House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Mara (among others), is a newly launched political drama from the highly regarded director, David Fincher. House of Cards is unique in that it is the first completely independent TV series for Netflix. They previously released a series called Lilyhammer starring Steve Van Zandt, though Lillyhammer was co-developed with the Norway channel NRK1. While there is no review for Lillyhammer on Vagary, I can thoroughly recommend it as I have watched it in its entirety. What makes a Netflix series unusual is that all the episodes are available at once, but I will be reviewing one episode per week just to keep things regular.
Now that you know a little more background about House of Cards, lets dive into the first episode. House of Cards revolves around the D.C. power couple of Francis and Claire Underwood who are determined to increase their power and influence, the former being a sitting Dem U.S. Congressman from S.C. and the latter being an executive at an as of yet unexplored charity.
Episode one kicks off with a unusual scene to set up not only the character and themes of Francis, but also immediately introduces a storeytelling mechanic where Francis will give periodic monologues directly to the audience. This monologue will often times disclose true motives, or key plot points not fully explained in a given scene. Either way, they are often sarcastic and funny but show how truly manipulative and scheming he is. We then get a glimpse of the second main cast member in House of Cards, a recent hire at a D.C. paper who is treated as new blood, and also feels underused by the staff who is stuck in the past. Zoe Barnes (portayed by Kate Mara) initially comes off as a little obnoxiously overambitious, but once she sticks it to her boss and co-worker you may really start to come around on her character.
Meanwhile, Francis has just been passed over for a promised spot as the Secretary of State by a just announced President elect, choosing instead to leave Francis in congress as the Majority Whip where they “really need him”. After initially feeling betrayed, Francis forces himself (with some difficulty) to calm down and re-evaluate his position and leverage. In a show of the power couples unusual relationship, Claire shows utter disappointment with his lack of tenacity in the situation for which he apologizes. She quickly responds with “My husband doesn’t apologize, not even to his wife”, setting up the determination of both of them to not take this lying down.
After mulling things over for a while, Francis decides he is going to start setting himself up for some serious power. He has recently blackmailed another congressman for absolute loyalty (which he scarily emphasizes), he has the President by the balls after promising to deliver an education reform bill within a hundred days which the President then pledges in his inaugural address, and he starts taking advantage of Zoe Barnes through a twist of fate to start leaking information.
All in all, the show is setting up itself for some serious drama and tight storytelling, but some unusual stylistic decisions such as addressing the audience directly and Spacey’s decent but distracting Southern accent are a couple little hangups (among others). However, I’m not ready to decree these as negatives just yet, I will be giving the show a few episodes to get into the groove a little more.