Can We Take a Second to Discuss THAT Thing That Happened in the Premiere of 'House of Cards'

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Can We Take a Second to Discuss THAT Thing That Happened in the Premiere of 'House of Cards'

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | February 17, 2014 | Comments ()

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Maybe fans of the original British series, which I am led to understand contained a similar death, expected the murder of Zoe Barnes more than the rest of us, but it was nevertheless a ballsy, surprising move on the part of House of Cards boss Beau Willimon. He took out one of the show’s lead characters — and a big draw to the show if these GQ photos are any indication — in the opening episode, and he did so without offering even the briefest of hints that it was coming (except, perhaps, Zoe’s now ironic statement to the effect that “I can take care of Underwood.”)

Not only was it cold, but there was an excellent bit of misdirection on the part of the marketing folks behind House of Cards, who heavily featured Kate Mara’s Zoe character in the trailers and sent her out to do publicity, only to quickly rip her away from us in ruthless, cold-blooded fashion when Kevin Spacey’s Vice President Frank Underwood threw her under the subway. Literally. I don’t know how anyone could’ve seen that coming.

It was also a smart move narratively, hitting us with one of the most gasp-worthy moment of the series in the premiere, distracting us from the less thrilling act of table setting the rest of the seasons’ plotlines. Again, Frank Underwood is battling on two fronts: A political one, where he’s trying to Cheney himself into a position as de facto President, and a personal one, where he’s battling the journalists attempting to uncover the conspiracy behind Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes’ deaths and take down the Vice President. Now, however, he has the blood of two innocent people on his hands, and yet, it is still Frank Underwood for whom most of us finding ourselves rooting.

That has almost everything to do with Kevin Spacey’s deliciously hammy performance. Spacey is gifted enough to make us room for more than just an anti-hero, but the series’ actual villain. Besides his repugnance with the South for fighting to maintain slavery, has Frank Underwood displayed any humanity whatsoever? His agenda — which has nothing to do with the issues, and everything to do with taking power at the expense of others — is purely self serving, and his actions are purely designed to hurt others, even if it often comes at his own expense.

It doesn’t hurt his case of course that Barnes’ old boss, Lucas Goodwin — who has taken up the Underwood witch hunt — is so bland and tiresome, and the people charged with removing his threat — namely, the VP’s Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper — are so much more interesting. In the world of politics, it’s clearly not about who is good and who is bad, it’s all about who is the more compelling character. In that regard, House of Cards couldn’t have chosen a better President than the wooden, charisma-repellent Garrett Walker, who no one would be sad to see take a fall, except his poor, boring wife.

I’m halfway through the season, and while I won’t spoil anything, I must say that Molly Parker as the new Majority Whip has been the highlight for me so far. She’s been so impressively confident, controlling, and sexy that it honestly took me an episode or two to remember her from Deadwood. If House of Cards were to ever continue without Spacey, I wouldn’t to upset to see Parker take the lead.

Robin Wright, likewise, has been marvelously cold, and has managed to survive the Skyler White curse by being as ruthless and Machiavellian as her husband, and doing so without betraying any sleaziness whatsoever. It’s a very Mads Mikkelsen in Hannibal kind of performance: She will swallow your soul and destroy your life with class, dignity, and total detachment.

There have been a few dead spots, as there were last season, but I expect that even those will be smoothed out as House of Cards heads toward its final, riveting episodes. The biggest question at play, so far, is what’s Frank Underwood’s endgame. Noting that he’s only “a heartbeat away from the Presidency” in the premiere episode certainly suggests that he’s not above putting a stop to the heart that separates him from the most powerful position in the free world. But then again, why bother? The President may have the title, but it’s Underwood that wields all the power.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Brady

    I've seen the British original, so I expected it to happen at some point. But I couldn't believe it happened so suddenly and swiftly. I looked down at my phone one minute, and then I looked back up to see Zoe go right on the tracks.

    I might have actually yelled out loud.

  • SottoVoce

    Once they were in the subway, I was hoping it would happen and was somewhat surprised when it did.

  • Skyler Durden

    I'm about 7 episodes in and it's a push for me. Half is amazing (Frank, Claire, Liam McPoyle stroking a Guinea Pig). The other half if mind-numbing (Molly Parker, Rachel, and whatever is happening with the Chinese, which I do not understand).

    This morning I finished the episode where someone does something very...Chris Christie like, which I found sort of delightful in a "wait-that-sort-of-thing-actually-happened!" way.

  • Three_nineteen

    ETA: Spoilers through season 2 episode 8:

    Molly Parker's story is the most interesting to me, because it's the most real. She betrayed a mentor and a friend to get where she is. She is beholden to a more influential person in her party for her position, and she is chafing against his handling of the reins. She is effective in her job, and has to overcome prejudice against her in her own party, either because of her gender or her inexperience or some combination of both. She is wary of any intimacy, but decides to try a relationship with Remy, even though she's not exactly sure if he really likes her, is just using her, or likes her AND is trying to use her. She hasn't gotten into the fantasy elements of murder and complete control/manipulation of circumstances like Frank, Claire, and Doug. I haven't finished the series yet, but as of the middle of episode 8, it's the most fascinating to me, and Molly Parker is killing it.

