I’ve seen a couple of days ago the last chapter of House of Cards first season, and this post is a clumsy attempt to try to express my opinion about this series. It is of course full of spoilers, do not read further if you want to be spoiled. But, as the second season has already been aired in USA I don’t think this post is very much “spoilative”, right?
First of all, I am writing this post relying on memories of a series I have seen, as “in the old good times” just once, when it’s aired. No chance to rewind to see again my favourite scenes, or taking notes in my moleskine. My first impression is: it is undoubtedly one of the best tv series I have ever seen. Frank & Claire Underwood are the Macbeths of the XXIst century. A couple united by a common and only objective,
power success. No matter the cost, no matter the victims which are necessary to sacrifice.
The scene which has shocked me the most in all the series is one of Claire in the hospital visiting their old bodyguard, who is dying with cancer. The man, alone with Claire in the room, confesses his love for her and that he wants her to know, before he dies. I would have expected the usual, tv-cliché reaction, Claire kindly replying that she appreciates his feelings, or maybe a sympathetic lie, letting the man hope that should she have known maybe they would have had a chance. Instead of all that Robin Wright delights us with an award-winning performance. She tells the bodyguard why has she chosen Frank from all the men that ever proposed to her, enumerates her husbands virtues and their projects for the future. After that, cold as an ice queen, puts a hand under the man’s blankets and starts caressing his crotch, fixing the man with her glacial glance, saying: “is this what you want?”. The bodyguard, devastated psychologically asks her to go, she takes out the hand from under the blanket, cleans it on the cover and goes.
This is one of the cruellest scenes I have ever seen performed, no need of blood or innards spread in the screen. Claire kills the man’s brains, annhilates him because he has dared to disarrange her tight agenda with a text asking to see her urgently for that last stupid and ridiculous whim of an already dead man. Claire, capable of such a perverted cruelty is, nevertheless, not immune to an sporadic sting of conscience. We don’t see her doubt more than a few minutes before firing almost all her staff but, when a woman reproaches her to make jogging in a cemetery we see how, the day after, when she’s about to enter again the cemetery for her daily run, watches the gate for a moment and turns back.
Should have been Claire Underwood less plausible if played by another actress? Maybe don’t but I am quite sure she would have been different. Robin Wright portrays Claire with an elegance very difficult to achieve by any other of her coworkers.
And now, let’s talk of Frank, the big Master of Puppets, the Black Hand that pulls the strings of Washington’s politics, portrayed by the absolutely magnificent Kevin Spacey. He is one of my favourite actors since I remained thunderstruck back in 1995 with The Usual Suspects, and then L.A. Confidential, American Beauty, K-Pax… The co-principal reason for making a tourist tour near the Old Vic in London was to be able to… make me a picture with him. This is what I think of “make myself a picture with a celebrity”. I have always said that shyness sucks.
Frank Underwood is an absolute an complete bastard, but, as Kevin himself has said in an interview, the funny thing is that the viewer sympathises with him. He declared, of course, that it was due to the script but allow me to tell you that it is highly due also to him. He managed to made us believe that Verbal Klimt and Kaiser Soze were two different persons throughout The Usual Suspects to realise afterwards that he was CLEARLY telling the audience that he was Kaiser Soze, right? In House of Cards we know he is a bastard but we appreciate the fact that, at least with us, he is no hypocrite and tells us the truth during his monologues talking directly to the eye of the camera. But his acting, as usual, is also made of small, almost imperceptible gestures. As, for instance, during the scene in the forest with Raymond Tusk, pretending to convince the tycoon to candidate himself as Vice President. When Tusk insists in following a certain bird, while Frank is perfectly dressed in one of his perfectly tailored suits, he moves his head slightly and with a small movement of his upper lip he transmits more disgust with his country walk than with any screaming or histrionic movement.
Does Francis Underwood have a conscience? It would seem he doesn’t, we haven’t seen (yet?) the ghost of Congressman Russo appearing in a corner of his basement when he exercises, for the time being he has just lost a few hours of sleep and broken is home-made rowing kit but… due to remorse or to the fact that the President had not offered him yet the VP? I’m tempted to affirm the latter.