With Season 2 approaching, let’s take a look back at the first season of House of Cards. Although it has its weaknesses, House of Cards proves that Netflix can stand its own in the industry.
The highly anticipated second season of House of Cards will be uploaded, in its entirety, to Netflix on Friday. But, before we can watch Frank Underwood manipulate his way further up the political ladder, why don’t we look back at what Season 1 got right and what it got wrong?
Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen the first season of “House of Cards” yet, then stop reading now!
The initial run of 13 episodes was captivating, and justly earned its renown. Right off the bat, casting Kevin Spacey to play the role of Frank Underwood was genius. Even before watching the show, you knew Spacey would nail the role, and he certainly did. Spacey losing out to Jeff Daniels for Lead Actor in a Drama Series was one of the biggest disappointments at last year’s Emmys. Very few could pull off the mix of ruthlessness and charm like Spacey did. His snide comments to the audience, looking directly at the camera, were among the highlights of the first season. Even if the things he said to the audience didn’t necessarily need to be said, it was still entertaining to hear them come from his mouth.
The show’s aesthetics managed to stay consistent throughout. Its cool, calculated shots fit the political world perfectly. Through its crisp cinematography, the show itself held up a sort of confidence, like that of its two main protagonists, clouding the show’s weaknesses so they weren’t as glaring.
House of Cards never failed to stay interesting. Even during some parts that may be considered filler, specifically the episodes that sent Underwood back to his roots, the plot wasn’t strained. Underwood has so many different dimensions to his character that it didn’t suffer from these more relaxed episodes.
However, Frank wasn’t the only character worth praise. His wife, Claire, played by Robin Wright, was perfect as Frank’s counterpart. They played off each other fantastically, not just in their similarities, but in their differences as well. You saw very clearly how she helped make House Underwood stay whole. Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) was another character with a certain mystique that kept the show interesting. The fact is, we don’t know much about many of these characters, and that’s a good thing. They gave you just enough of Frank, Claire and Stamper’s past so we, as an audience, felt satisfied, but not gorged. Let’s hope that season 2 strays away from explaining too much about their backgrounds, and keeps this same level of ambiguity. Russo, on the other hand, was left quite exposed throughout the course of his character’s arc. And yet this worked out okay, because Corey Stoll did a great job playing his character’s vulnerabilities. A lesser actor may have been too heavy-handed in his portrayal.
But House of Cards didn’t get everything right. Some characters just never stood up to the others. The supporting cast around Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) at The Washington Herald couldn’t land the jump from unlikeable to likeable. Janine Skorsky (Constane Zimmer) and Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), two of Zoe’s coworkers at The Herald, never meshed well with Zoe’s rise in the ranks early on, and later, when they were tossed back into the plot, it was difficult to truly buy that Zoe would reconnect with them.
Perhaps my biggest problem with House of Cards first season was that Frank Underwood was too invincible. He rarely made any mistakes, and when he did, it came across as strange. For example, the interview on CNN, where he fumbled his debate on education reform, just didn’t fit his character. He had been flawless in his wordplay from the get-go, so watching him sound like a complete idiot was too jarring.
Frank’s only real weaknesses were briefly touched on in the first season. They came in the form of the two prominent women in Frank’s life: Claire and Zoe. They both defied Frank in different ways, showing that they won’t hesitate to take him on when they need to. However, there hasn’t been any real consequence to their defiance as of yet. Even after Claire sabotaged Russo’s bill, Frank managed to get his way in the end anyway (manipulating the Vice President out of his seat so Frank could slide in). This storyline does, however, add an interesting vulnerability to Frank, knowing that Frank and Claire both rely on each other so much.
Overall, House of Cards is a great show. It’s not as good as some of the other recent greats, like Breaking Bad, but it certainly beats out 95% of what you would find on network or cable TV. The show was a major accomplishment for Netflix, opening the way for other ground-breaking programs like Orange is the New Black. Hopefully we’ll see even more edgy content come from nontraditional sources like Netflix.
In Season 2, House of Cards needs to set some of its weaknesses straight. A stronger supporting cast will go a long way in maintaining the show’s momentum. With Russo dead, there’s going to be a large void that has to be filled. As far as its main characters, the cold, ruthless ways of Frank and Claire should begin to reveal some consequences. They seem too untouchable up to this point, so it’d be nice to see someone or something utilize their character flaws to threaten their supremacy.
Whatever comes on February 14th, it’ll certainly be fun to watch Frank Underwood back for more blood.
by Matthew Shaffer
House of Cards – Netflix