House of Cards needs to stop cheating by using superglue to stay upright, argues political correspondent and TV reviewer Nik McNally
Known for its remarkable subtlety, House of Cards opens its third season with Frank Underwood pissing on his father’s grave, because apparently two seasons worth of killing animals and shoving people in front of trains in broad daylight hasn’t quite hammered in that we’re dealing with yet another Kevin Spacey sociopath in a suit.
This is not necessarily a bad thing; Spacey’s scenery-chewing Southern drawl—less Jimmy Carter and more Futurama’s Chicken Lawyer, if you’d argue the two aren’t the same entity—is undeniably entertaining, best utilised whilst spitting venom with wife Claire (Robin Wright), whose scenes of mutual scheming provide the perfect stimulus for games of spot-the-personality disorder (don’t worry, there are no wrong answers).
House of Cards borrows from Othello rather liberally, from direct allusions sprinkled throughout to Frank’s soliloquies that drip with contempt for anything approaching good will, to the delight of Nietzsche worshippers in parents’ basements across the globe. So it’s a shame that this adoption extends to Othello’s most frustrating aspect; the fact that every scheme’s success hinges not on its creative genius, but the glaring mental lapses of every pawn waiting to get taken. All the intrigue provoked by Frank and Claire—who look significantly more aroused whilst plotting various downfalls than during sex—is punctured by their crushing lack of opposition.
Has Lackey #1474 grown a conscience that threatens to expose your plans? Nothing that staging the guy’s suicide right outside his house can’t fix, undetected nonetheless. Well, what if a journalist you’ve been feeding information to cottons onto your involvement in that murder? Wear your edgiest fedora and shove her in front of a train consequence-free, slipping away from that highly populated station in time for dinner.
So the President knows that you’ve been not-so-subtly poisoning his administration from within and is ready to throw you in jail, how do you wriggle out of that one? With a heartfelt letter of friendship. Wait, what? Yes, even and especially the President is—and I believe this is the medically accurate term—implausibly stupid. With Sarah Palin once hovering dangerously close to the White House, hunting rifle in hand, incompetence is not a foreign concept to politics. But as each potential challenge to Frank’s machinations is effortlessly swept aside, the stakes become non-existent, along with our reason to care.
It’s forgivable that House of Cards’ mix of moral bankruptcy and idiocy has nothing to say about American politics that can’t be learned from a two minute date with Fox ‘News’ and a bottle of brain bleach, but the lack of formidable conflict drains one of the world’s most influential institutions of all importance.
The game has already been won—why keep playing?