Poli – meaning many – tics – meaning bloodsucking organisms. It’s an old joke. And despite all our “Hope” posters and “Grassroots Campaigns” it’s the fundamental opinion of the majority of this country. In a way, there was something distinctly revolutionary about The West Wing making a point to show honest, bright-eyed people who really want the best for their country and aren’t motivated by greed and power. But at the same time it was the only way to make something like the American government palatable.
House of Cards is the anti-West Wing. It has no interest in making politics palatable. The show is about a powerful congressman (Kevin Spacey) who is betrayed by his political allies (who have just taken the White House) and decides to reject all loyalties. His goal is unmitigated power, to no real end. It’s an old Shakespearean story. Like the British show its remaking, it makes no attempts at framing the story in a world that actually exists. It instead uses the idea of politics (multiple blood sucking organisms) we hold in our minds as a fantastic framework to tell a timeless fairytale about power and hubris.
It would be unfair of me to review this show without mentioning Spacey’s performance, which may be the great divider of the critical world. I’ve always loved watching him act, but he’s certainly not for everyone. It’s probably safe to say that if you don’t like Spacey turned up to 11, you may have a tough time with this show. But, despite Spacey’s oppressive screen time, my hat goes off to Robin Wright who, in her decades of acting, has never impressed me this much. In a lot of ways, she’s the perfect foil for Spacey’s flamboyant, theatrical tendencies. She demands your attention with silence and stillness. It’s almost hypnotizing.
For better or worse, these first two episodes are ruthlessly efficient. David Fincher (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is one of the most talented directors working today, and his ability to tear through mountains of context, subtext and style gives this scattershot story a lot of much needed momentum. But Beau Williams’ writing is a little too direct and on the nose, leaving little room for nuance. The result is like a very tasty pie to the face.