  • John G.

    We root for Underwood, because this show is based on shakespeare's Richard III, which centers on a character who opens the play by describing how life has dealt him a bad hand, so in order to thrive in the situation he's in, he must become a villain. It's the monologues to the audience that allow us to stick with our villain main character no matter what they do, both in Richard III and House of Cards.

  • foca9

    I've seen the first season of the original, and I thought they'd just decided to keep Zoe on. Came as a surprise for me too.

  • BWeaves

    Oooh, interesting. In the book, it's Francis who dies. In the UK series they swap it out and it's the reporter who dies right at the end (mostly so they could do sequels). I think it's great that they've switched it all up enough, that even though I've seen the UK version, I still have no idea how the US version is going to progress the plot. I was wondering how long they were going to drag out Kate Mara's plot line before Francis killed here.

  • Three_nineteen

    Does Francis kill himself (I doubt it), get offed, or is it some kind of accident?

  • BWeaves

    Obviously, BOOK SPOILERS.

    He kills himself.

  • Keith Ballard

    It happened so suddenly that I fully expected it to be one of those scenes where we cut back to a moment ago, revealing that what we just saw was only what a character was thinking about doing.

  • I'd read that someone would die early on and BOY was I hoping it would be Lucas. Whenever the focus is on the political side of the story, I'm riveted, but I lose interest every time Lucas gets a smidge closer to catching Underwood.

    I'm sure this has a lot to do with Spacey's charisma. No matter how cruel or despicable he can be, I find myself rooting for Underwood and against anyone who opposes him.

    I may be in the minority, but I'm much more interested in the political side of the show as opposed to the investigation of Underwood. Combine that with my disdain for the insufferable Lucas and I could see myself getting very tired of this show if his investigation into Underwood takes precedence over the political espionage side of things.

  • Three_nineteen

    I was definitely surprised. In the UK version, Underwood kills the reporter at the end of the first series. When it didn't happen last season, I thought they had decided to keep the character.

    The Skylar White curse is only for spouses (wives) who oppose or are oblivious to what their significant others are doing. Lady Macbeth here was never in any danger of that.

  • Merski

    I'm in the middle of the new season and to be honest, I just can't with the whole Doug Stamper/Rachel storyline anymore... It's repetitive, it's bland, it's boring.

  • SottoVoce


  • snrp

    Yeah, that was one of many, many arcs that could/should have been cut.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I was just so grateful that the reporter in this one didn't call him "Daddy." She didn't, right. I DON'T WANT TO KNOW!

  • Wednesday

    I vividly remember that scene from the original. It was so disturbing, especially since they were both into it.

    I have never liked Kate Mara in anything I've ever seen her in, so I was very glad to see her go. Although I anticipated it the second I saw the meeting place was the subway.

    More shocking to me was Claire's turnaround moment in the TV interview. That was one lizard-blooded move, right there.

  • snrp

    The Big Surprise thing was...sort of the high point of the whole second season? I enjoyed it while I was watching--beautiful people in beautiful suits chewing beautiful scenery--but it lost even the veneer of realism it had in the first season.

    Plus, casting Jackal Onassis/Liam McPoyle? SUPER distracting.

  • John G.

    I don't think it was ever supposed to have a veneer of realism. It's meant to take the dramatic form of a shakespearean historical play (with ruthless machinations and murder) and transpose it onto a much more complex political process. It's meant to be thrilling, not realistic.

    _________SPOILERS SEASON 2________________________



    I mean, c'mon, a president is going to leave office over low poll numbers and a campaign finance scandal? Everyone in this show is depicted as far too naive and easily duped. It may appeal to us to view our politicians as all idiots, but they are not this dumb. There is nothing realistic at all about this show and how it deals with real politics.

  • snrp

    I think season 1 presents a view of Washington/politics that, while cynical, is also plausible--not "realistic" as in "an accurate depiction of the world as it exists," but we recognize the rules/stakes of people's actions, a sense which I lost in s2.

  • Dumily

    Agreed. I thought the might have gone too far last season with Russo's death, but this was so too far. I still liked it.

  • Dumily

    "It’s the coolest news ever — it’s very, very exciting and flattering. And then it also really embarrasses me because I do some inappropriate things as Zoe, and I feel like it’s like my dad watching. I’m like, ‘Don’t watch episode five!’"

    Kate Mara, you lying, little bitch.

  • foolsage

    No, no, no, she was telling the truth. The reference though was to Season One. The fifth episode is where Zoe first sleeps with Frank.

  • Dumily

    Ohhhhhhh, that makes way more sense. I thought she was misdirecting us. I felt legitimately betrayed.

  • foolsage

    I honestly don't think it was intended as a misdirect. On the other hand, they certainly did hide Zoe's fate well from us, which I appreciate.

  • Dumily

    Also SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Was I the only one who read the headline and thought this was about the Meacham scene?

  • snrp


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