House of Cards is an American political thriller that was first aired online on the streaming service Netflix in 2013. The production of the show ended in 2018 after a total of 6 seasons, composed of 73 episodes.
House of Cards’ executive producer was Beau Willimon, its director David Fincher, and its producer Karyn McCarthy. Beau is mainly interested in political shows and the pursuit of power within these settings. His main focus is on mirroring the real-life scenarios in television series, with a bit of dramatization that may point to exaggeration (IMDB). Beau is also an active participant in American politics in real life, having served as part of the Hillary Clinton 2000 senate race, and Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign teams. The executive producer must have firsthand experience in the political arena, having worked for the above-mentioned teams. House of Cards demonstrates the glamor, pursuit, ambition, and struggle within the political scene, an unmistakable testament to the executive producer’s experiences.
Democracy and the American political system are the issues at the heart of the producer’s work. Behind the campaigns conducted in the glaring sight of the electorate, many deals occur to secure political power. This is exhibited in the first episode of the show as the producer reveals the deal between Francis Underwood and the president-elect should the Democratic Party rise to power (Netflix). The producer’s agenda is to demonstrate the cost of power and democratic stability within the nation. The series seeks to inform the electorate of the less noble state of affairs behind the scenes by their political leaders. It seeks to highlight the scheming, betrayal, and compromise that shapes the road to power and authority.
The costumes worn by most characters within the show are accurate in depicting the various messages the production team seeks to pass across. Politicians are dressed in suits which depict them as serious and important people. The power associated with the positions they hold is demonstrated in the elegance with which they dress. The producers of the show opted to include monologue sections within the series to ensure that the audience is addressed directly by the main character, Francis Underwood (Netflix). The viewers feel engaged throughout the series and even look forward to the section when Francis addresses them. The address by the main character reinforces the agenda of the show which includes educating viewers about the occurrences behind the glamorous curtains of power.
The sound in the television series is also appropriate and offers various cues to the viewers. During the party celebrating the president-elect, there is elegant slow, and pleasant music, which allows for conversations amongst the various dignitaries without disruption (IMDB). The use of such music is essential in capturing the attention of viewers and enabling them to anticipate a crucial event in the show. The camera angles are shifted appropriately to depict various scenarios within the show. Whenever Francis is about to address the viewers, the camera focuses on him fully, blurring the backgrounds and anything else in sight. This ensures maximum interest and concertation from the audience. The camera angles are also shifted appropriately during the party to indicate the size of the room and the number of people invited to the celebrations.
Francis Underwood is the lead character, who is set to be a ruthless person and sidelines his emotions for the sake of greater personal pursuits. This is made clear at the start of the episode when a dog is knocked down by a car and Francis strangles it with his bare hands to end its misery. Claire Underwood is Francis’ wife and she is displayed as a supportive partner, dedicated to her husband’s pursuits as she is involved in the scheming. Claire is also ambitious, willing to chase power at the expense of everything else. The two have no religious or moral beliefs, and their sole commitment is to their shared goals and their subsequent attainment. The main values which underscore the series include greed and strife for power, alongside betrayal, and loyalty where common interests meet.
When around people he perceives to be his enemies, Francis is careful in his speech, calculated with the words he utters and lets us know as much through the side monologues. The characters are also engrossed in symbiotic relationships that serve each other’s interests. The marriage between Claire and Francis for example was one founded and grounded in ambition (Netflix). The two do not behave like any other conventional couple as each of them is left to their whims and desires. Claire’s support for Francis’ choice of president in Walker was based on the promise that her NGO would receive a great donation. Francis’s support for Walker in the concluded elections was based on the promise that he would be made secretary of state upon their win. His betrayal after the elections results in Francis coming up with an elaborate plot to revenge against the president-elect.
