Fast forward 19 years later: no one can stop talking about Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in Netflix's version of House of Cards for the American political scene. I'd grown decidedly more cynical in the ensuing years, and the description sounded good enough that I finally gave Netflix a chance (I'm an extremely late adopter). Before my husband and I committed, though, we finally watched the original on YouTube. There were in fact three seasons: House of Cards, To Play The King and The Final Cut. Each of them had four episodes, and I seem to remember that my husband and I got all of that watched in two days. (Shh, don't tell the kids.) We were blown away.
We were equally impressed by the first two seasons of the American show, which tracked pretty closely to the British version (more below). This year, we eagerly anticipated what we assumed would be the final season of the American show...and we were very disappointed. Here's why:
In the original House of Cards, Francis Urquhart is the patrician (not just Conservative) Chief Whip who was a party loyalist and expected to be rewarded by the new Prime Minister with a Cabinet Post. He's insulted when he's told instead that he needs to stay in his current position. He then embarks on a scheme that would make Iago jealous: he manipulates weaker journalists, lobbyists and politicians to not only unseat the Prime Minister but to get himself elected in his place. He is willing to resort to murder, not once but twice, including the young journalist Mattie Storin who became his smitten mistress- at the suggestion of his wife Elizabeth! (Oh, and why was she calling him Daddy as he threw her to her death? Because that turned her on.) His aide Tim Stamper helps him manipulate his other victims, but it's Urquhart who pulls the proverbial triggers. And it works. The viewer is left with a horrible taste of what goes on behind the scenes and the sociopaths who are willing to do it.
|Ian Richardson as the calculating, deadly MP- and then PM- Francis Urquhart|
|Diane Fletcher as Elizabeth Urquhart, ruthless to the end|
|Susannah Harker as Mattie Storin, one of the first bodies Urquhart needed to bury|
|Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood. Whereas Urquhart was a master of subtlety, Underwood hides behind the confusion he creates|
|Robin Wright as Claire Underwood. Can't you just hear her muttering "Out, out, damned spot!"?|
|Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper. Whereas Tim Stamper's relationship with Urquhart was undone by his ambitions, Doug almost lost everything over his human frailties. Don't worry- he got past that.|
To say I was disappointed doesn't fully cover it. House of Cards is REALLY good, and it's rightfully credited with having revived Netflix after their PR fiascoes. But after 39 episodes of watching increasingly unlikeable people (however complex) do bizarre things, I'm sort of done.
I'm also sad to say that the writing didn't hold up as well this last season as it did in the other two (maybe the writers are done too). Really, the Russian President would get to terms SO QUICKLY about both troops in the Jordan Valley AND the release of an American prisoner? And they would be negotiating themselves- without aides? REALLY? Obviously, then, we need to throw Putin and Obama into a bunker for a few weeks and see what they come up with. But wait! What about Michelle? Because after those two hammered out everything, an overwrought Claire- the one who is usually calm and controlled- ruined everything...at a press conference.
The character of Claire was my biggest problem with the season. Everyone always says "Lady Macbeth" when they see an ambitious wife, but they meant it with Claire. And that irritates me. Lady Macbeth is easy to write, in part because it's been done so much: Woman gets a taste of the possibility of power she can get through her husband, then pushes her husband to get it, regardless of what literal or figurative bloodiness she'll need to indulge to help him. She does unspeakable things but blindly pushes on until her conscience finally destroys her. And her husband, who's been using her as a psychic crutch, crumbles now that she isn't there anymore.
|Some hope...Elizabeth Marvel as Solicitor General Heather Dunbar...|
|...Molly Parker as veteran and Assistant Whip Jackie Sharp...|
|...and Kim Dickens as Bureau Chief Kate Baldwin|