House of Cards (henceforth HoC) is immediately noteworthy because of Netflix’s foray into the world of TV. All 13 episodes in each season are made available at the same time and can be watched without commercials or programme scheduling. No more waiting painfully for weekly doses. Binge watching this is a fricking blast. No flashbacks exist or are needed. Everything just rips forward to the inevitable. But make no mistake. Netflix’s method is just a gimmick. One can just be patient and wait for a season of a series to be over before binge-watching. The moment HoC hits episode 5 we were slaves to it.
The subject matter is US politics which I know shite about. But seeing how politics is perceived in our very own Singapore, HoC feels strangely cathartic and mesmerizing. The clandestine meetings, the conversations along the corridors of power are intoxicating. Perhaps HoC is a must watch for our non-savvy MiW (“men in white” of our perennial governing political party) who scored many own goals. They can sure learn quite a few things from Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his team.
Kevin Spacey is marvelous. I just couldn’t think of any other actor who could pull off what he did here (don’t try, there are none). Just watching Spacey deep in thought is a beguiling experience in itself. Spacey is best playing characters where the audience is not entirely sure what they are supposed to feel. Behind his Mona Lisa smile and sweetly cultured double-edged words, I just couldn’t see what’s behind his amused eyes. But I do know his mind is constantly working all the angles like a busy bee. His star performance is entertaining to watch even when he isn’t trying very hard. One reason Spacey is so celebrated an actor is that he always plays characters who are aware of themselves as actors, remaining partly outside their chosen roles. There’s a constant air of suave omniscience about him that is entrancing. In HoC Spacey plays Underwood to perfection. I just love his monologues where he faces the camera and talks to us. Like I said earlier, he nails each one to self-conscious perfection. Many times we laughed like idiots because we feel we are in on the game with him.
Robin Wright who plays his wife, Claire Underwood is superb too. She may seem to be not doing much but it’s such a layered and nuanced performance. I feel her deep yearnings, her doubts, her steadfastness. She is a character who knows what she wants and gets it. As much as I love watching Spacey, I love watching the relationship between the husband and wife. It’s a formidable team. No one stands a chance against them. The beginning of S1E5 made our jaw drop and our eyes grew wide. Both of them can teach you one or two things about marriage. Fcuking chilling.
I also enjoy Kate Mara’s (older sis of Rooney Mara) role as an ambitious journalist in way over her head. But I must mention that Corey Stoll who plays Congressman Peter Russo is a superb revelation. He is an accident waiting to happen and throughout all the episodes he goes through all the emotions a person runs through in one lifetime. Damn convincing head-turning performance.
All the performances mean nothing if the writing is less than perfect. The pacing and plot are very tight with no redundant superfluous and manipulative scenes. The first 2 episodes are even directed by David Fincher and he really set in the foundation and cement. I even saw Joel Schumacher directing 2 episodes. HoC constantly surprises and it’s also not predisposed to dispose major characters along the way. Last night’s S2E1 shocked the senses out of both of us and we thought we are watching a dream sequence. No luck… It was fcuking real!
HoC is a superb character study of people who are addicted to power and greed with none of the clichés. If you like Kelsey Grammer’s exceptional turn as Mayor of Chicago in Boss, Kevin Spacey’s turn as House Majority Whip makes the former feels like an amateur.