The pecking order in the series, House of Cards is based solely on the political authority and influence a person wields. There is no discrepancy based on gender since there are both men and women at different levels. Class stratification is also exhibited in the series during the first episode where the importance of various characters is based on the positions they occupy and their occupations. The position of Francis as a congressman and the majority whip requires him to have state security when compared to Freddy, whose café Francis visits. Within the series, there is an emphasis on shattering the ceiling of gender inequality as positions are given to various people based on their importance in the grand play of power.
Authority within the series is embedded in the various constitutional offices the characters hold. The commands and wishes of the president are for example supreme and binding to all the other characters. The role of career progression within the series is also highlighted through the symbiotic relationship between Francis and Zoe Barnes. Zoe agrees to be Francis’ mouthpiece within the media in exchange for premium news before they break to the general public. This highlights the importance of public opinion in American culture and democracy in general.
Francis is an ambitious man, focused on the pursuit of political power within the first episode. He is fueled by personal ambition and a need for revenge against the president-elect and his associates who betrayed him after the elections. His focus on power without compromise is an interesting contrast to the character of Doug Stamper, who is Francis’s fixer. Doug is always available to Francis, offering positive reinforcement in the form of advice and carrying out the dirty work for this character. The devotion displayed by Doug is a complete contrast to Francis’ character who is unwilling to sideline his goals for anybody else as later illustrated in the series.
Claire’s position in Francis’s life exhibits her as a partner in her husband’s endeavors in the political realm. Claire stands to gain from Francis’s undertakings to become secretary of state, and subsequent elaborate plan to seek revenge. Claire’s position as the traditional wife or mother is repressed in the series, as the couple has no children of their own. The motherly features for Claire and the fatherly instincts for Francis are sidelined to ensure their pursuit of power is not deterred. Doug’s focus on Francis also underpins the desire of the producers to display him as a loyal helper, uninterested in other aspects of his own life. Doug does not seek any promotions or career progression, let alone explore the desire to have his own family. He is always at the beck and call of his master, Francis, to fulfill his sideshows and fix flaws.
House of Cards depicts a worldview where narcissism is given precedence. Every character within the series does things that guarantee personal progression and attainment of some goal at the expense of collective good. Francis hatches a plan to revenge against the president for sidelining him out of the feeling of betrayal rather than the desire to serve the nation better as secretary of state. Claire is furious with the president because the sidelining of Francis means that her NGO is unlikely to receive the funds promised to her.
Zoe is engaged in an affair with Francis without any romantic or emotional feelings, with the intent of gaining headlines from him. Francis gives a copy of the education bill to Zoe to leak to the general public, with the intent of ruining the reputation of his political competitors. This plot later serves him in his pursuit of revenge and greater political power and influence. Doug helps Russo out of police detainment for drunk driving, and Francis uses this to blackmail Russo into advancing his agenda. Many acts of goodness within the series are just ploys to advance personal gratification and agendas in the long run.
Lessons Acquired from the Critical Analysis
The critical analysis of House of Cards has enabled me to gain a greater perspective into how the corridors of power are paved with betrayal and massive scheming. It has also helped me realize the price men and women are willing to pay just to advance their agenda, sometimes at the expense of other people’s reputations and life. I have learned that the conventional way of doing things such as marriage can always be sidelined when other goals need to be pursued. The characters within the series demonstrated no regard for morality in their actions and I realize the loss of limitations is as damaging as it is freeing. It allows characters to achieve great heights but may also lead to personal ruin in the long term.
I have realized that regardless of the nobility of one’s actions, the political arena is a space filled with shady characters, some of who do not care about such inclinations. The political power pursued by politicians is partly for the benefit of the electorate but mostly for their advancement. The show has helped me realize the importance of emotional intelligence when interacting with people and the place of good and useless emotions. Emotions are likely to cloud judgment when let loose. There is a need to regulate how we respond to various stimuli and scenarios.
IMDB. “House of Cards.” Www.imdb.com, 2013, Web.
Netflix. “House of Cards | Netflix Official Site.” Netflix.com, 2012, Web.