House of Cards Season Two Review
ONCE AGAIN, MAD SPOILERS AHEAD, DON’T EVEN TEMPT YOURSELF IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED SEASON TWO YET
Do you know what bothers me about the TV Show Scandal? That’s actually not rhetorical, I’m not exactly sure what once bothered me conceptually about the show is still applicable now, three seasons in. Make no mistake, I don’t watch Scandal; however, my initial refute of the ridiculously popular ABC show was rooted in my very brief viewing of it. While I was happy about the prospect of Kerry Washington headlining a big name show, I wasn’t particularly enamored with the most seemingly powerful black woman in politics being the jump off for the white president. Interracial love stories are not diminishing in anyway shape or form, but reducing the most powerful black woman to the other woman status in a Thomas Jefferson-esque understanding was a little danger close for me. In fairness, the understanding of relationships are in their evolution over time and I never stuck around to see how it manifested itself, so I can’t really judge the show on that trope or its quality any longer. What I do know about Scandal is what it is at its most basic level, a Primetime Soap Opera whose vehicle is political theater. Having established that, it comes with great personal disdain that I should probably stop making fun of Scandal and Scandalites alike since I do thoroughly enjoy House of Cards. Yes, House of Cards is a soap opera too.
There are the differences of course that I could conveniently fall back to justify why House of Cards is more worthy of my time, such as Scandal airing on network television, the nesting ground for TV viewers of the lowest common denominator (Hey, don’t shoot the messenger), where House of Cards is an uncensored circus of four letter words and the occasional ass shots on a “higher platform.” But is it really? Netflix (with HOC specifically) is brilliant in giving us what feels like a CBS TV show except people are allowed to end confrontations with “go fuck yourself” instead of “go to hell.” And that in itself is not worthless. Take Julia Louis-Dreyfus who had what feels like 27 different attempts at having a breakout show on network TV after Seinfeld, but is arguably headlining the best comedy on a TV show where she is allowed to call people “fucktards.” HOC asks you to suspend disbelief with its melodrama the way a network show does, skipping steps in the logic build a bear process, because its audience doesn’t care how the head got attached to the body, as long as the end result is that the thing can walk upright by episode 13. So, it really is a matter of preference that I can only say that House of Cards is what eats up my Scandal-able Time; you can have your Olivia Pope pouty face that is used for 14 different emotions, I’ll take Frank Underwood hamming it up to the fourth wall with southern idioms that might have been found amongst General Lee private journals.
Season Two of HOC starts pretty fast, about 9 feet per second/per second. Which is the rate of an object falling. In front of a subway train.
I, like many others, we’re left with a mouth agape when the soon to be Sue Storm learned how fly for about a second in a half before public transit clipped her wings, so much so, I had to flee to twitter to state my shock with the most ambiguous way possible to avoid spoiling it for anyone else. It was bold, unexpected (kudos to Netflix for keeping that nugget under wraps so well) and interesting as it gave the season something to galvanize some of the smaller characters to have a reason to lock horns with Frank. That, ultimately failed because 1) the ex sleeping partner guy worker guy (we can’t call him Zoe’s ex lover or boyfriend since we aren’t sure she even liked the dude) was dreadfully uninteresting in Kate Mara’s absence and 2) because everybody forgot about Zoe catching the 6 Train by episode 5. It seemed like something that could have hung over the entire season, chipping away at Frank bit by bit, but admittedly, his feud with Raymond Tusk, (the most interesting man in the world who happens to kill birds with his bare hands when they are too noisy) was definitely a more interesting way to go.
