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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

What Shattered The House of Cards

June 23, 2015
Andrey Kravchenko watched and reviewed the new season of the famous political TV series.    The first time Kevin Spacey directly addresses his viewers in the first season of House of Cards, it becomes clear as day what makes this particular TV series special. Besides ignoring political ethics and simple morality in favour of pragmatism,…

Andrey Kravchenko watched and reviewed the new season of the famous political TV series.  

 The first time Kevin Spacey directly addresses his viewers in the first season of House of Cards, it becomes clear as day what makes this particular TV series special. Besides ignoring political ethics and simple morality in favour of pragmatism, Kevin Spacey’s ruthless Frank Underwood frequently ignores the fourth wall as well. He has nothing to be afraid of – viewers can only watch impotently as he builds his career, like a house of cards. Frank plays a dangerous game, pitting powerful people against each other in order to serve his own needs.

 The foundation of the house Frank is building includes his wife, who is his active supporter. No one in their right mind would question Spacey’s talent, but Robin Wright’s character – Claire – is just as good. Her gracious femininity and generosity contrasts with cruel prudency and the ruthlessness Frank shares. Claire is a modern Lady Macbeth, who encourages her husband’s pursuit for power in any possible way.

A thoughtful story about White House intrigues, Frank’s monologues with the viewers, and the shady operations of the Underwoods in the name of power, all helped make the first two seasons an outstanding and authentic show. Unfortunately, the third season, released in February 2015, lacks much of what made this series so gripping.

In the third season Frank can remain silent for the whole first episode without bothering to explain it. If it’s an allegory for his growing snobbery and ambition, then it’s not a very felicitous one; Frank’s comments, which were the best quips of the series, now appear occasionally and seem to be less precise. Probably, that’s because viewers are already familiar with his hypocrisy, and the way he naturally hates people doesn’t surprise us as it used to.

Perhaps Frank doesn’t feel he needs to explain his actions anymore due to a recently acquired title, and it works not just against the series, but also against Frank himself. His marriage with Claire becomes tested as he continuously does what he finds necessary, and that shatters his house of cards. Claire has her ambitions too, but Frank’s grow fast in geometrical progression from episode to episode, and suddenly both characters come to a point when their paths cross. Very special relationships built on mutual respect fade, and the Underwoods become an ordinary couple, dull to observe.

We also see the debut of the new antagonist, concurrently its biggest political monster yet. It’s Victor Petrov, the president of Russia, whose imitation of Vladimir Putin goes far beyond similar initials. His appearance acts as a breath of fresh air for the series, and his successful goading of Frank puts House of Cards back on track.

However a decision to show real hostility between the current two presidents turns into a weak parody: the series comes down to a ‘broad spreading cranberry tree’, an idiom for representing Russians in a stereotypical way. The series abuses clichés, including the wicked drunk Russians planning to conquer the world. The most awkward thing about them is that they do not manage to speak their native language without an accent. It’s not picking on actors – in any other action film that would be fine, but not in a serious political drama. “Ura!” says the president of Russia, finishing another glass of vodka in front of the White House staff.

It seems like a wicked parody, where an intention is not to tell an exciting story, but to follow the modern trend for criticizing certain people. A Pussy Riot cameo and a nod to a recent gay propaganda law in Russia finally take away the series’ originality and individual look on politics. Cinematography has frequently been used to express opinions about politics, and that’s absolutely fine. Just not in this case, where, as Frank would say, “Too much is put on one plate.”

Who actually cares? It’s just a pack of cards, and the house can be erected again. But here’s the problem – it won’t be the same. It’s such a shame that so much effort has been put into building this show, and that it fell not just because of an extra floor, but because of someone messing with its foundation.

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