House of Cards – Season 1

Kevin Spacey as Jack Underwood and Robin Wright as Claire Picture from OST Booklet
Kevin Spacey as Jack Underwood and Robin Wright as Claire
Picture from OST Booklet

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.

Me & Kevin Spacey - Old Vic Theatre May 2014
Me & Kevin Spacey – Old Vic Theatre May 2014

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.

House of Cards OST Cover
House of Cards OST Cover

8 thoughts on “House of Cards – Season 1

  1. Oh, just wait for S02. I’ve never before seen a show that doesn’t have a single character you can sympathise with. Both Spacey and Wright are brilliant in portraying the modern Macbeths, I decided to watch for them and wasn’t disappointed.

    1. I really long to see the second season! I guess that we will have a “good” time watching Frank Underwood’s “roaring rampage of revenge” (I love this sentence since I heard it in Kill Bill:-) ) but Zoe and the journalists don’t have an idea of what Frank really did, only Doug knows, right?

      Although using the logic is quite difficult or almost impossible to sympathise with the Underwoods I feel attracted towards the character of Frank. In my life I have been always a quite “aimless” person and I can’t avoid to admire, even in their wickedness, characters as Frank, who has a goal, aims at it and is completely focused on achieving it.

      Thank you for your comment!

      1. I won’t spoil it for you, I’ll just say there’ll be surprises. 😉 completely focused, yes, to the point of sacrifising every relationship and moral principle.

  2. I agree that this is a brilliant show with excellent acting, especially by Robin Wright. What interested me was their tacit agreement that either one can have an affair if it moves their mutual interests forward. They seem to love each other but it’s difficult to know whether it is really love or simply a partnership. What if someone else offered a better deal? As in American Beauty, it’s difficult to watch a show where there are virtually no sympathetic characters! What did you think of the original House of Cards by comparison? It lacked the strong character of Claire because Francis’ wife had a much smaller role. I think that is a strength of the new one. But the old one had Ian Richardson, and heavens, he was amazing!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Linnet, I didn’t know that it was based in a previous series, therefore I can say very little about it.

      Yes, “the agreement”… although Frank dies of jealousy when Claire goes to New York with Adam. I cannot imagine Frank visiting Adam as Claire visited Zoe. I think that what binds them is something more complicated than a partnership.

      Robin Wright performance is simply astounding. It’s incredible how has she grown as an actress since I first saw her in a soap opera called “Santa Barbara”. I like also very much her performance in “The Conspirator”

      1. Yes, there is definitely sexual jealousy, which implicates the egos of each… but how much would they sacrifice for the love of the other? I don’t think we have seen the answer yet, but maybe the relationship is tested, later in the series. In fact, given what I know of the original, it is bound to become more complicated 🙂

  3. Linnet…sacrifice… for love? Having seen just the first season I think they would sacrifice for the vice presidency, a thousand running water wells in Africa, a billion dollars fund but I don’t think they will do for love. Claire leaves Adam not because she missed Francis (or not only) but because without Russo they were risking their position, she came back to battle. I don’t mean that there’s no affection between them but that it has a secondary role.

    richardiana, usually I am not afraid of spoilers but this series is the exception that confirms the rule

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