Friday, February 14, 2014

"House of Cards" or "Now is the Weiner of Our Discontent"

"Christ. Could you get any more obvious?"
Just caught House of Cards, first ep, second season. One could say that Kevin Spacey's "Senator Frank Underwood" character is influenced by Richard III. One could, yep. But one would be a mushmouth. Frank ain't influenced by Richard III. Frank is Richard III, magically transported to 21st century Washington DC, sans hump. Series creator Beau Willimon works the Shakespearean template, all right. But he misses the Shakespearean music.
To state it plainly, Shakespeare's original Richard III character wasn’t naughty by nature; he was naughty by choice. Dick3 was bad because he liked it.
In Shakespeare’s time, that was a radical, new, original idea (which scared the hell out of Shakespeare). In the years that followed, the bad-by-choice-heartless-chessmaster bad guy became a cliché. (As-in all Bond villains.) But real bad guys aren’t so honest with themselves. Real bad guys rationalize. They kill for the greater good or history or justice or God or Allah or yattayatta. But not Frank. As House of Cards reveals.
If Verizon actually lets us watch the damn thing.
Assuming it does, this crowd-pleasing, high-production-value, Netflix loss-leader gets us up-close and personal to a smart, heartless, sociopathic politician (a shameless Richard III rip-off) who wants power for its own sake because he wants it and will commit any atrocity (in heartless chessmaster style) to get it. In 1592, this would’ve been radical. In 2014, it’s a cliché.
The real bastards aren’t like that.
A real Frank Underwood wouldn’t see his own motives without delusion. He’d be killing people for democracy, the American way, or some other jive. To his own mind, he’d disguise his heartlessness with a layer of righteous bullshit.
Kevin Spacey’s character doesn’t. Frank never lies to himself (or the Netflix audience eavesdropping on his monologues). Lurching along in Richard III’s footsteps, Frank is absolutely clear about his own motives.
In 1592, that’s a slap in the face.
In 2014, it’s a gimmick.