Monday, May 29, 2017

Let's Make House of Cards Great Again

It’s hard to get excited about the return of House of Cards. Not because, as has been endlessly posited for months now, it’s impossible to create a fictional president more shocking than the real-life one. No, instead it’s difficult to get excited about the return of House of Cards because it hasn’t been good for some years now.

Sure, I’ll be watching the new series this week, but only out of rote obligation. There is a chance it will rediscover the form and swagger of its first series, but that seems unlikely. After all, that series had some solid source material to work from, which prevented it from spinning off into the soapy, hollow camp of its later years.

However, if this House of Cards really is going to be a return to form – if it can somehow become a drama about a wily career politician who’ll take out anyone in his path to get what he wants, rather than a programme predominantly concerned with Robin Wright’s lovely outfits – here are all the ingredients it needs.

A decent baddie
Series one worked because Frank Underwood was on the ropes. He’d done some awful things, and a reporter was slinking ever closer to the truth. But since that storyline was abruptly dismantled in series two, Underwood has essentially been let loose to impose his will on an endless run of barely worthy opponents. He’s committed crime after crime – he’s a pinch away from being a serial killer, in fact – and the fall-out will be world-shaking if he’s ever caught. So let’s give him someone who’s actually capable of catching him. A house of cards is no fun if all the pieces are superglued together.

A grand plan
Again, season one turned out to be a big long con by Underwood. He’s a chess player at heart. He’s Sherlock gone bad. He can see a situation in three dimensions, several dozen moves ahead of anyone else, and the joy of the show comes from watching him manipulate people into unwittingly doing his bidding, only realising at the last moment that they’re caught up in his web. Creating another situation like this will require some narrative sleight of hand, and probably a little reverse engineering, but I’d rather watch that than another half-hearted threesome scene.

More talking to camera
Underwood barely broke the fourth wall last year. That is ridiculous, because it’s his entire raison d’etre. He meets someone, then glances over at us and drawls “If this guy was any stupider, his momma would have slung him in the trash,” and we’d feel like insiders. Which helps from a narrative standpoint, too; the more he lets us into his private world, the less he looks like an utterly irredeemable chumpwuzzle. It’d also be nice if he offered us more of his crackpot, faux-profound, down-home, reverse-Confucian sayings – usually along the lines of “Some say a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, but I say a weak is no chainer than its linkest strong” – but beggars can’t be choosers.

by Stuart Heritage, The Guardian | Read more:
Image: David Giesbrecht/Netflix