Final Impressions: Netflix's 'House of Cards'
After two weeks, I have finally finished my journey through House of Cards. My short review of the season is that it was a pretty enjoyable thirteen hours of entertainment. I have slightly longer thoughts on the final six episodes of the season and the show’s prospects for season two after the jump. Click through only if you have finished the season or are a hardcore spoilerphile.
The crux of the argument in my last review was that almost all of the show’s characters were motivated exclusively by a lust for power. This argument proved to be without merit during the second half of the season.
We saw Frank Underwood act as a real human being right away in “Chapter 8,” where it was revealed that he once had a gay relationship with a member of his college choral group. It was fascinating to see a Frank who was so different from the cold, conniving man he was in the first seven episodes. He displayed more true emotions in the few minutes he spoke to his ex-lover than he had done with Claire the entire series to this point.
Frank also showed his first and only doubts about his schemes against the President in this episode. He realized that everything, including the library that was just dedicated in his name, would disappear eventually. Nothing he accomplished was ever sure to last forever. For a moment, it seemed that this uncertainty was going to cause Frank to rethink his plans.
But then he dropped the ceremony’s program on the chair and let his true nature return. His lust for power took hold again, as we knew it would. Still, it was a smart writing choice to show viewers that Frank had more than one motivational setting.
Chapters 9, 10, and most of 11 were similar to the episodes from the first half of the season. Frank schemed and managed to overcome his wife’s blocking of the jobs legislation, played to the Vice President’s political desires, and manipulated Rachel – the show’s hooker with a heart of gold – to force poor Peter Russo back into his old habits.
The last half of Chapter 11 gave us the series’ most monumental moment: Frank’s murder of Congressman Russo. I have written about my great appreciation for Russo before, so I was sad to see the character - and Corey Stoll’s great portrayal – leave the series. I would pour out a 40 in his memory if he had not already drunk every drop of alcohol in the state of Pennsylvania right before his death.
Looking at the series in hindsight, I have mixed feelings about this turn of events. I understand that the plot necessitated Russo’s death. There was no way that Frank would have been able to continue his plotting with Peter alive. On the other hand, it feels like the show was jumping the shark. Pushing Frank to this unrealistically evil level eliminated some of the show’s realism and felt like a much more drastic action than anything that occurred before or after.
Additionally, I was not thrilled that the show decided not to deal with its remaining characters’ emotional repercussions of Russo’s death in a significant way (although the montage with everyone waking up to see the news was well done) nor did I much care for the flimsy contrivance of “Chapter 12” picking up a month after he was lowered six feet under.
But I digress. As I mentioned earlier, the show made great strides to humanize all the characters that seemed so singularly motivated by power in the first half of the season, not just Frank. Claire’s conflict between wanting a child and her oncoming menopause – a subject so foreign to me that I had to have my girlfriend tell me what was happening – felt very genuine and made her a more compelling character. Her decision to follow her personal feelings over professional dreams and stay with Adam, if only for just a few episodes, was also an interesting subplot that provided real change for a character who seemed relatively static in the beginning.
And, to paraphrase Dennis Green, Zoe became who I thought she was, and I nearly let her off the hook. Finally making peace with her co-worker Janine and understanding what Frank really thought of her, Zoe’s naïveté disappeared. She decided to make it as a legitimate reporter and cut off the sexual affair. When this caused him to stop feeding her information, she used actual journalism techniques instead of her sexuality to dig deeper into Russo’s death and learn that Frank may have been involved somehow. Zoe in “Chapter 13” was a completely different character than the Zoe in “Chapter 1.”
I really do not have much to say regarding the acting and directing in these final six episodes that I have not said in my other two reviews. Spacey, Wright, Mara, and Stoll each put on Emmy-worthy performances, and the cadre of directors, minus Joel “Let’s Kick Some Ice” Schumacher, who did not direct any of these final episodes, continued to move the show along at a brisk, tense pace.
The second season of House of Cards is in pre-production now and is set to begin filming this spring. The finale’s final moment gave me hope that it will be as captivating as this one. Frank looks poised to become the Vice President despite being duped by the President’s old business partner. Claire is conflicted both professionally and personally, dealing with the lawsuit of her pregnant ex-subordinate while thinking about a pregnancy of her own. Zoe and her gang of reporters' tracking of Rachel may have given them the ammunition they need to severely hinder Frank’s promotion. And Peter Russo is now, barring a House of Cards/Walking Dead crossover, nothing but a distant memory.
I cannot wait for the second season of House of Cards. For these first thirteen episodes, I was captivated by nearly everything the show threw at me. Yes there were a few hiccups, and the show may have dipped slightly in quality from its excellent pilot. Still, Season One of House of Cards was a lot of fun.