House Of Cards’ 4th Dimensional Estate
An Essay by Evan Kreeger
Just like any HDTV story junky in desperate need of a 60 frames per second yarn fix, I observe the final days of 2014 withering away like shriveled leaves on the wintry steps of the United States’ Capitol Building as the “real” 114th Congress fast approaches.
In Media Rights Capital and Netflix’s House of Cards, fictional United States Congressman-Vice President-President Francis “Frank” Underwood lives in an alternative 1080p/4k reality in surround sound Shaksepearean quadruple-talk. Make no mistake; it is the Fourth Estate that triumphs over all else in the series that will stream its entire 3rd season into a portion of the collective unconscious on Friday, February 27, 2015.
After exercising uncharacteristic restraint, I have finally given into the demands of video and plunged myself head first into the pirannha-filled sharknado drama metrics that is HOC in a 48-hour period just days after a snowless Christmas of 2014 in the Northeast of North America.
The phenomenology of developing a virtual intimacy with a lead character who is a sociopath at best and a psychopath at his bottom dollar worst is not for the faint of heart. Kevin Spacey’s dramatic ability to be the calm in the eye of a proverbial shitstorm has served him well on both stage and screen ever since the first heartbeats of Reaganomics began trickling into the deep web circular of tragicomedy commonly known as American history.
In the theater, Spacey’s origins begin as a spear carrier in a New York Shakesepare Festival production of Henry VI, Part 1 in ’81. On the silver screen, Space’s creation myth took shape on a New York City subway en route to tormenting Meryl Streep at a group therapy session from ’86. Spacey’s Everyman Frenemy persona has dominated much of his acting work since (Bob Speck in Working Girl from ’88, Eddie Otis in Consenting Adults from ’92, Verbal Kint in Usual Suspects from ’95, Lester Burnham in American Beauty from ’99, Prot in K-PAX from ’01, Lex Luthor in Superman Returns in ’06, Dave Harken in Horrible Bosses from ’11, etc.)
The paradox of being simultaneously entertained and traumatized by Spacey’s performance of U-wood merits a citation in the forthcoming DSM-6. Operating as both metaphor and metadata, U-wood dynamically cascades around Washington, D.C. and environs as a dedicated change agent of chaotic evil. What makes U-wood so palatable to the audience is exactly the same thing that enables him to slither through all 26 chapters of Seasons 1 and 2 with such serpentine stealth and precision: his quiet madness and slow dissonance.
“Language is a virus that came from outer space,” theorized William S. Burroughs. U-wood proves this theory 100% correct. Habitually breaking badly through the 4th wall of the RED camera eye, U-wood is constantly giving his viewers a front row seat to all his Southern Gothic demons and fallen Federal Toxic angels in real time mini-solilloquies. The core of U-wood’s inner circle: his broken heart, his fractured soul and his splintered mind teleport his suited body within and without the latitudes and longitudes of noise and speed that is Washingtonia in the early-mid 2010s.
U-wood’s personal horror story smears itself across the widescreen space as honey dripping in relentless slow motion down a corridor of endless hidden hexagonal chambers in a labyrinth of deceitful solitude. Just as the series’ opening title sequences for both seasons shows a Koyaanisqatsi time-lapse of urban America buzzing by in a blur of light and shadow, U-wood moves patiently and deliberately towards all of his prey as he stings himself ever closer to eternal hellfire and smirking damnation.
U-wood’s partner-in-decline is his wife Claire, portrayed with stoic melancholy by Robin Wright. The more one watches the program, the hotter the question burns about which member of this powerful yet powerless couple shows even a nano-depth of humanity. By the end of Season 2’s Chapter 26, it seems to be a tie.
To lie is to live truthfully for both U-wood & Claire. Although U-wood is the perpretrator of actual mortal violence on his victims (Congressman Peter Russo and journalist-content creator Zoe Barnes), Claire is fully complicit in these acts of dark entinction. In fact, she functions very much as a muse to U-wood’s murderous behavior. Which brings me to the subject of neurocinematics.
In Steve Apkon’s recent The Age of the Image book, he speaks of the screen being neutral. What is closer to the truth is that the screen is actually chaotic neutral. Gratuitous sex and ultra-violence so dominates the landscape of our screens both fiction and nonfiction in 2015 and beyond. The manner in which so much of this media is presented with noise and speed as part of the equation speaks volumes of what is missing in glocal culture today.
HOC is an excellent candidate for a study in neurocinematics — profiled by Apkon in his book — because of how it inverts the stereotypical noise-speed formula and offers up a UX of hush and leisure. The elegant detachment of U-wood & Claire in the midst of their mutual destruction is the foundation of what this saga of death and dystopia is all about.
In the Big Now Age of Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/YouTube, it is easy to forget that technology has only been alive and unwell in machines and data streams for a blink of an eye in human history. The English language — like all languages — is a technology and it is how U-wood & Claire subvert and disrupt the King’s English to their dual advantages that is most troubling about their characters’ developmental regressions.
Let’s begin at the beginning of the end. In Season 1’s Chapter 10 (which was first streamed on Friday, February 1, 2013, as was all of Season 1), U-wood makes a decision that will forever haunt his own destiny and all of those whose destinies are closest to his narcissistic orbit. Congressman Peter Russo, played with grace and calamity by Corey Stoll, is terminally stumbling in his attempts to short-cut his way to the Pennsylvanian Governor’s Mansion. Russo’s sprinting anti-hero journey was doomed to fail from the word go as U-wood fatally poisoned any chance of Russo retaining his sense of self by carelessly/carefully encouraging Russo to ignore his own fundamental chronic shortcomings of addiction and inexperience.
In U-wood World, every feeling he tries to emote is numbed by thought, and every thought contains infinite strategies, so whether Russo upgrades from Congressman to Governor is totally irrelevant. The only thing that really matters in U-wood World is U-wood. Russo is merely a noun, an adjective and a verb to be played with 24–7 until he upgrades U-wood’s own political space-time continuum.
The Come To Satan moment for U-wood occurs in a flash during a very standard discourse between himself and his doomed apprentice Doug Stamper, portrayed with creepy tranquility by Michael Kelly.
After binge-screening Season 3 over the course of 72 hours after its VOD release, my fragile little brain is somewhat traumatized from all of the evil deeds Underwood & Co. have perpetrated. However, methinks Frankie Baby is going to get his karmic come-uppance in Season 4 which I’ll just have to wait around with Godot for another 11 months…
Monday, February 23, 2015 @ 11:56am EDT in Tarrytown, New York