I spent Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend watching the new episodes of House of Cards. We finished the season before the weekend was out. I don’t say this to brag about how wonderful my boyfriend is for marathoning with me (though he is, of course.) I just want to highlight the enthusiasm with which season 2 was met, and not only by myself. Despite that, I’ve been sitting on the rapidly bleaching bones of a post for nearly a month.
I wanted to write about the style and tone of the series. I planned on framing it with my love of Claire Underwood’s wardrobe: the clean, impeccably tailored lines and desaturated palette weren’t just sartorial choices for this show. The structure of the sets themselves, and the meticulous manner in which they were lit and shot were just as seductive as Claire’s dresses. I even planned on tying in a recent trip to FIDM to see an exhibit on costume design in films from 2013. Such grand aspirations…and yet here I am weeks later with nothing to show for it. Perhaps I overreached.
I could have gone back to my outline; there might have been flesh enough to build a reasonable facsimile of the piece I intended. Instead, I decided to rewatch the season 2 premiere in hopes of fresh inspiration. All the points my original post remain valid. If I had to describe this show in a single word, it would be “deliberate.” The use of mirrors throughout the show, beginning with the quick glimpse of Claire’s fear of her husband as she watches the news in the season premiere, is perhaps my favorite device. The great beauty and brilliance of House of Cards is in its purposeful yet subtle calculation. Here’s a special treat for those finished with the season: go back to Chapter 14 and revisit Jackie’s introduction. Did you catch the importance of that little snippet about Lyndon B. Johnson? Neither did I. (Bonus points for spotting The Passage of Power, a biography of Johnson by Robert Caro, in the first season’s finale.)
For those looking for a summary of the new season, Janine Skorsky says it best: “He’s got power, he’s got a lot to lose, and right now he is winning.” Stakes get almost unbelievably high, and we fear for our villainous protagonists; perhaps they have finally overreached. The breakneck pacing reflects Frank’s new and unfamiliar surroundings. Unlike the Hill, Frank cannot control the White House, and staying afloat taxes not only his adaptability but his soul. The literal and figurative body-count this season soars. On this note, my one complaint pertains to the show’s efforts to make me care about the human collateral damage in the Underwoods’ ascension. There was too much focus on Rachel throughout the season, and even the single episode that used Freddy as a framing device dragged. Successfully turning the audience to the Underwoods’ side and mindset means these attempts at gathering sympathy for their victims feels dissonant and frankly boring. Other than that, I consider House of Cards flawless.
In final regards to this post as it was originally intended, I hope still to speak on the grander issues of House of Cards: how it (and shows like it) changes how we consume episodic content, the transformation of what we consider a protagonist in television, even a greater reflection on the style of the program. All these things I’ll save for another day. In the meantime, go watch the new season. Rewatch the first season, if you have the time. Netflix is making history, but more importantly it’s just making a very good show.