House of Cards Episode 1 Review

With the screen consumed is by darkness, an abrupt and freighting bang of a car crashing, followed by the scream of of glass shattering, metal contorting and worst of all the whimpering of a dying animal, disrupts the once harmonies silence.  Within seconds a door of a house rips open and out appears Francis Underwood, who appears first as a concerned man with noble intentions as the camera follows him to the scene of the carnage. A few sharp cuts later, an imposing Underwood stands above us, our view representing the perspective of a wounded dog. Kneeling down before the animal; at first Underwood seems soothing and sympathetic to the dog as he launches into a direct to camera monologue. “I have no patience for useless things” suddenly at this point Underwood’s monologue turns rather haunting and sinister as he strangles the dog to death. Sure at first this may seem like the right thing to do, save the dog from a lot of pain and discomfort. But while most people would be squirming, deeply uncomfortable and filled with emotion, Underwood lacks any reminisce of infliction or regret over his actions, instead he is quick, clinical, stern and thus  almost mechanical in some way. And that’s it, we need no lengthy rambling from the main character or tediously vast backstory to understand who Underwood is and what he is about. All we need to know is that he is merciless, he never second guesses himself and he gets the job done and all of this encapsulated in the first 5 minutes.

Whilst in everyday life such traits will be frowned upon, maybe even shunned. In the cut throat and turbulent clip board jungle of American politics, as congressman, such traits ensure that Underwood is a behemoth force to be reckoned with. And thus this made him a great help in getting President Garrett Walker into the White House, once doing so Underwood fully expected the President elect to honour his promise to appoint Underwood as Secretary of State. However blindsided, Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez snubs Underwood for the position and instead gives it to Senator Michael Kern, a bitter rival of his. Infuriated and betrayed, Underwood seeks the solace of his wife Claire, but instead of smouldering his anger. She stokes the yarning for vengeance and hunger for power burning deep inside of Underwood. The Lady Macbeth in Claire and the Machiavellian in Francis, make the Underwood’s a dangerous force that with ruthlessness and cunning, will do whatever it takes to tear apart every obstacle in their way to limitless power.

The appointment of Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, is probably the best piece of casting ever done by Fincher. That is not to say all other castings were substandard, but simply because Spacey is an absolute revelation in this role and carries the wickedness of Underwood so well it is scary. But I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that Spacey can so effortlessly assimilate himself into such a complex, introspective, shadowy character, because like his performances in Swimming with Sharks and The Usual Suspects suggest; Spacey is at his very best when waltzing down the ambiguous line between anti-hero and just plain villain.  But it will be unfair to allow Spacey to undertake all the plaudits, because Robin Wright as Claire is every ounce as wonderfully villainous as Spacey. In every scene they appear with each other, it is always constant tussle between two powerful acting muscles.

From the very first episode of House of Cards, David Fincher promises to submerge us into the unashamedly murky depths of; greed, sex and corruption in a deeply unstable political system and into the morally bankrupt, blackened insides of all those who dwell and thrive in it. The constant breaking of the forth wall is an effective and greatly appreciated aspect of the show, it is not a necessity because the story is effectively told even without out it, but there is absolute macabre pleasure in having a snap shot into the ominous yet brilliant workings of Underwood’s mind.

Considering his previous haunting cinematic exploits in Se7en, Gone Girl and Zodiac, David Fincher is clearly unafraid to explore the dark side of humanity and over the years he has clearly built a penchant for it and loves leaving people to ask themselves uncomfortable and bleak questions, for example in House of Cards he leaves you asking yourself “how far would you go in the pursuit of power?”

From the rest of the series I expect to see a slow unravelling of the twisted schemes of Underwood’s and further poisoning of anyone who is unfortunate enough to come into contact with them. I hope to see more of the inner dynamics of the central relationship, which I get the irking feeling that it is a mere ticking time bomb, that can easily explode when their ambitions are no longer compatible and begin to contradict. Overall House of Cards is shaping up in my eyes as the most defining political TV drama of the decade and with such expert directing and acting, it also looks like the show has as a shelf life withstand the test and scrutiny of time.

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