House of Cards (US) S1 & 2

House of Cards Season 2 FU Cufflinks picture

It took a while the US remake of Andrew Davies’ original adaptation to get going. It wasn’t until the tenth episode the pace quickened, like an acceleration of a leading pack in a long distance race, but even then the story that was delivered in the British original in four one-hour episodes still didn’t reach the finish line in the first thirteen episodes of Season 1.

The Season 2 opener, Chapter 14, was the finale Season 1 should have been, delivering a punch full of impact that was true to the original drama broadcast on Sunday nights on BBC1 in 1990 (then also topical with the Thatcher blood bath in the Tory party fresh in the nation’s mind), while setting up an excellent second season released in one batch on Netflix, ideal for binge viewing.

When Season 1 was released the privileged Francis Urquhart became Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey with a South Carolinian drawl and partnered in crime by Robin Wright’s clear headed take on the modern day Lady Macbeth.

Chapter 1 was directed by David Fincher and there was soon the recognisable trait from his recent films of a key character hovering over a laptop in a messy apartment, working with the aid of a high-speed processor, a very fast internet connection and junk food at the ready. The investigative journalism and newsrooms that feature are more than another angle on the workings previously covered in The Wire and The Newsroom though; in House of Cards they are significant as a cornerstone in a story heavy on corruption and conspiracy which at times transforms it from a drama to a thriller.

When it becomes clear well-established characters can be disposable, as with The Sopranos and Dexter, there is an extra edge in a murky world where power is sought at all costs. And though House of Cards is full of characters that are largely dislikeable, the audience is invited into Underwood’s mindset with his direct addresses to camera; there is no catchphrase to match Ian Richardson’s “You might well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment” from the original, but the comments are nuggets, as are his lines of his dialogue, such as his mentoring of Zoe Barnes with the words “treading water is like drowning for people like you and me.”

More than a conversation where a weaker character is clearly being manipulated, it is a window into the soul of the show, where every action is a tactical move to an end-game in which all means are justifiable.

The intellect of the detail, coupled with the multiple sub-plots and the background of current American politics where money, religion and a legislative bottle-neck that shape the state of the nation for the worse, make the show an addictive watch.

If there is a doubt in an already stretched premise it’s that Underwood’s character, for all his Machiavellian scheming, has such a fragile temper, the equivalent of a red-faced small-time CEO with a snarling lip whose grudges, bitter battles and poor judgement will ultimately undermine him. Underwood does though have an unholy alliance with his wife, the brains behind pa who washes the sins from his hands, as well as a small payroll of loyal lieutenants who go above and beyond the cause.

Underwood has also had luck. And while there are plenty of threats out there, left nicely to be tapped into a third season, as the programme has developed so well in a second season which included episodes directed by Wright and Jodie Foster, the producers at Netflix may have his good fortune continuing for more seasons to come.


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