House of Cards: Chapter 1: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
House of Card’s premiere episode is not an ordinary pilot, gasping for air, desperately attempting to establish a user base. Rather, it makes lunging strides. It walks with confidence and composure, the full realization of itself. The Netflix produced political thriller is not just great, but it should be considered required watching for any binge-watching list.
From the very beginning, the episode exudes quality. The title sequence, itself, should be commended. The viewer is treated with beautiful, smooth pans of iconic Washington locations; the pictures are eye-watering, each are punctuated with music at just the right time. The cool blue color pallet sets the tone wonderfully. Trumpets sound in the background, evoking images of patriotism, majesty, and something foreboding underneath. Every element feel like a cog falling into place. House of Cards displays technical mastery and the director at its helm truly understands that film is a visual medium. But, the show is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it is also really entertaining.
The series focuses on House Majority Whip Francis Underwood (Spacey), a wheeler-dealer who was essential in getting new president Garrett Walker elected, plus — and more important to his plans for power — landing Linda Vasquez as chief of staff, who will give Francis access and the policy changes he wants as he pushes for Secretary of State. But there’s only one problem with that: After the inauguration, the hard-nosed Linda gives Francis the bad news that he’s not getting the Cabinet job. (The president isn’t even present at the break-it-to-him meeting). Instead, the administration wants Francis just where he is, because he’d be more valuable there helping shepherd new legislation through in the first 100 days.
Snubbed and betrayed, the viewer sees Francis’s mask fall off. No longer is he the amicable South Carolinian senator, but a Machivellian prince made flesh. He is cruel and ruthless, an absolutely despicable character, but none the less riveting and likeable. How is this achieved? His delivery. Every so often, Underwood will speak with characters onscreen, then turn to the camera, and address the watcher directly with the absolute opposite of what he said to his cast mates. With every sly wink and smirk, Underwood lets you into his world as a confidant. Spacey brings such a suave to the character, I can’t imagine the show with anyone else, his overbearing Southern accent and all. One of his most unforgettable moments are in the premiere’s opening moments, where a neighbor’s dog gets injured in a hit-and-run. Underwood tells his aide to get help, but then faces the viewer like a shark, with a dead-eye stare, giving a lecture on pain; “There are two kinds of pain, the pain that makes you stronger, and the useless kind of pain that only makes you weak. I cannot abide useless pain”. He chokes the suffering animal in his calm, collected manner. A predator, but a cool one at that. The viewer is reeled in, hook, line, and sinker.
Underwood’s wife is no less the star of the show. Robin Wright gives Claire Underwood an edge, someone who is as tough as iron, and sharp as steel. Just as equally calculating as her husband, she often drives her husband to greater heights, even at her own expense, firing half of her staff at a charity outfit for his sake quickly and deftly.
House of Cards is just another show that has risen from this golden age of television. Visually striking, technically masterful, and brilliantly acted, from the full range of dire drama to oddball humor, this show will be one people will remember for a long time. 9/10.