I’ve been told to watch “House of Cards” more often than most, I’d imagine, being a journalist.
From my mom, who convinced me Anna Kendrick was a lead (I can see where she went wrong), to my “Scandal”-loving friends, who said it was better, recommendations for the series ran rampant around me for quite some time before my initial viewing.
What I was expecting: a harsh political drama with the dryness of “Law and Order” and the intrigue of a soap opera.
The final push toward the show I got, though, I found the most fascinating. It wasn’t anything about the nuances of Washington or about me taking notes on being a hard-hitting journalist.
Rather, it was from a coworker, who told me a dog died in the first 20 seconds of the pilot and that I’d be hooked immediately afterward.
With the third season having just come out, I knew I had some catch-up to play..but I was ready to make the commitment.
For months now, I hadn’t been giving “House of Cards” the chance to foster the addiction to it I knew was in me, all because I wasn’t willing to commit to a 50-minute pilot.
But what if all it took was 20 seconds?
Spoiler alert: Kevin Spacey’s conniving pol (that’s Washington media slang for “politician”) Frank Underwood mercy kills the dog with his bare hands. After 20 seconds, I was ready to watch the whole series in one sitting.
What is it about a moment so miniscule that captures someone so quickly?
Funny enough, it’s a lot like what we attempt to do as journalists all the time. We have a finite amount of time at the beginning of a story to get you to read the rest, just as Underwood has a finite amount of time to kill a dog and show how completely ruthless, egomaniacal and calculated he is.
We know all this because Underwood talks to the dog; it’s pure genius.
But what the hell is it about? At this point, I have no idea either. “House of Cards” is a very “show, don’t tell” series, so it takes a few episodes to learn everything you need to know.
For instance, you find out Underwood is the House Majority Whip early on, but it’s hard to tell to which party he belongs. At first, Underwood's Carolina drawl led me to assume he was a Southern conservative, but in the second episode, I realized I was completely wrong.
The same ambiguity goes for his wife Claire (Robin Wright), a shady lobbyist who also runs an NGO (non-governmental organization, for those outside the Beltway).
She and her husband evoke a “Scandal”-esque banter as they scheme to get to the top, each as power-hungry as the other.
At one point, after they’ve shared a cigarette in the middle of the night and she’s laid out his suit to begin the next day, Francis remarks, “I love her more than a shark loves blood.”
And then there’s Zoe Barnes, a reporter with the guts to push herself to the top. It feels wrong, though; those same guts are going to spill out at any moment and she’s going to fall.
She has too few ethics to be a good journalist but too many to be good news to a politician. She’s developed a relationship of sorts with Underwood (as his pawn, essentially), who begins to leak insider info to her to further his career.
The best scene I’ve seen so far? A two-second shot of Underwood playing “Call of Duty” after a night at the National Symphony Orchestra and his wife telling him not to stay up all night. I’m not gonna lie, I paused the show here to rant about how great that directorial decision was.
“House of Cards” is about subtleties. Underwood killed a dog at the very beginning to say, “Hey, leave your preconceived notions and your moral integrity at the door.” (Kind of like the real Washington, eh?)
The beauty in the series comes with not having to worry about expectations or goodwill; rather, self-preservation, personal freedom and individual happiness.
I’m still blown away that you produced this alone, Netflix.
Great job, Elana