Category Archives: House of Cards

I Pray to Myself for Myself

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For all the improvement this series has shown in its latter half, it still hasn’t managed to elevate itself beyond “pretty good” and, sadly, that label also needs to be applied to the finale.  The execution remains at the same high level we’ve come to expect, but the expected sense of inevitability is also still there.  Finales, particularly to stories that style themselves political thrillers, need to be suspenseful in order to work and while Chapter 13 does its best to make us think things may all come crashing down around Frank, it never really succeeds.  Worse, it holds back its alleged trump card for next season which may make sense in terms of getting us to tune in again, but it does leave this season feeling like kind of a cheat.  I’ve tried really hard to be fair to this show but, given that this is my last chance, I think I’m just going to dive into the negativity.  Feeling free to stop reading if you’re a fan. Continue reading

Deeper into the Woods

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I really wish that episode twelve (or something like it) had arrived earlier in the series.  I’ve long complained about the lack of any real challenge for Frank and while the show has provided answers of a sort before now, none have been this good.  At long last, Frank meets someone in his own league, someone equally as deceptive and manipulative and whose more than willing to pull strings to get what he wants.  Perhaps most importantly, Raymond Tusk recognizes Frank for what he really is, and the exposure robs Francis of his most potent weapon, finally forcing him to deal with someone as an equal.  It’s really a dynamic we could’ve used over the course of the entire season, not just as a final hurdle to the Vice Presidency. Continue reading

Once Someone’s Exposed…

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I try to avoid doing much armchair quarterbacking in these reviews.  For me, focusing on what a story could’ve/should’ve been means missing the point of criticism.  Narratives ought to be examined for what they are, not measured against some hypothetical ideal.  And yet, all that being said, this episode is such a well executed failure that I can’t help but think about how it could’ve succeeded.  Writing, acting, directing, music, pretty much every part of this story ranged from good to great.  Given the stakes involved, this should’ve been the seminal episode for the season.  And yet it falls flat.  Much as I can forgive and forget the ineptitude of the top half of the season, I can’t pretend that it made me care about any of these characters.  The emotional stakes in this episode just don’t feel earned, and that’s a real shame give the quality workmanship on display.  In light of this, I can’t help but deliver a retroactive rewrite for the series thus far. Continue reading

Rebellion on all Fronts

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Does this make three decent episodes in a row for House of Cards?  If they’re not careful this thing could actually become worth watching.  Episode ten maintains the streak by continuing to address my main problem with the top half of the season; it now looks like Frank could fail.  There’s still nothing daring going on here and a lot of the subplots continue to fall flat, but it finally feels like there’s a story happening.  I might even go so far as to call it a good story, as the road to failure is a lot clearer than the road to success.  Frank’s still relentlessly executing his plan, but there are finally elements in play which he can’t control and the unknown serves as an ample source of tension. Continue reading

Bleeding Hearts Have an Ironic Fear of Their Own Blood

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Episode nine presents us with a very different Frank Underwood, one who can’t perfectly manipulate everyone around him, who can have his pride wounded, who can be small and hateful.  One who, in short, is vulnerable, a fact best summed up in the burn he receives after being blindsided at the top of the episode.  Presenting this version of Frank is effectively a request to forget who he was in the first seven episodes.  In fact, given the seeming irrelevance of the Education Reform Bill, we might as well forget the first seven episodes altogether.  That’s a tall order for any serialized drama but as the exchange seems to be that this promises to become a more interesting series, I’ll do my best. Continue reading

Nothing is Permanent

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While still far from what I’d call compelling, this episode of House of Cards was at least interesting.  After all this show’s relentless cynicism it’s refreshing to finally see some genuine emotion from Frank.  Equally refreshing is the fact that this wasn’t the expected story of the corrupt politician that used to be young and idealistic.  We learn nothing of Frank’s politics when he was younger, but we do learn that he was once a far more earnest man, someone capable of personal intimacy on a level that would terrify Congressman Underwood.  We also learn that our Frank misses that young man.  There’s no tortured soul searching, no suggestion that he’s going to change the course he’s on, just the admission that he’s lost something of value. Continue reading

Generosity is its Own Kind of Power

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I suppose it’s inevitable that a series so incapable of captivating our attention would eventually lose interest in its own story.  Watching Frank continue to shepherd the Education Reform Bill through Congress would’ve basically just been more of the same, but for this story to come to such an unceremonious conclusion after tying the series together for half a season is just baffling.  I’d call this a clumsy course correction, except that there doesn’t seem to be any great new direction to take its place.  Russo’s campaign for Governor is just another way for Frank to gain leverage.  If this series was going to change gears, it needed to move into his endgame, not just give him a new front to work with. Continue reading

Disorganized Labour

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At long last, Frank finally makes a mistake.  A painful, cringe-worthy, mistake that threatens to derail his entire education reform bill.  Frank’s gaffe is the most human moment we’ve seen from the character and while it’s consequences are unfortunately limited to this episode, they still make for better storytelling than his monotone competence.  Not that this is a great episode, as the rest of the series’ flaws are still on prominent display, but the possibility of failure at least generates the possibility of drama.  That’s an awfully low bar for an episode of television but, unfortunately, it’s where this series is right now. Continue reading

Friends Make the Worst Enemies

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I’ve complained before that the charity was too remote from the “real” story of House of Cards and while this episode technically answers my complaint, it doesn’t really improve matters.  This intersection of Claire and Frank’s worlds is a zero sum game, making hers seem more important and his less so.  This story could have worked, as Claire would seem to be a front that Frank’s actually vulnerable on, but the resolution is disappointingly toothless as the Underwoods are able to succeed through “old fashioned gumption” rather than any dirty dealings.  All-in-all, this episode feels more like an unnecessary aside at a time when the show should be kicking into high gear. Continue reading

We Don’t Like Easy, Do We?

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While my criticisms of House of Cards still stand, the series may finally be making moves to address them.  Frank’s still Godlike in his competence but, despite this, he may actually have made a mistake here.  I’m being oblique to avoid spoilers in the first paragraph.  I’m not wild about the turn this episode takes at the end, but I am curious to see where they go with this.  It’s less a “what’s gonna happen next?” than a “can they make a good story out of this?” type of curiousity, but that’s still better than what the series has offered thus far. Continue reading