(Warning: Spoilers for the Netflix series House of Cards Season 2 follow.)
Francis J. Underwood is a true American hero. He’s a representation of the American dream, where a good ol’ boy from the south can go from being the son of a dirt-poor peach farmer to the most powerful man in the world. The means justify the ends for Frank, and with his almost equally amoral spouse and partner in crime, he runs roughshod over the highest echelons of American politics.
I’ve got to hand it to Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and production team of the US remake of the British classic political drama House of Cards. The sheer force of delivery of the Underwood characters are just enough to overcome a lot of the eyebrow-raising, sometimes laugh-out-loud plots and scenes in the show.
For example – Reg E. Cathey is a favorite from his run in The Wire. His character in House of Cards is fairly innocuous: a small role as Freddy, owner of a barbecue joint that Frank Underwood frequents. Then they decide to magnify this story into something right out of The Wire, introducing a gangster background, short-tempered gun-toting son and a corporate drone that wants to make Freddy’s the next big restaurant chain. It feels so out of place that I was raising the People’s Eyebrow like the Rock when Freddy’s son started waving a piston on the streets of DC, just like a denizen of Baltimore in The Wire.
That still didn’t measure up to the scene that caused me to wince. Granted, they set this up with the overly-indulgent episode recounting Frank’s glory days at military school. That the character had a gay relationship didn’t bother me. It’s an all-male school, they were drunk, there was a closeness there, none of the rationalization was necessary. Underwood swings both ways, or more likely, he now swings however he needs to to achieve his ends. Got it.
But really, was that menage a trois scene with the bodyguard absolutely critical? I cringed because I saw it coming. They wouldn’t do that, would they, I thought. It’s so obvious, I said, that it would shoot way over shock value and fall somewhere between gratuitous and ridiculous. Well, they did it. It was acted out practically in slow motion, giving the viewer a lot of time to cringe and look away.
The greatest strength of House of Cards is the acting. The stories go over the top, and require suspension of disbelief. I can overlook all the massive plot holes and convenient coincidences. I plead with the writers – don’t make the Underwoods caricatures. Surprise us. If the third season of the show keeps Frank and Claire on the road towards Cardboard Cutout City, I don’t think I’ll continue to watch.