House of Cards, Season 2 (USA, 2014)

HOCs2_PosterCreated by: Beau Willimon. So this one was where I started to get really cautious about the show, after an overall really intriguing first season. I’ll start with the disclaimer that I am not a politician, and I know very little about politics (probably less than the average person). But this entire show has me in a struggle, the struggle of suspension of disbelief. This is an entertainment, not a document; this is a theatrical impression of the corruption of American politics, not a journalistic exposé; it focuses on fictional people in a fictional American political system, not real people in the real American political system. All of this is obvious, everyone knows this, I’m knocking on the open door. BUT, the question I like to ask myself sometimes is: “Why is this being made?” I understand that people want to stew in the negative juices of modern culture—consult The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Gone Baby Gone Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc—but I never quite believe that this can be the only explanation. Not to hammer the point over the head, but it takes an awful lot of time and resources to go to all the trouble of making a TV show, and I assume that people do it for some reason other than to make a ton of money. Nothing is sure in television, especially not these days. You would think that David Fincher and Kevin Spacey and whoever else developed this thing would have the luxury and the desire to pick a project that they would get some artistic satisfaction out of, since it was kind of their baby, and since they clearly aren’t hurting for dough or anything. But the further I go with this thing, it’s clear that this is pure escapism. I get escapism, I partake in it, but the escapism for something as dark as this is a peculiar thing. What is so escapist about stewing in a soap opera about an unscrupulous politician hacking his way through a political system like a ruthless colonialist hacking his way through the jungle to a bunch of gold deposits shrouded in the thick? It’s compelling, I’ll give you that, but why is it satisfying?

I guess all of this is the long way of saying that I found that the weakest part of this show—the President—was given an awful lot of heavy lifting to do in this season, and for me it kind of revealed the strings of the marionette a little bit. What I found compelling about the first season was that, even though everything was obviously fictitious, the show bore enough of a resemblance to reality to make it seem worth making. Even though it was fake, the fake people seemed real, the situations seemed to be just modestly stretched, sleeker, sexier, TV-er versions of scenarios and personalities that, if you suspend your disbelief juuuuust enough, if you hold your tongue juuuuust the right way, you can sort of believe that this show is functioning as an allegory of the real political process; you can almost believe that you’re actually getting a peek behind the curtain of the real, fucked up, corrupt political process. The major blind spot in the entire show was always the character of the President, whatshisname, not the actor (who I’m sure is a fine actor doing the best he can with what he’s given). That guy, that cookie-cutter President-type was exactly that: a type, not a character, and definitely not a person. The entire crux of the show being Frank’s vast intellectual superiority, his ability to play everybody like a cheap violin, to be able to play dumb (very dumb) and have everyone sing his praises while he fucks them over, is stretched to its complete farthest edges of believability with this character of the President. (Even his fucking name is so bland and unforgettable that I can’t remember it.) Maybe this is the point the show is making, that the President is such a complete clod, and that all it takes is someone with that lethal combination of intellect and zero morals to take over the “throne” of the greatest empire the world has ever known. But that president to me is the one thread that unravels the whole thing. Every line of dialogue, every moment of screentime, everything about that character undermines the “credibility” of this show, whatever it is that I mean by that. I really can’t pin it down, other than a general feeling I get. This show dives firmly into cartoon caricature territory with that President, and it points itself to that question I asked earlier: Why is this show being made? What that character of the President really shows is how artistically conservative and unimaginative it actually is: beneath the shocking exterior of a totally “new” kind of show, it’s a show about how the political system, otherwise built of solid principles and stocked with solid, principled people, and for an hour at a time, we get to see what would happen if—gasp!—some unprincipled vagabond managed to worm his way in and—gasp!—take over the presidency so that—gasp!—the presidency were in the hands of someone who only playing the political game for egotistical power-driven reasons instead of sober, selfless, dreams of public service to their fellow citizens. In other words, like I think I mentioned before, it’s the opposite thesis of The Wire. Good people aren’t corrupted by systems that promote selfish behaviour, good systems are made corrupt by inherently bad and selfish people. And I guess, in that case, the matter just boils down to my own inability and unwillingness to separate my personal opinions from the content that I see. Oops!

But, all this being said, I don’t mind a bit of escapism, and this show is still really satisfying, so I’ll keep watching.


3 responses to “House of Cards, Season 2 (USA, 2014)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: House of Cards, Season 3 (USA, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Wind River (USA, 2017) | Offhand Reviews·

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