Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #6: House of Cards, season one (US version)

Kevin Spacey House of Cards

People go on and on about House of Cards, so when Better Call Saul finished (sob) I hoped it would fill that (enormous) gap.
It doesn’t.
Kevin Spacey is great, the plots are crafty, it is an exciting and probably realistic view of power in high places – but it is also a bit so what.

Congressman Frank Underwood (Spacey) is viciously ambitious, and everything he does is with his eye on the prize – high office. I am assuming subsequent series see him inaugurated as president. His wife Claire is cold and calm, and runs a charity bringing water to Africa, although gods know why, she doesn’t appear to have any deeply held principles.

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) - she's never wear a flowery cardi

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) – she’d never wear a flowery cardie

Zoe Barnes is an up-and-coming reporter looking to make a name for herself (aren’t they all?) who latches onto Underwood. He leaks her various choice pieces of news and they have cringe-making sex in her seedy flat.
Later on, Zoe and two friends do what reporters always do in these things – spend their whole time trying to uncover the dirt on Underwood, without a thought for their day jobs and no-one yelling “can you do me a downpage piece on that RTA and a string of picture caps” in their ears.

Kate Mara

Work experience girl or dance student? Reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara)

Anyone watch Borgen? Borgen was a superb Danish series about a minority political party, lead by a woman – Birgitte Nyborg – who find themselves holding the balance of power. Birgitte becomes prime minister and has to deal with all manner of thorny problems, like who to appoint as EU ambassador, how to placate the angry pig farmers and the difficult Greenland question. There were no murders, prostitutes or fist fights and it was BLOODY BRILLIANT. House of Cards doesn’t come close – although Birgitte’s English boyfriend (Jeremeee) is horribly similar to Claire’s English squeeze, Adam.

In Borgen, we really related to the characters – in House of Cards, everyone is so cold and manipulative it is hard to feel anything for any of them. Even poor Peter Russo, the Congressman whom Frank gases in his car, is a weak and pathetic figure (or would be, if he didn’t obviously work out every day – is it possible to be that fit and healthy looking when you are an alcoholic?). While we admire Frank his machinations and ambitions, we aren’t really on his side.

Corey Stoll

Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) – a bit too buff to be an addict

He is also inconsistent. Aren’t we all, eh? But Underwood thinks he is infallible, everything he does is thought through and clever. Unless it isn’t. He goes on TV and messes up the interview terribly; usually unfailingly courteous to his wife, he is suddenly oddly unfair to her, and when she responds by getting what she wants through thwarting him, he is incensed. Later, he lets the odious Zoe (who always looks like she has just come out of an urban dance class rather than a newsroom) root through Claire’s impeccable bedroom and try on her fancy clothes. Would he really allow this, while claiming their relationship is just business?
I also can’t see him dirtying his hands by actually killing someone. Sure, the outpouring of sympathy and everything worked for him, but didn’t CCTV on that fancy apartment block see him driving in with Russo? Isn’t it suspicious that Russo was sitting in the passenger seat when he died?

As a well-acted, well-scripted political thrillerlite, House of Cards works well. But it doesn’t have the extra depth that Borgen or Better Call Saul have – lacking the clever photography or quirky characters. No, I haven’t seen the BBC original, but it is next on my list.

Things I think about when I get the coat hangers:

  • The Origami. Uncharacteristically, Claire gives a $20 note to a homeless man. The next day, he chucks it back at her – in the form of an origami crane. Then we see Claire practising origami with a YouTube video, and then it turns out Russo’s children also do paper folding, and give her little presents of their figures. When Claire leaves Adam in his impossibly bohemian New York loft, she leaves him with an origami bird made from a photograph they took together. What does it all mean? Freedom? Complexity? Dexterity? No idea, but it is a nice touch.
  • Claire’s clothes. Black, white, silver grey, navy. Not a pattern in sight. Doesn’t she get bored and yearn for a nice spotty jumper and a pair of floral leggings?
  • The Underwood’s pristine pad. Who does their housework? Does Frank really make the bed? Who fills their fridge? Surely Wal-Mart is below someone of Claire’s elegance?

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