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It's Time For House Of Cards To Spend Less Time With The Underwoods
Sarah D. Bunting isn't a crackpot. She just thinks the writing has run out of ideas for the First Throuple.
House Of Cards is the Domino's pizza of the shows I watch. I freely admit that it isn't very good (and let's not even get into the troubling politics of its ownership), yet still I can devour a shocking amount in one sitting, and it's unlikely at this late date that I'll give it up.
But Domino's doesn't require me to re-order crust styles or toppings I found aggressively boring or repetitive the last time I had a crappy-'za craving, and I see that this comparison has already run off the rails before I even got to the bit calling Frank Underwood oversalted cheese so I'll just get to the point: House Of Cards does do a handful of things well, but the Underwood presidency and marriage is no longer one of those things, and it should make its way to a back burner pronto. I am not a crackpot.
The problem with Frank and Claire remaining the show's...not protagonists, as that word as we understand it doesn't really apply to House Of Cards, but main characters is that their ability, together and separately, to escape the most baroque circumstances with relatively mild scathing means we don't really care what becomes of them either way. Too, once Frank ascended to the presidency, the writing naturally ran out of loftier goals to which he might aspire, and while I'd happily watch a Darknet-Sorkin take on the day-to-day business of governing -- The Antihero Wing -- it's not the direction the show ever chooses. What began as a cynical exploration of the, for lack of a better term, amoral relativism of our legislative leaders and the nauseous compromises required of everyone in their orbits is now a repetitive series of Houdini-esque escapes from consequences. Never mind the "realism" of the show, which by Season 5 is minimal, and under the IRL circumstances in which we live as I write this, it's not exactly unbelievable that Frank could keep dodging various bullets, real and figurative. It's that we've seen him do it so many times, it's like that cactus that keeps going by in the background of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Even his too-infrequent "...ffs" side-eyes to camera
feel perfunctory. And whatever House Of Cards wants us to take from the portrait of the Underwoods' marriage, the elasticity of their bond that allows it to hold, I don't really believe that the HOC-verse media wouldn't have sniffed out some aspect of its unconventionality -- Frank's "close friendship" in college; Tom Yates's Kushner-with-benefits deal -- and put it on blast. What's worse, I don't really want to watch the denouement if and when that does happen.
I haven't watched past the third episode, so I can't say what happens with the election, how the Underwoods do or don't influence it or whether the congressional inquiry proceeds or doesn't. There is some interest, in theory, in a narrative that sees Conway in the Oval and refusing to end our long national nightmare by pardoning Frank; how would that decision get made? How would the investigation proceed? But...that's my point. House Of Cards is much better at clinically exposing the processes behind the acquisition and maintenance of power than it is at poeticizing the existences of the powerful. Take Doug Stamper ("...please!") (jk, he's my favorite, and seeing Michael Kelly in the subway after the women's march was basically the only good thing to happen that whole month). I love Doug because he's about getting shit done. He's not interested in good or bad. He's interested in results, and in making sure you know that, if he doesn't get them, you're fucked.
Or...he was. The last couple of seasons, he's reduced to obsessing over glasses (or syringes) of bourbon, clinging to influence with naked pathos, and...whatever that Nicholas Nickleby-length shit was with Rachel that took three-plus seasons to handle. Doug needs a return to form, and more generally, the show needs a return to the procedural part of its name, the construction of the House Of Cards. A tiny scene with Seth that shows him presidentializing the sound system in the ballroom while a day player steams the curtains in the background?
That's what the show is good at, why I watch: the machinations, and the medium-sized cogs who carry them out. The process-y parts of dirty tricks and digging for skeletons. Why Campbell Scott's campaign consultant came on at the last minute, and what he's there to do.
I don't really need to see Frank getting in Conway's head, or trying to, at the very end of his 24-hour questionathon; I do need to see what goes into putting that kind of Skype town hall on steroids together in terms of prep, security, and when the candidate gets to take a whiz. If the implication that Conway didn't actually take part in the daring rescue his PAC ads say he did is the truth, we've already seen variations on this theme on Brothers & Sisters and Scandal, and we're not particularly invested in this guy qua himself, so either get on with it, or get more granular with how that kind of potential bombshell is uncovered, and the decision-making around leveraging it (or not).
I've enjoyed Robin Wright's performance as Claire; I think it's compelling in its opacity. I like Kevin Spacey's Frank well enough too, although both patchy accent and pelty wig have grown tiresome. But the Game Of Throuples relationship that seems to drive the narrative isn't quite enough, not when I could be watching a process-ier story about Doug and (or versus) Leann. And wherever Election Day ends for the Underwoods, I'd like them to resign from dominating the show.