House of Cards is a political thriller about an ambitious congressman and his equally conniving wife, who are hungry for power and will go to any lengths to get what they want. Kevin Spacey plays the Democrat Frank Underwood, who will manipulate anyone in pursuit of his political agenda, no matter what the consequences. His wife Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) runs an NGO, also aiding and abetting her husband in his schemes.
The first season of House of Cards sees Frank feeling betrayed for not being chosen as Secretary of State by the new President, and he immediately begins plotting to bring President Walker down and rise up the ladder of power. House of Cards has the potential to be an award-winning favorite of all viewers, what with the aura of importance, prestige and a drama that has a lot to offer, especially since Kevin Spacey is the lead. However, by the end of the second season it becomes apparent that there is a certain hollowness to the plot, because even though the bad guy is as bad as they could get, there aren’t any noteworthy ‘good’ guys to put up a good fight. Frank’s elaborate and cunning plans succeed a bit too easily; the people he deceives readily fall for his ploys again. He gets rid of anyone who tries to expose him. The president knows about Frank’s nature which is the reason he doesn’t choose him as the Secretary in the first place, yet he easily believes Frank again when he seeks to regain the president’s trust on more than one occasion. Frank rises to the top without even having to have a single vote cast for himself.
House of Cards gives the appearance of being an important, serious, intellectually challenging series, but it doesn’t really live up to its own expectation in terms of what it is supposed to be; a show about power and control and intersecting paths of government, business and media, a display of the depths to which people can sink for power. The season only has that look, but what it really boils down to is a power hungry politician defeating people who are too easily hoodwinked in the first place, making the whole scenario look a tad ridiculous. The show could have been redeemed had it offered a more lighthearted approach but the drama demands to be treated as prestigious, it was created to be that way, and by those standards it comes up wanting.
There is still hope if House of Cards offers a game changing twist in the third season, so we can only speculate whether Frank will have a worthy adversary when the show returns. Let’s hope he does because some of his evil schemes were actually pretty clever. Also, a fine actor like Kevin Spacey deserves to be challenged and given a worthy opponent, which will bring out the best of him as well.