House of Cards

Pilot, Episode 2 - 5: An interesting concept by Netflix to roll out all 13 episodes at one shot. With a very strong cast led by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright this is an intriguing look into American politics and the backroom scheming and mechanics that goes on. Spacey is brilliant by as the shark of Congress, circling the ocean and laying out his cards, but a house of cards is still just a house of cards and very susceptible to falling down. And the higher you build the house, the larger the stakes, and the more spectacular the fall. 5 episodes in, and the base is perhaps almost complete. Spacey's character tends to break the fourth wall and this Shakespearean quality can be at times insightful and witty, but can also be occasionally jarring to the action and insulting to the audience. Spacey's southern accent also drawls in and out, which is annoying. Wright is his other half and she is just as ambitious and calculative as he is, and perhaps she is even more scarily so what with her icy demeanor. These two have an absolutely intense and brilliant chemistry, and in a weird way, they are actually quite believable. Kata Mara, on the other hand, is quite a caricature. Initially her lacked of intensity could be attributed to her character, but as the series progresses, she seemed more and more like a little girl lost in an adults' game, and trying so desperately to fit in. I guess younger sis Rooney Mara was too busy to take on this role. The other supporting cast that stood out so far was Corey Stoll, and he imbued his character with some sort of sad pathetic loneliness that makes you want to root for him, but at the same time, want him to fail and man up. David Fincher directed the first two episodes and it was clearly in his signature style and palette. There were some gorgeous frames, and in particular the window scene, which subsequent directors liked to emulate. James Foley followed up with a competent direction, then we had Joel Schumacher. Jeff Beals provided the score and he seemed to have been influenced quite a bit by Fincher's last films' collaborators Trent Razor and Atticus Ross, the duo behind the OST of  "The Social Network" and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".

Episode 6 & 7: Half way through the first season and I guess with all the success that Underwood has attained so far, it is time to plot his fall. These two episodes really brings to the forefront the previously underused Michael Kelly as Doug Stomper. I really like the chemistry between Spacey and Wright, and the complexities of their characters and how these two strong actors bring them to life. The biggest fault of this series thus far is the slightly sub-par lines these incredible actors are made to sprout. I can imagine how much more brilliant this series would be if someone like Sorkin (couldn't Fincher get him on board) wrote the lines? Although his politics (see "The West Wing" and "The Newsroom") may clash with the ideologies of the show. And Spacey's fleeting accent is really distracting. Kate Mara's character is turning more and more into an unlikeable bitch, and I am still very perplexed whether this unpleasant screen presence is due to the way the character is written, the actress (in)abitlity to connect the character with the audience, or just plain bad acting (which I doubt).

Episode 8: A character piece. Not much in terms of plot development but rich in character building and layering for Frank and Pete, and to a lesser extent Claire. Not many shows can do such a good "filler" episode, but stunning acting by Kevin Spacey really elevates this episode to brilliance. This Remy character is kind of a conundrum. Not really getting his purpose. The lack of Zoe/Mara is actually quite refreshing and she was not missed. Really good music by Jeff Beal here too.

Episode 9-11: The build up to what seems to be a very exciting and nail biting finale. The lines are drawn and the fog of war lifted. Superbly well acted by Spacey and Stoll. But the last two episodes will clearly belong to Frank. Wright underscored Claire with an emotional core that is layered beneath her ambitions and desire for power. It is slightly heartbreaking to see her battling between these two sides of her: the strong woman or the dependent girl, and trying to amalgamate both. I see how Zoe is written and her purpose to the plot, but her portrayal by Mara borders more on psychotic (similar to her character in "American Horror Story") rather than a younger, naive version of Claire. But she clearly will play a role in Frank's downfall. The interesting thing about recent TV series that focuses on the anti-hero, what is their arc going to be? The total downward slide to villainy, or a redemption arc after hitting rock bottom? For Frank, I see a somewhat realistic, un-Hollywood plot, where the good guy does not necessary win and the bad guy does not necessarily fail.

Episode 12 & 13: The final two episodes were brilliant. Cohesive circle of life and karma being a bitch, things that happened previously are all brought back in these last two hours. Riveting scenes and tense moments of backroom politicking, without the senseless actions and cheap tricks. Frank and Claire are back to where they started in the start of the series but, oh boy, are they in for hell of a ride next season. Zoe is more bearable here, as she, Janine and Lucas, gather up the breadcrumbs and try to form a cohesive breaking story. Mara is more tolerable here, until she devolved back to her insecure girly state. Janine (Constance Zimmer) makes for a more interesting journalistic character. Claire's storyline again reflects the morality of the ages and the irony of lying and virtue. Suddenly Jillian becomes more deplorable than the Underwoods. It is amazing how the antihero (and heroine) are written so well, and acted so brilliantly, that we are actually rooting for them to succeed in their goals. The ending/cliffhanger felt a bit lame, and cheap, but knowing that this show is commissioned for two seasons (at $100 million!!) is understandable for them to drag it out a bit more. But closing the story now may be a much neater option.


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