In a world where cards are held against chests, it’s all about deceiving others. Bluffing, lying, cheating are all a part of the game in politics. Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is the man who will do anything to get his way after not being unexpectedly passed over for secretary of state. In the series’ first scene Kevin Spacey commits a horrific act whilst looking straight at the camera, proposing that he’s a man who will do anything necessary; all the while doing this divisive act he soliloquises the moment, seeing suffering as pointless and the weak let it happen. His character is an instantly gripping anti-hero weaved into a plot to get to the top of Capitol Hill; deceiving everyone, playing to everyone’s personality traits wickedly, manipulating his way to the top.
Netflix’s first original series is finally here with an outstanding cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara and is co-directed and exec-produced by the brilliant David Fincher. The production values are noticeable from the beginning with incredibly detailed, crisp imagery surrounding our characters; the dynamic cameras track their movements inch perfectly.
Talking to the camera is expositional but it would be quite difficult for him to unfurl his plans without directly saying it to the audience as there is barely an ounce of honesty. He is a dominant tyrant, a puppeteer of American politicians. Francis Underwood is seductive because his character is cruel and disingenuous. He uses his knowledge, intellect and charisma to pull off whatever he likes. It’s a dastardly way to be an easily loveable bastard. Spacey’s portrayal of Underwood is pinpoint, the way he does everything is convincing – you forget that Spacey’s accent isn’t his own after the first episode.
Although its main focus is on Francis Underwood, it’s hardly the only strong character nor actor in the series. The lady by his side, Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood, is equally fantastic in her role. The television Congressmen’s wife is traditionally passive, Mrs. Underwood couldn’t be further from these. Along with running her own charity – which Francis uses to his own benefit – she plays her own games, using Francis’s connections. While Claire is no angel herself, flirting and seducing others yet still keeping a strong marriage between Francis. It’s a fascinating messed up relationship that works on screen.
Part of Underwood’s plan is to find a young journalist who’s able, willing and trustworthy, he finds this in Kate Mara’s Zoe Barnes. She is covering pointless news stories in The Washing Herald when Underwood finds her and she ends up becoming a much bigger name, having leaked information putting her in the public spotlight whilst aiding Francis’s image and destroying his competitors. Neatly though her character is as disturbing as the others. The writing is deep, the show is filled with multi-layered characters.
A character who steals the show is Peter Russo, a young Congressman with a love for drugs, alcohol, prostitutes and partying. Actor Corey Stoll humanises him to an outstanding extent, dragging the audience into his problems and his triumphs, we easily empathise with his complex situation. He is bright-eyed and idealistic until he falls into the sights of Francis Underwood and he quickly loses these traits as the bigger picture is revealed. As a flawed men he crumbles under the public gaze where everyone scrutinises your mistakes to demolish all hope. His relationship with his children, girlfriend and his own mother can get a little heavy, pinning your chest down with transfixing sadness. Douglas Stamper (Michael Kelly) is Francis Underwood’s aid and has his own strong moments of drama and power. There’s not a weak link in the cast nor in the characters.
One of the main features is that all thirteen episodes are available right now on Netflix. No more waiting a week between episodes; it’s built for binging on. The direction of the pilot by Fincher makes it an instant hit, everything is chosen well, especially the classic steely look of the sets and the way stainless surfaces shine. In one particular moment, Robin Wright is on the phone walking around switching off lights and it’s superbly done from a one-point perspective; its aesthetics is one of its strongest points.
All of the episodes are crafted wonderfully by the likes of Joel Schumacher, James Foley, Allen Coulter, Carl Franklin and Charles McDougall. It’s a golden age of television that Netflix is recreating. With three other programmes out this year, Netflix could be a serious contender to mainstream television. Binge away on House of Cards as it’s one of the finest TV programmes and is rivalling Breaking Bad and The Wire in how addictive it is. It’s a stylish, immoral, well written programme with all the quality of cinema and intimacy of television. There’s no place for suffering in Underwood’s world: don’t suffer by missing this amazing slice of American TV.