There are a few reasons House of Cards is perhaps the most gripping and powerful political drama since The West Wing, and it’s not because these two shows have anything in common besides their genre. Instead of presenting the audience with how the stalwart, noble, yet compromising and genuinely nice people in power come together to solve the big issues, House of Cards shows us how these people manipulate each other to get things done.
As Protagonist Frank Underwood points out to one of his colleagues, it took 85 years to complete the Capitol building. Their work is not efficient, it is messy, and it consists of plans and schemes that take months if not years to bring to fruition. The art is not the product but the process of politics. It is no secret that Washington apparently loves its inefficiency, but this show demonstrates the why, if not the how that it is so. It answers the question, “What do these people do all day if not run the country?”
I personally love this show for more reasons than this. I put them here and in italics, like I promised:
Lets Kill One of the Most Popular Characters and Then Say “F.U.” To The Audience in the Same Episode
So, America, you like underdog muckraking journalists out to expose the truths about our glorious congressional overlords? Do you like strong, professional, young, sexy, and smart-talking female characters? Watch out for this bone
r that House of Cards threw your way last year:
Zoe Barnes is just your typical millennial slaving away as a small time reporter for a national newspaper in Washington. Naturally, she hates a job that her college degree actually got her and she wastes no time complaining about how mundane her work is to her superiors. Did I mention she does this while consistently reminding them that their entire business; their very livelihood; newspapers, are outdated and useless? Well, she does. And like all of us privileged and entitled millenials, her rebellious bravado impresses some nearby rich people who admire her moxxy and do their best to let her succeed on her own terms. If that hasn’t happened to you yet with your liberal arts degree, you’re obviously doing it wrong.
Unfortunately for Zoe, fortunately for us, one of these rich people is our lovably sociopathic protagonist, Frank Underwood. Their relationship spans the entire first season and there is about as much repositioning in their relationship as a transsexual porno. A one sided affair favoring Underwood slowly becomes mutually beneficial. If you know Underwood, this is synonymous with losing. So, a tension builds between the two characters, who clearly know too much about each other to just “be friends” after the sexy time ends. This is ultimately what sets up the second season. The question on everyone’s mind became “How was Zoe going to bring down Underwood?”
In the first episode of the second season he fucking kills her himself in one of the greatest murder scenes in cinematic history.
Boom. Gone. Major emotional investment thrown in front a fucking train. Dead. I nearly o-faced as hard as Feng, the crooked Chinese guy, does during his trips to America.
I mean, there is ballsy on t.v. and then there is Frank Underword ballsy. I mean the kind of ballsy that doubles down on things others would consider suicide, like killing off a major character in the first episode of the long awaited second season. I mean the kind of ballsy that recognizes what it did and gives a finger to the audience during the credits.
It Knows how to use little, Beautiful Details
So I have a bachelors in English and I get a bit obsessive over details of my favorite works of performance or literary art. There is no shortage of little “easter eggs” in television that are there to reward observant viewers. As giddy as I am having such nerd cred there to justify my obsessive relationship with some shows, these are but adorable little gimmicks compared to the insight given to observant viewers of House of Cards.
The use of art in this show is one of the most delicious aspects of it for me. Here is some great research on the subject for those who are interested.Remember Zoe Barnes? One of their first meetings is in front of a painting of two men rowing together. He has her meet him there to communicate a particular point: “Try not to rock the boat too much. I can only save one of us from drowning.”
His wife also buys him a workout machine that is known as a rowing machine.. This adds an extra dimension to Clare and Zoe’s competition for Underwood’s allegiance, but the machine is mainly involved with his marriage to Clare. It becomes increasingly symbolic of their relationship in the episodes to come. Initially he hates the machine and is, aside from that, arguing with his wife for other reasons. When they make up and start working together, he is shown using it. When their relationship is under extreme stress, it breaks on him. Later in the second season, it is repaired by their secret service agent. This guy shortly thereafter becomes their threeway partner because of the magic of symbolism. Anyways, the lesson here is that if Frank Underwood touches any piece of workout equipment, it magically becomes a significant gauge of your relationship with him.
Before the above story of a water rower begins to really unfold, art comes up again when Zoey, whose main flaw is probably considering herself Underwood’s equal, tries to mimic his flair for the dramatic. Why she chooses Mary Cassat’s “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair”, I don’t know. Maybe because the artist, Cassat, was a close friend of Degas, who helped her with that specific painting, like how Underwood helped her with her career. This is a bit of a stretch though. Here’s my take:The slouched posture, the bored, disrespectful eyes— this is a little girl who is bored with the viewer and rebelling against them. She is too busy with her own thing to be beautiful or useful to anyone else, even the artist. Aside from being an accurate portrayal of my generation, it is in front of this painting that she pretty much says to Underwood:
screenshot of them in front of painting.
It Kinda Implies that Lyndon Johnson had Something to do With the Kennedy Assasinations
The amount of Lyndon B. Johnson references in the show is staggering. They are in all of his offices and are a topic of conversation between the characters more than once. At first I thought he was just being characterized by way of talking about his badass hero,
but once this man’s political murder spree brought him to the vice-presidency, and then eventually to the presidency, I put the tin foil hat back on. I mean, these pictures were in his office BEFORE his plan to take over the presidency is made entirely clear, and they do a great job of foreshadowing the events that follow. A man who takes over the presidency with brute political force idolizes a notoriously overbearing man with a huge dong who became president after an assassination. So, either Frank Underwood or the writers, or both, are implying that Lyndon Johnson had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. I’m guessing this something is a bit more than a sin of omission, considering it is Frank Underwood who is being likened to Johnson here.
And before you think, wow this sounds a bit too tin foil hat to even be plausible, remind yourself
1. I mentioned my tin foil hat twice so far.
2. I just told you that I put it back on.
3. You’re still reading this.
4: And most importantly:
There is an extensive collection of pictures showing Lyndon Johnson violating the personal space of uncomfortable, if not entirely befuddled, victims of his brimstoney breath. This happened so often, it was a THING in itself. It was called “The Treatment.” It made him possibly the most effective whip in the history of congress and he was famous for it.
Look at these through the eyes of a profiler. He either planned to act this way in front of the cameras, or he didn’t. If he did, it becomes evidence that he was cultivating an aggressive public image designed to intimidate his enemies and reinforce his reputation among his allies. If he didn’t plan on this many photos of his best giraffe impersonation being taken, then he did it so much that this compilation became inevitable. Either way, it’s clear this man preferred to push people around with the spit firing out of his mouth like the business end of a pressure washer instead of compromising with them. The first option indicates the kind of calculated nature we’d expect of a usurper, while the latter indicates a dependence on aggression that also betrays a usurper.
Now, Look at these through Frank Underwood’s sexy, I mean business glasses, which the creators of the show obviously invite us to do, and this becomes indicative of a mercilessly aggressive political style. With these glasses you can see what such a political style can do for you, because of what it did for him. And you’re also a crazy sociopath, so it’s also easy to believe that your dead hero was also one.