I have recently delved deep into the world of House of Cards — the second Netflix original series, but by far the most prominent and successful. Power-watching TV shows, episode after episode, is my favorite way to consume TV dramas. The story of the sly, Democratic Majority Whip, Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is fraught with intrigue, sex, dirty politics, and power struggles. Underwood breaks the fourth wall every few minutes to discuss his thoughts with the audience and share his plot with us. He is the scheming type who is fueled by the pursuit of his own gain and acquisition of power.
In watching this show it soon became apparent that House of Cards is about a marriage. Francis and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) can be classified as a “power couple” or “super couple.” Claire runs a clean water non-profit and, as the wife of a powerful congressmen and his “partner in crime”, she has far more power than would be assumed of a non-profit director. Their mission in life is to acquire as much power and influence as possible.
These two are attractive, successful, and they supposedly live by the mantra that they tell each other everything. I am interested in honesty in relationships, and the amount of it between them is shocking. They both know that they have or have had affairs with other people, sometimes for love and sometimes for political gain. They live in a childless world of their own design in a classy D.C. brownstone with all the personal style to match. They appear to support each other fully with the mutual understanding that they each have to do what they have to do to get ahead as individuals and as a couple. They are in a sort of upward struggle toward power and they have shed the things they thought were expendable along the way, including having children and staying faithful to each other.
We see these characters show us what it looks like to construct one’s own system of morality instead of subscribing to how God would have us live, or an outside system of morality. It is a dark show. It is incredibly well done, but it is very bleak. Politics is a dirty world. Although the setting of the show is the backroom world of our U.S. government, the term “politics” in this show also takes the form of manipulation in its many forms.
As a woman watching this show I put myself in the shoes of the women characters and empathizing with their struggles. I am reminded of the famous and well-worn article from 2012 “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” written by Ann-Marie Slaughter. One of On the Willows’ own writers, Faith Gong, wrote her poignant thoughts about that extensive, intriguing article last year. I sympathize with the women on this show and the things they must do to “get ahead” and fulfill their own goals versus the men on the show who embody the classic stereotypes of men in power. Claire made the decision to never have children and her feelings of regret become more apparent as the show progresses. Francis uses sex as a tool and says to the young, frustrated reporter he is sleeping with that “everything is about sex except sex . . . which is about power.” Zoe, that same reporter, had to give of herself to get what she wanted (insider information) while Francis was the one taking what he wanted and also benefiting at the same time.
I feel the same way about House of Cards that I did when I watched Mad Men. When the main characters of the show exhibit such distasteful behavior I find myself wondering why I am still rooting for them. We’ve only seen one season of this show and Season 2 is in production. Based on the trajectory of the plot, without giving anything away, my prediction is that the main characters won’t get away with as much as they think. I felt this coming on the show long before I realized it.
This show is fabulously acted and beautifully shot. The award winning director David Fincher conceptualized the show and is the executive producer. There is no shortage of quality storytelling. I thoroughly recommend House of Cards. And at only eight bucks a month, Netflix is continuing its upward climb toward being a serious contender for knocking out the classic network television model of entertainment. I highly anticipate Season 2 and other shows coming soon on the site.
Have you seen House of Cards? I look forward to your thoughts on the show . . .