Netflix has officially released their original series, “House of Cards.” The entire first season is comprised of 13 one-hour episodes and has been available in full since Feb. 1. The decision to release the season in its entirety is an interesting strategy by a company that has dominated the movie rental business for years, and I plan to review each episode on a weekly basis. I’ll conclude with Chapters 12 and 13.
As the first season comes to a close, “House of Cards” ends on a note that is characteristic of creator Beau Willimon’s deceitful twists. The final minutes are both an appropriate cliff hanger and possible foreshadowing, even though protagonist Frank Underwood has obtained what he has been scheming for.
For the first noticeable time during this series, Underwood doesn’t have his wits about him, or at least when it comes to the president’s decision to nominate billion dollar business man Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney) for the position of vice president. McRaney is fantastic in “Chapter 12” as the one man who can seemingly outsmart Underwood with his deflective questioning and subtle intentions. President Garrett Walker’s (Michael Gill) best decision was keeping Tusk as a close friend.
Kevin Spacey, on the other hand, is not overly impressive as Underwood. His character is not used to being played, and it is apparent that Spacey is not used to acting submissive on any level. Apparently, if Underwood is not the big dog, then Spacey’s acting takes a hit or two as a result. However, his interactions with McRaney did not suffer and sustained an acceptable level of entertainment and originality, even when we find out that the congressman is the one actually being vetted for the vice president position.
While Underwood deals with the frustrating pursuit of interviewing Raymond Tusk, his wife Claire has her own problems back in DC. Striking a deal with Remy Danton, the lobbyist for the natural gas producer SanCorp, has upset top employee Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt), who refuses to accommodate the company with their expectation to take some charity work footage. Claire is exciting to see on screen as she argues with Gillian over the discrepancy with SanCorp, and Holt does just as well defending her character’s passion of carrying out her work without the help of big oil or other self-aggrandizing companies.
Although Claire’s work environment is fun to watch, the more enthralling circumstances take place on the hill, where Underwood’s scheming is on the verge of imploding. As brow-beater Doug Stamper, Michael Kelly’s familiar looming presence is all too typical, but it does not go unappreciated.
SPOILER ALERT: The death of gubernatorial candidate Peter Russo, which occurred in the most thrilling episode of the season, sparked speculation behind certain decisions on the hill, such as the closing of Philadelphia’s shipyard, the failure of the watershed act and vice president Matthew’s decision to run for governor. Skorsky (Constance Zimmer) and Barnes (Kate Mara) consequently team up in order to uncover the corruption and secret dealings that earned Underwood’s respect in the White House. Prior to this, Mara’s role as Barnes was growing tiresome as it became obvious that her character was becoming less important, and her acting was not at the same grade-A level of Spacey and Stoll. However, Barnes is no longer a pawn in Underwood’s game, and with Skorsky working alongside, their contributions were fascinating as they intertwined with the underhanded dealings on the hill.
Mara does a great job as the Majority Whip’s reluctant lap dog who is eventually swayed with the wise question of, “Underwood has been using you; don’t you want to know why?” Skorsky is right––she does want to know why. Mara and Zimmer make an intriguing team, especially as they put pressure on Russo’s ex-lover Christina Gallagher.
Claire Underwood has some looming problems in “Chapter 13” due to her recent decision to make coworker Gillian Cole take a leave of absence until her mind has been made up about SanCorp. Unfortunately, Cole has made up her mind, and this means pursuing her lawsuit against Claire’s company. Cole and Mrs. Underwood are both phenomenal as they both attempt to domineer their debacles with one another.
Frank acknowledges the lawsuit, but has no real interest in it or is even worried about the matter since he has bigger fish to fry. Frank is not one for favors, so when Raymond Tusk asks for one, he immediately shoves it aside and decides to embarrass the man instead. Tusk is still prime competition and the final conversation between Tusk and Underwood is perfectly played out with some great back-and-forth dialogue. It was like watching two rams battle tirelessly over desired territory.
Mahershala Ali (Remy Danton) deserves a great deal of recognition here because he does a wondrous job with his performance. Danton climbs up the ladder with the rest of the pack, as he now works for Tusk–something I did not see coming but was happy to watch.
While Underwood, Tusk and Danton all manipulate the current situation to their own benefit, reporters Barnes and Skorsky are still investigating Congressman Russo’s death. Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) has even joined the team, but this is mostly because of his new fling with Barnes. There are some entertaining moments with Lucas and one especially notable scene where Arcelus does a good job interrogating an escort.
Barnes and Skorsky are equally decent, but their storyline is a lot more captivating than their performances. The journalist crew gains a significant deal of ground as they quickly discover the conspiracy behind Underwood’s new vice president nomination. I was sitting on the edge of my seat as the three (Barnes, Skorsky , and Goodwin) put the pieces together, and when Stamper later discovers what information Miss Barnes brought to Russo’s past lover, Christina Gallagher.
Sakina Jaffery and Michael Gill are first-rate in their roles, but they are only supporting characters, so it’s difficult to be absorbed with their acting when there is so much more going on. The Underwoods, Tusk and Danton definitely carry the episode while the others, such as Barnes and Stamper, are merely the support beams for the main stage. Now that the first season has come to a close, I can say that it was spellbinding and that I am looking forward to another season of conniving and backstabbing at every turn.
Chapter 12 & 13: 4 stars