By Nicholas Sauma, Opinion Editor
If you think most critics are harsh, you don’t know me. Half the time, a preview is enough to keep me from seeing a movie, and most television shows don’t keep me coming back.
So, trust me when I say this. Netflix’s original series, “House of Cards,” is truly a must-see. I wouldn’t be surprised if you friends have been telling you this same thing because I endured an onslaught people telling me I was sinning to not watch it. I gave the first episode a chance, then knocked off three more before I had to get to sleep.
The first few episodes set the background of Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) character. He is expecting to be named secretary of state, gets passed over and decides to exact his revenge. Beyond that, I don’t want to spoil the fun.
I had a few busy weeks after those episodes, and as I went through the motions (class, papers, rinse, repeat), all I could think about was “House of Cards.” Just this last week, I went on a rampage and finished up the series. Now, I have to live in a profoundly dark, torturous, existential crisis until the next season is released. This is Breaking Bad all over again.
I realize that I haven’t given up too much information about the show, but I really think the mystery is the best part of the show. There’s a large element of reality tied in as well. Since the whole drama is set on Capitol Hill, there was this sense in my head that perhaps truth is stranger than fiction, and most of these events didn’t have to be made up.
The characters are very complex. Underwood is not a nice guy, but it’s hard to hate him. He walks a strange line, where his actions seem immoral or unethical, but by and large seem easily justifiable. His relationship with his wife, Claire (Robin Wright) is strange. They seem to be more of a team than married couple, and cheating occurs on both sides.
Journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) adds a completely new line of drama. She is a young woman with big aspirations, and Underwood feeds her stories from the Hill in order to get her ahead, but also to morph policy decisions. They originally enjoy the symbiotic relationship, but as things sour, it’s hard to see who will lose in the end.
Since it’s my nature to criticize, I will say that when Underwood speaks directly to the camera it’s somewhat awkward. Breaking the fourth wall is a risky move in my opinion, and I think it unnecessarily broke up the continuity of the episodes at times.
While not a problem to me, its release online on Netflix and on Hulu means that a lot of people simply don’t know how to find it. Web television is still a brave new world, and that can keep some people away. The beauty of the online release, however, was that all 13 episodes of season one were released at once, and without any commercials. That seems a good enough incentive to watch online to me.
Beyond that, however, it’s hard not to find something to like in the show. A lot of the secondary and tertiary characters are very likable and well-formed, and there’s this strange attraction to power and ambition that I think brings people back. Underwood is the character many of us could be or become if we ruthlessly pursued our own self-interest. No family, no friends without favors, and no action without thought of promotion or progress.
If you love politics, it may be one of the best shows you ever see. Politics is a delightful mixture of ambition, power and corruption contrasted with public service, helping others and teamwork. “House of Cards” captures that dark side we all know exists and portrays it in a way that’s almost impossible to judge as right or wrong. It delights in ambiguous morality, mystery and a strong, central character whose will and resolve really form the central plot.
Watch it and suffer with me in anticipation of season two!