What HOC does right, it nails with brutal efficiency. It doesn’t try to dress up characters as something they aren’t. It doesn’t spend (too much) time on trying to humanize its characters. It would rather show you how ugly humans can be. It knows its audience cares less about diagnosing humanity and more about just how deep the next backstabbing will be without apologizing even a little for it. The production value is off the charts and it renders Washington in dizzying gloss as a perfect contradiction to just how ugly its sewers can get it. The acting is top heavy, as those that carried the water last season (Spacey, Wright-Penn, but minus Mara and Stoll) are tasked with dragging everyone else with them. They get a little help from Molly Parker this season (who will always be the Widow Garret of Deadwood fame in my heart) and Ali, who plays Remy, is asked to add some nuance for this season. The rest is often a mixed bag where actors aren’t asked to do too much, as their monologue will assuredly be interrupted by one of the major players at some point anyway. Dialogue is crisp and always at least interesting if not always a home run. From a cleverness standpoint, I put it somewhere above a typical cable show, but a notch or two below something like Justified or Sherlock. And really, what we’re talking about here are the Frank Underwood talking directly into your soul moments. Frank drops gems at about a 75% success rate, which still leaves room for the less inspiring moments. But let’s be clear about something: we can talk about the accent fluctuation or the sometimes groan worthy moments where Frank swings for the fences on a monologue and instead hits a dribbler down the third base line, but this role fits Kevin Spacey like a tailored Armani suit. He’s perfect for it. It’s not a Cranston as Walter White performance, it’s a Bruce Willis as John McClain in a Brooks Brothers suit performance. If ever the term “vehicle” applied to how an actor moves through a role then Spacey might not have the finest faster car on the road, but he can definitely take the corners better than almost anyone in it. Wright is his equal this season, not only in chewing the scenery, but in the belief that her character would completely devour a newborn and harness its power.
For what HOC excels at, I can’t really label it a great season of TV as there are too many contaminants in the sauce for me this go round. The popular term (ironically for politics especially) is that you don’t want to know how the sausage is made, you just want the patties. Well, good TV shows you how the sausage is made, all its ugliness, and then finds your appetite is even wetter because of it. HOC yada yada-ed a good many plot points, at least too much to completely suspend disbelief for me. Season two takes place over roughly a year’s time, bookended by Meechum’s birthday gift of F.U. cufflinks in episode 1, then Claire’s class ring present in episode 12 (by the way, poor Meechum right? I mean, maybe there’s a world where saying you had a threesome with the eventual President of the Free World and the First Lady is an awesome endeavor, but if President Williams was brought down by marriage counseling and legally prescribed drugs, then I got to think that shoving your tongue down the now President Underwood’s throat kind of spells out the meaning of being a liability).
In a year’s time, Frank was able to manipulate the race for his vacant Majority Whip spot away from the top two contenders, expose a shady business deal between Tusk and the Chinese, deal with his wife’s exposed infidelity, uncover illegal campaign finance and oh yeah, get the President of the United States to resign before being impeached while he himself ascends to the presidency. Joe Biden has probably been in politics for like 30 years (successfully mind you) and he’s best known for schmoozing with other men’s wives or mothers during photo ops. That’s not really the problem as things always happen quickly on TV, but the fact that he needed so much help to make it happen. Nobody says no to Frank Underwood. Wanna have a beer? Build a bridge in China with corrupt business man wanted for treason? Keep a woman prisoner in upstate New York? Ignore the presidents orders, or better yet, impeach the president who happens to be the leader of our party? I’m sure that if Frank really wanted, he could’ve talked to an electrical box at Camden Yards to let the lights come on just long enough for him to throw out that pitch. None of this is as egregious as the Claire / First Lady dynamic which really reminded me of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion than say, the West Wing. Somewhat like the show Veep, the success of Frank (in this capacity), lies in the existence of a weak president. And President Walker was a very weak president. But the biggest issue is First Lady Tricia Walker who was a more willing puppet for Claire more than Frank ever pulled the strings on a junior congressman. Maybe I (and all of us fine citizens) have been spoiled by “you better go somewhere with that bullshit” vibe that our current FLOTUS projects, but I just can’t see a woman who has gone through the fires of being married to a politician at the highest levels all the way up to the White House being completely idiotic and naive to the most obvious landmines placed in her path.
If we credit Frank for shaping government to his liking, then Claire is really the one who brought down the presidency, even if it was way too easy for her to do it.
As far as the ending to season two, I’m still not all that impressed with how it ended. We’re told early enough that Frank wants to be president, so we are supposed to see that as his crowning achievement, but does it really make all that much sense? Maybe its pragmatic for pragmatism’s sake, but everything we’ve been told about Frank makes me believe that he would rather be the puppet master and power behind the throne as opposed to sitting in it himself. I suppose, him becoming president is the crowd pleasing move and maybe the point is to make the fall even steeper, the ensuing tragedy even more in plain sight, as it will be harder for Frank to do his deacon handshakes standing in the oval office. But there has to be a fall, right? As much celebration took place to end the season for Frank’s Grand Theft Auto Five style take of the White House, this has to be flimsiest foundation of a presidency ever. If Raymond Tusk is out there perjuring himself on a person that was his friend for decades, are we to believe the he won’t tell the truth about Frank, especially since Frank had bested him? Doug got his head caved in the same woods that Silvio sent Adriana to big hair heaven in (also, for those of you that were dying for a good Rachel on the run story, um, you’re welcome). And let’s not forget that everyone in Washington hates Frank’s guts. They know how underhanded he is, how many people he’s backstabbed (not counting the two he’s killed with his bare hands). If President Walker couldn’t keep his office as a squeaky clean, law abiding commander with no big enemies before Frank, then how long is the President Underwood term supposed to last? Midterms? Netflix already confirmed season 3 before the first episodes of season two were made available and if I was a betting man, I’d guess that we get at least four seasons when it’s all said and done. I would prefer three seasons. While, HOC is by no means, Breaking Bad, the final genius of that show was that it basically worked on a closed loop. It knew where it was going and how to get there in the most efficient way possible. We’re not going to get that kind of lean cut from HOC, but it would be nice for this to be a focused and direct story that documented the rise and fall of the Underwoods without some superfluous fluff in between. But even if it does get drawn out Sons of Anarchy style, I won’t complain too much. It’s too hard taking your eyes off the shiny things and there are shiny things a plenty on HOC. If we are in for the long haul with this show, take some of Frank’s sage wisdom from the very first episode: “You know how you devour a whale? One bite at a time.”
House of Cards Season 2: 3 1/2 Knives between the shoulder blades out of 5.
Steven McQueen, Cheryl Boone Isaacs & Spike Lee
Much Love to @Bandcamp for featuring me and Jon Rogers(@maggmatic) album “MOONLIGHT” on their site for “New and Notable Records” very humbling and so honored!!! Much Love & Respect to everyone that has supported MOONLIGHT this far…This is truly just the beginning!!!
If you haven’t already check MOONLIGHT out here:
When someone begins a statement with, “I don’t mean to be an asshole but…,” there’s typically an 85% chance that they are in fact about to be an asshole. Which means when the casting news for the Fantastic Four reboot was confirmed and so many comments started with, “I don’t mean to sound racist but…” I knew exactly what kind of morning read I was in for. While the speculation had been out there for months, contracts offers actually went out to Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B Jordan and Jamie Bell yesterday, for the roles of Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm respectively. The “I’m not a racist, I just play one on internet comment sections” disclaimers of course relate to Michael B Jordan’s casting as the Human Torch, one that has always been portrayed in comics and movies as white. Jordan is very much, not that. The linchpin that these brave post-racial commuters fall back on is that Sue and Johnny are siblings, so with Sue being white, “that don’t even make sense ‘Merica! End of discussion.” Let’s forget for a second that under Obama’s America, adoption has yet to be made illegal or the concept of a blended family (the quickest way to stop a bigot’s heart I hear), but instead drill this down to what’s really important: the family dynamic between Sue and Johnny and the hundreds of ways that can be accomplished through storytelling. Doesn’t matter if its adoption or a black family finding Sue at two months old in a dumpster (my vote), nothing actually changes as far as where the story will assuredly pick up with them being young adults as long as we can see their familial ties. I mean, if plausibility was the actual issue for these pitchfork people, they could’ve just cast a black woman as Sue and called it a day. But then, the internet would shut down completely, somebody would use Affirmative Action’s name in vain and Zoe Saldana would turn the part down anyway because it wasn’t black enough after she gave an interview complaining about being called a black actress. So much fuss (but more on the Sue Storm casting later).
Can we consider a couple things about the Fantastic Four Movie though? For one, while I know it could be disputed, Jordan should be considered the most talented actor of the four. The two easiest roles to showcase that would be his most recent heart stopper as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station; a role that many felt was victimized for awards season due to the early release of the movie. Wire aficionados of course became aware of him as ‘Wallace’, the doomed teenage drug runner who falls under moral crisis and depression, and then is rewarded by his employers in Baltimore, execution style. If you ask a Wire Fan which scene made them throw down the thug tears, I’m guessing that four out of five would point to the "Where is Wallace" scene. The performance belongs to Lawrence Gilliard, Jr (dibs as the next black man to die on The Walking Dead) as ‘D’Angelo Barksdale,’ but the reason we care is because of Jordan’s tragic human portrayal as Wallace; and while we have already seen his death on-screen, the “Where the fuck is Wallace, huh?” is essentially our outrage coming out of Barksdale throat, completing his arc in the most Shakespearean fashion. Though if we’re being fair, I would imagine the group that voices their opinion on the internet concerning their anger over a black actor being cast in what has been a historically white role, probably isn’t necessarily the same audience that went to the theater to watch the unprovoked and racially charged murder of a black man at a BART station or tuned in every Sunday to watch a show casts with predominantly black actors, inhabit a gritty Baltimore drug trade environment. You could argue that Kate Mara has a higher profile because of American Horror Story or House of Cards, and she is good. But I mean, is she even your favorite Mara sister?
The other thing to consider, when you see people’s complaints of this movie with Dr. Doom veracity saying how terrible it will be and how the casting has doomed it: We do remember that the previous Fantastic Four movies were terrible right? I mean, like horrendous. They belong to an era of comic book movies that were targeted towards the twelve year old kid that still bought their Thing costume at Toys R Us (as opposed to the 27 year old who is making their own Thing costume to cosplay at NYC Comicon). The point being, for better or worse, there is more investment in comic book movies actually functioning as decent movies now as compared to celluloid gateways for toy sales. While the casting of these characters may not fit the most idealized aesthetic representation that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby imagined way back when MLK Jr. was trying to stay out of jail, it almost assuredly will be better than watching Michael Chiklis (who I pretend retired after The Shield for my own sensibilities) almost laugh while spouting catch phrases or Jessica Alba doing physical humor of being invisible and naked in a movie rated PG.
There’s also a “too real for primetime” aspect of this too, that Jeremy Whitley, author of Princeless brings up: Even those of us that want to celebrate Michael B Jordan’s casting, how should we read them not casting Sue Storm as black as well? Is it the safe route? Is it easy to cast a black man as the brash, immature, hot head (pun intended) character as opposed to casting a black woman as Sue, the loving, nurturing, virtuous older sister that everyone loves? It definitely merits a discussion.
Jordan’s casting reception by the “purists” is pretty typical at this point when it comes to race bending in comic book portrayals (also, helpful hint, if you refer to yourself as a purist to explain why you don’t like the change in ethnicity of a character created in the 60’s, there’s also other groups of people that call themselves purists as well that enjoy non-profit status, selective memberships and a place on the FBI watchlist). I tend to gloss over the Idris Elba as Heimdall controversy before the first Thor dropped as that very well may have been pushed by a white supremacist group to boycott the film, and wasnt necessarily a widespread disdain like Jordan’s casting has spurned. However, there is such a wall to bump up against when the idea of non-white characters are cast or rumored to play more prominent roles. Last time I checked, Kryptonians weren’t ya know, even human, but tumblr shit’s itself if you suggest a black man to play him in anything. When they were casting the new Batman, all the shortlists included white males for the part of Bruce Wayne (except an isolated list that suggest Daniel Dae Kim as a long-shot). And personally, age notwithstanding, I see either Michelle Yeoh or Gina Torres as Wonder Woman when I close my eyes, but DC won’t let us be great. As a comic book fan, I carry just as much attachment to these characters, but it’s important to remember that these characters are, ya know, created. Out of nothing. Even if they’re sixty years old, they’re still works of fiction (as opposed to something like, I don’t know, White Jesus). Besides, I don’t remember this outcry when white Brit Tom Hardy was casts as Bane who has and always will be Latino in the comics. Can’t imagine why.
#moonlight drops this Saturday. @withlovesincerely and @j_o_n___r_o_g_e_r_s have one of the dope at projects I’ve heard in a while. The release is Saturday at brothers drake 6-9p you can purchase online at www.moon-light.bandcamp.com #GOODmusic #catchthemoon #bhmcreate #creativecontrolfest