommendation. Now I think I definitely owe Rachel Maddow as well.

Who was your favourite character (and why Frank Underwood ;p) ?

Rameau: No, it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision but the decision to watch the original, four part miniseries was. And you know me so well. I think I loved Frank Underwood because of how Kevin Spacey portrayed him. I loved his relationship with his wife—although I have my gripes too—and I loved the history they created for him. The character and the show reminded me of American Beauty in many ways and I can’t say that didn’t help to endear me to the character.

He is a kind of anti-hero though – a man who manipulates as he breathes and also somebody who perhaps never knew the meaning of the word ‘altruism’.

I’d go further than that. I’d say he’s closer to a villain than an anti-hero. He’s unapologetic and he gets what he wants and he wants power.

Still he can be your best bosom buddy – if it fits his goals at the moment.

Which would be villainous behaviour straight out of a Machiavellian handbook for politicians 😉

I was surprised how close and distant at the same time Frank was to Claire. On the one hand – sheesh, they say each other such things as the names of their extramarital interests, that was impressive. Nobody makes a row, nobody throws a fit of jealousy. On the other hand…when Claire needs Frank the most he just balks at helping her because it is not supporting his main objective. What do you think?

That’s the part I didn’t like of this incarnation of the show. In the BBC version it felt like Francis Urquhart’s wife was the brains behind the operation and he her hands, the puppet whose strings she pulled. Of course the length of that show didn’t allow them to develop her character fully and this could just be wishful thinking on my part, but I really wanted to see Claire being the kind of wife who truly is the master of the operation.

A Lady Macbeth, right?

Right. Instead they chose to develop her character in a different direction that takes her away from Frank and sets their desires and goals in a clashing course. In my version the non-profit would have been nothing more than a hobby for Claire and a convenient way to make connections outside the Congress.

How about you? What would you have changed about the show?

I would change Zoe Barnes. It really pissed me off that the one and only thinking female character (and I am speaking about the main cast here) was made into a journalistic prostitute. I did hope that her relationship with Frank would stay as it began. As it was, it seems a woman can make a career only if she has a man to support her (speaking in the most general terms).

I agree. It did stay the way it began in the BBC series but in that, Mattie Storin’s fate was quite different.

Then that boyfriend of hers was added and it made me even more confused – the series sometimes tended too much towards emotionally challenged YA drama.

It made me think they wanted to keep Kate Mara on the show but didn’t know what to do with her character. Probably because of what happened to Mattie.

What do you think of the little romance of Doug and that second prostitute, the one who doomed Russo? I did hope for something more here and got…nothing.

I hope they take it slow. I want to see it evolve, especially since she’s going to figure out what happened to Russo, but at the same time I’m afraid where they’ll take it next.

Do you think Frank will really become that vice-president or will his prize slip through his fingers again?

I hope he does. In the BBC series Urguhart did become the Prime Minister and I can’t really see what good it would do for Spacey and friends to repeat season one with having Frank start from scratch again. No. Underwood needs to rise and he needs to rise to the top before he falls.

If he falls.

I quite agree – failing again would bring a sense of anticlimax and it might be boring. Oh…we haven’t even touched the dialogue Frank leads with the viewer – a very personal dialogue. How did you feel about it?

I’m not a fan, but I understand why it’s done. He’s a villain and he needs to explain himself to the viewer because he never ever gets to explain all his motivations to anyone else. Which, wouldn’t be a problem had the writers handled his relationship with Claire differently.

If it showed anything clearly, it was the fact that Frank didn’t trust completely even his beloved prize wife. If you play Machiavelli, you are playing a game of solitaire.

True enough. I would have still preferred a power duo. Do you know what I find disappointing? The inescapable downfall after Claire finds out what really happened to Peter Russo.

You mean you are sure she will leave Frank if/when she finds out the truth? I don’t know. Perhaps. Still she seems to be such a cold-blooded, selfish woman. He might hold her on a very short leash.

No. Not leave him, but become utterly disillusioned, again, and start actively working against him. The more I think of this the more I think it goes against her characterisation. They’re going to try to turn her into a goody two-shoes.

Claire is definitely too weak to confront Frank and win. Another series without a single strong woman.

So are you in for the second season?

Right now I would say yes, I am. But give me a year and ask again. How about you?

It is a cautious yes as well. I like Kevin Spacey enough to give him a chance to say something more about those ugly politicians I love to hate. Perhaps it will pay off.

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7 Responses to TV Series Discussion: House of Cards season one (chapters 1-13)

  1. Blodeuedd says:

    *sleeping* It just bored me to death, horrid horrid horrid

  2. heidenkind says:

    Alas, I don't have Netflix.

  3. rameau says:

    The more I think about it, the more I agree with you. Still, I love a good villain.

  4. I am fairly sure it can be found online as well.

  5. rameau says:

    It's a neat little package instead of prolonged (although short for the US standard) series.

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