Is This The House of Cards You Want To Die On?

If Netflix were looking at my viewing habits when designing an original series to produce (and I’m sure they did), the data would have told them that a political drama starring Kevin Spacey would be a safe bet. And they were right.

I’ve enjoyed House of Cards through four seasons now, even as more of the strings that make it work are starting to show. Perhaps it’s because of the real-life primary season, which has been bonkers in its own way, but the characters’ confident assertions that this or that misstep will have huge consequences down the line ring hollow to me.

It’s become more relaxed in its heightened, soapy drama, and always wants to string you along to the next episode. Like many TV shows, it’s not necessarily aiming for an ending, just a cliffhanger that makes you come back for the next episode- or next season. This, of course, has the problem of making most episodes more or less indistinguishable from each other. I remember all the various story beats, certainly, but I couldn’t tell you what episode they happened in.

One thing that’s become particularly apparent to me over the last two seasons is how relentlessly apolitical the show is. Frank Underwood is ostensibly a Democrat[ref]A great choice- making him an evil Republican is just too easy[/ref]. Yet he rarely talks about issues or projects that you might expect a Democrat to be interested in.

Underwood’s character is very clear: he wants power, for its own sake. Having a pet house-of-cards-season-4project would merely be an issue for other people to exploit. Yet when he finally[ref]SPOILER![/ref] assumes the Presidency, the show loses some of the narrative thrust it had in the first two seasons. Now that Underwood has power, what does he want to do with it?

This past season has regained some of that spirit now that Underwood is running for another term, but he’s still trying to maintain the power that he has, not fighting for something he really believes in.

This isn’t really surprising, really, given that mass media going back at least as far as Patton[ref]Scroll down to "Z as in Zeitgeist."[/ref] has tried to be strategically non-partisan. Everyone sees their point of view, and the producers maximize their potential audience. Meredith Blake and Katherine Miller, in discussing Armando Ianucci’s political satire Veep, point out how cynical and non-partisan that show is. If the characters have any principles, be sure to check back in about five minutes- they might have changed.

Contrast this with the hyper partisanship we see on the news day in and day out. I know a lot of it’s for show, and apolitical cynicism is often justified. Yet I still think that most people in positions of power, whether it’s Barack Obama, Donald Trump, or Vladimir Putin, have at least one goal they want to achieve with that power.[ref]Those goals, respectively, would be reforming the U.S. healthcare system, proving wrong those nagging voices that say you’re a tiny, worthless, insignificant human being, and securing a warm water port for Russian exports.[/ref]

I think a big problems in politics are those few principles that people do hold dear: the ones they say they’ll never compromise on, and the ones the voters punish them for when they do. Congress won’t get anything done because everyone and his Representative wants to Make a Stand.

I know we shouldn’t look to House of Cards for anything resembling reality, but if you want to tell a story about politics, this ideological partisanship should be a part of it. So when President Underwood wins reelection (and he must), I want to see him set his sights on something to secure his legacy.

Until, of course, his past catches up with him and he goes down in flames. I can’t wait for that part.