Thursday, February 20, 2014

House of Cards, Falling Down: A Mid-Season Review

Obligatory notice: contains spoilers --the mgmt. 

House of Cards is a show that delights in its own cynicism, and Kevin Spacey's charm keeps his monstrous character perversely appealing and entertaining in spite of his abhorrent traits. His smiling, soulless portrayal of Francis Underwood alone makes the show worth watching. Halfway through season two, however, the rest of the drama is beginning to creak under its own weight.

Doug Stamper is an absurd character: on one hand, he is so extremely disciplined and loyal as to cover up not one, but two cold-blooded murders committed by his boss, manipulating the FBI to do so. Somehow, though, he is simultaneously sloppy and stupid enough to sleep with the one person who could truly bury Underwood. This contradiction strains credibility beyond belief.

The prostitute, the most expendable person in the chain that links Russo's death to Underwood, is still alive, and instead Underwood kills Zoe Barnes to protect himself. As happy as I was to see her go (she was just so annoying), it makes no sense. But if we accept it, still, there are problems: discouraging Rachel from getting involved with the church group seems extremely short-sighted: shouldn't Stamper let her forget her old life, and get her thinking about a new one? Tightening his grip on her seems surest way to get her to rebel. 

Here's another question: what is Claire's long game in sowing dissent between the President and the First Lady, using Christina Gallagher as her pawn? How do the Underwoods gain by fostering marital discord between the Walkers? It just seems like lazy intrigue, and beneath her as the shrewd and ruthlessly calculating woman introduced in the first season. Similarly, Remy Danton sleeping with Congresswoman Sharp is another example of soapy drama that doesn't seem to have much future.

President Walker has little charisma, no folksy charm, no fierce intellect, and lacks a convincing will to power. Why is he president? The show casts him as one of its weakest characters, which also strains credibility.

Apart from the Underwoods, one other bright spot of the show is Gerald McRaney's Ramond Tusk as Frank's primary antagonist. McRaney seems comfortable in the role of villainous rich eccentric, having done a turn as a similar character in Deadwood. Unfortunately, the show can't seem to maintain the quality of its antagonists: portraying Feng as a depraved billionaire seems like a hackneyed and superfluous trope.

I hope that the second half of the season addresses these shortcomings and answers my questions, because together they are sinking the show in my eyes right now. If I find no satisfying surprises and answers to these issues, I will be hard-pressed to tune in for a third season.

Final note: Netflix on Comcast sucks. Also, too.

No comments: