House of Cards

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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.

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Divergent – A Timeline

2.2.14 – Quiddie attempts reading Divergent. Believing the factions to be simply rebranded Hogwarts houses from Harry Potter (Gryffindauntless?) she attempts to throw the book against her wall. Hard. Repeatedly.

2.3.14 – Quiddie resumes Divergent in audiobook form. Emma Galvin’s affected rasp is quickly forgiven. Veronica Roth’s post-apocalyptic faction structure is not. Many games of Candy Crush Saga are played while trying to summon a fuck to give about the protagonist’s plight. Quiddie has already watched enough Breaking Amish; there is little motivation for her to read it as well.

2.6.14 – Quiddie attends a screening of [title redacted] with Kittun at a theatre featuring Divergent ads both in the lobby and on the popcorn bags. While she is not surprised that Tris has been cast significantly more attractively than her canon description, Quiddie realizes that she has not made Four hot enough, and quickly replaces her mental image of him with Theo James. Quiddie suddenly likes this book a lot more.

2.7.14 – Quiddie has reached the sexy bits of the book. Initial pangs of awkward discomfort at listening to a teenage girl’s pubescent longings are soothed by thoughts of Theo James. Dirty, dirty thoughts of Theo James. Quiddie changes her Netflix queue to reflect his IMDb credits, and starts marathoning Divergent – late at night.

2.8.14 – Quiddie finishes Divergent. She doesn’t understand why Peter is still alive.

2.8.14 – Quiddie begins Insurgent. Her dissatisfaction with both the quality of the universe Tris exists in as well as the motivations driving her and the plot forward through the series had been temporarily forgotten due to the ending action of Divergent. Having remembered, Quiddie questions her own motivations in continuing the series.

2.11.14 – Quiddie finishes Insurgent. There is no sense of joy or accomplishment in doing so. She has decided to finish the Tales of the Bravest Little Amish Girl against her better judgement. She continues to wonder why Peter is still alive.

2.16.14 – Quiddie finishes Allegiant. She wonders if her feelings of detachment and apathy towards the characters she thought she was supposed to live in and through is actually the product of the author’s brilliant efforts to liken us to the ceaseless flow of history, observing and recording but never assigning significance to the players beyond their ability to advance the narrative. She doubts this is the case.

2.24.14 – Quiddie finally allows herself to watch a trailer for Divergent. She wonders if this might be a movie that surpasses its source material. She also wonders how many sharpies it took to decorate Four’s back. Mostly, though, she wonders if Hollywood and the YA writing powers-that-be are creating an expectation that the Strong Female Lead in an action work has to be cold and mostly unpleasant (sorry Katniss) to be a believable warrior-heroine.

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Vampire Academy, sort of.

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Artists make art. They do so even when there’s no one around to witness it, and especially when there is adversity.  They labor intensely, and then in a moment of tremendous bravery, they give over their creation to the public to be taken however it will. There will always be critics of art, and for some the tearing down of other’s work has become its own artform. The Whisgeeks would like to make it abundantly clear that this is not what we’ve come here to do.

There will always be times when snark is the best medium by which to serve analysis, and sympathy is sacrificed for the sake of a laugh. Sarcasm is our mother tongue, and this will be as close as we ever intend to come to apologizing for it. Generally, we like things. Often we enjoy making fun of the things we like. Always, though, we respect the creators for the work they’ve put in. Having said that, we’d like to talk for a minute about the film Vampire Academy.

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(School is not the only thing they suck at.)

Last week we attended an early screening of the fantasy/action/comedy/romance/coming-of-age story with admittedly low expectations. There was the faintest glimmer of hope that the hands that shaped both Mean Girls (director) and Heathers (writer) could make something palatable from the highly derivative source material. Beyond the occasionally witty pop-culture references made by our Juno-esque genre-saavy heroine, there is little here to stand on. At best, is serves as rare evidence of the necessity of pulling apart a book over several movies (look away, Peter Jackson! This doesn’t justify your choices surrounding The Hobbit. Not one bit.) There was more than a little confusion in our party about the different types of vampires in-universe, and what could have been an interesting arc about adolescent social hierarchies ended up as a quick and sloppy parody of Mean Girls.

Little of the work defies expectation, so if you were hoping like we were for a genre-busting wit pit, you’re better off waiting for the next Tina Fey project. Also, we’d like to add the “psi-hound” to the Hall of Shitty CG Canine Infamy where it can take its rightful place beside its YA fiction series compatriots: the werewolf from Prisoner of Azkaban and the “muttations” from The Hunger Games. Seriously, Young Adult fiction writers, let’s put a kibosh on adding weird dogs to our stories. And vampires, while we’re at it.

As for the photo up top: this was taken at a little show at the House of Blues a few days ago. Hardly anyone was there; it was tucked up in a little room I’d never heard of called The Parish. I was probably the only one who didn’t previously know the artist or the lyrics to all the songs. It was his birthday performance, and the majority of the anemic audience arrived at the end of his set. But he performed, and he did so with a talent and dignity that inspired this post in the first place. What he did that night was for art’s sake. My sincerest hope is that what Kittun and I make here is, too.

- Q

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