REVIEW: House of Cards — Episodes 5 and 6

This show has an uncanny knack for making me root for the bad guys.

One of the central storylines in these episodes revolves around a teachers’ strike (binge-watching makes it difficult for me to remember exactly which events are in which episode, because one flows right into the other, but the teachers’ strike threads through both), and under normal circumstances, I would be on their side — my parents are both teachers, teachers in general are grossly undervalued and underpaid, plus Frank is trying to take away their right to collective bargaining. They have every right to strike until they get what they ask for, and their leader, Spinella, is vocal and articulate, makes extremely good arguments, and seems to be able fight strategically as well as Frank (as evidenced by his sneaky attempt to shut down Frank’s wife’s fundraiser by getting the hotel to refuse to serve as the venue).

And yet I found myself wanting to see what Frank was going to do to get out of this mess and stay in the president’s good graces. He promised to end the strike, and I just really wanted to see how he could do it.

This was the first time I felt like the show dropped the ball a bit on character for the sake of drama. For the sake of drama, you want to have Frank fail before he succeeds — I understand that. You want to paint him into a corner and then amazingly come back from that; it’s much more exciting than having him win on his first try. But the way in which the writers decided to make him fail was a head-scratcher. Frank goes on CNN and makes a complete fool of himself in a debate against Spinella. The Frank we’ve seen so far has been a smooth master of media and interpersonal manipulation; the way he screws up at the debate is completely incongruous with his always-prepared-always-on-top-of-things-always-with-a-backup-plan-or-seven type of character. It was well-acted, it was amusing, it was cringeworthy in the way it was supposed to be, and it certainly backed Frank into a corner, but it wasn’t true to character.

I did like the internet and media follow-up to it, though — very realistic and very funny: Frank’s gaffe gets autotuned on YouTube, and mocked on 5th estate shows like Bill Maher’s (actual guest appearance by Bill Maher; nice work, Netflix — can I hope for Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart to show up at some point?).

One of the reasons this egregious character!fail is so noticeable is because the rest of the characterization on the show is so consistent and fascinating. I particularly like the insights we get into Frank and Claire’s marriage, how their dynamic works and why they are so well-matched. They know about each other’s extramarital affairs (at least, she knows about his; it’s unclear if he knows about hers, though he definitely has suspicions) but they don’t let them get in the way of their own relationship and their joint goals, goals that “turn into one and the same,” in the words of The A.V. Club’s Ryan McGee. Each deeply cares about and appreciates the other for exactly what they bring to the table. They may not be great people, but they have a great marriage, and I love watching how they interact and deal with each situation. A true power couple. It’s a good thing they don’t have children, though. Those kids would be a WRECK.

 

Rating: 3.75/5 (points docked for character!fail)

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