Anyone who has ever attempted to build a house with playing cards knows the intense focus it takes. Not one intruding thought can be allowed to disrupt the absolute concentration required. That intense concentration is offered by the two main characters – unctuous Congressman Francis Underwood, he a boy of the South and his cool-as-ice wife, Claire – in Netflix’s impressive new series House Of Cards, loosely based on the BBC series of the same name.
With this new 13-part series, completely available for your marathon viewing, Kevin Spacey gives us the ultimate anti-hero in Congressman Underwood. One reviewer aptly described Spacey’s character as “a politician on the make, he is evocatively deadpan and sad-eyed, as if he wished this wretched world didn’t justify his deeds but will damn sure make the best of it.”
After a betrayal of Presidential proportions we are the lucky voyeurs who get to watch The Congressman and his lobbyist wife Claire (played with brilliant restraint by Robin Wright) build their intricate house of cards with infinite patience and religious-like dedication to the “family business,” glimpses of which are tantalizingly doled out as the series unfolds. Never has television given us a more clear understanding of the way government really works, all intelligently packaged in a crisp script that simmers and crackles with all our inherent moral flaws. We have surely reached the tipping point when nearly every review of House Of Cards begins with the words “a journey to the dark side.” Indeed. This is The West Wing up to its neck in Congressional sludge.
Everything about this slick production is calculated for the ultimate effect: to make the worst possible expectations of our government decidedly palatable and definitely enjoyable. It’s a visual banquet filled with tasty morsels we’d ordinarily find disgusting. In the opening credits, time-lapse photography reminds us that the orbit of any individual or thing is secondary to the institution of governmental power. The music is haunting. The set decoration is cool and murky, nuanced by every possible shade of gray. Every action is darkly paced and, like a skilled lover, makes us breathless with anticipation.
But while the Tony Sopranos, the Walter Whites and the Dexters are compelling anti-heroes, they aren’t exactly our next-door neighbors. The Congressman hits us right where we live as he jerks the shroud off the putrefying body of government and forces us to face with a macabre sense of relief, the awful truth that corruption is necessary and required.
Just as Lord Acton paraphrased in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
But we knew that, didn’t we? Thank heavens the truth has been dragged from the closet and given yet another airing.
So cancel your weekend plans, order sustenance and settle in for the most compelling, spell-binding, unrestrained tale of legislative debauchery ever dressed up and tricked out in Sunday’s best go to meet’in finery. You cannot watch just one episode at a time.