‘House Of Cards’ Is Just Fancy-Ass ‘Scandal’ (And Seven Other Thoughts From Season 2)

Okay, you’ve all had a week to zip through Season 2 of House of Cards. Time to talk it all out. Here are some of my thoughts. Feel free to add yours below.

House of Cards is basically just a fancy-ass version of Scandal. House of Cards typically gets lumped in with other prestige dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad due to the involvement of big-name Hollywood-types like Kevin Spacey and David Fincher, but if we’re being really honest here, it has a lot more in common with quote-unquote trash television than it would probably like to admit. At some points during Season 2 it felt like the show was just bouncing from one OMG GUYSSSSS moment to the next to the detriment of the actual plot. Now, in general, I have no problem with this, as I am someone who openly loves “trash television,” but I wish the show would be a little more honest about what it’s doing. At its heart, it’s really just a more pretentious version of TV’s other hyper-buzzy political drama, Scandal. Don’t believe me? Let’s tick off the similarities:

  • A power-hungry Vice President who murders his or her lover in dramatic fashion (House of Cards – Hucked in front of speeding train; Scandal – Stabbed repeatedly with letter opener in fit of blinding rage) because said lover had a secret (House of Cards – Figured out Vice President was a murderer; Scandal – Husband was gay) that could have derailed the Vice President’s covert operation to mount a challenge against the sitting President at the next election? Check.
  • A shadow billionaire from middle America (House of Cards – Raymond Tusk; Scandal – Hollis Doyle) who exerts great influence over the Executive Branch? Check.
  • A morally bankrupt Chief of Staff (House of Cards – Doug Stamper; Scandal – Cyrus Beane) who uses ties to a secretive spy agency to ruin the lives of civilians who may or may not know too much? Check.
  • An ineffective, easily manipulated President who self-medicates (House of Cards – Wife’s Xanax; Scandal – So much scotch) to deal with the pressures of the job? Check,

Again, none of that is a “complaint,” in the strictest, most technical sense of the word. I really enjoyed Season 2 of House of Cards. But you don’t have to lie to me and tell me a cheeseburger is a steak. I like cheeseburgers just fine, thank you very much. And House of Cards is a great one.

If I showed up to a secret meeting and someone handed me an iPad with a terrifying blue CGI bird/man on it that gave me hacking instructions, that would be the end of my involvement in that particular covert operation. Just the facts, people.

Frank Underwood would have gotten booed mercilessly at that Orioles game. God love Kevin Spacey. Great actor. Terrific interview subject. Does wonders with fourth-wall-disintegrating monologues. But if a Democratic Vice President showed up at a baseball game shortly after he forced a controversial piece of legislation through Congress by having members of the opposing political party handcuffed and dragged unwillingly to the floor, and he proceeded to short-arm a pitch like a Tyrannosaurus who major in theater at a small liberal arts college, there would have been enough booing from the Right-wing fans in attendance to rattle windows miles away.

About that train thing. One of the funniest things I’ve seen on television in 2014 was the thing on The Blacklist where the agents cornered the representative of a shady company and tried to ask him questions, but the guy started yammering like “I … I can’t … You don’t know … It’s bigger than you can imagine…” while he was backing away and then THWAP HIT BY A BUS OUT OF NOWHERE. It was hilarious, whether they intended it to be or not. Not quite as funny as this scene from Meet Joe Black, but close. That’s saying something.

Point being: More TV shows should have important characters get murdered by speeding forms of public transportation, with no warning whatsoever. I would love that. It’s right behind surprise bear attack on my list of Most Desired Ways To Kill People Off.

Everyone on this show is a terrible person except for Freddy, Meacham, and the First Lady. A sampling:

  • Frank Underwood – Serial killer.
  • Claire Underwood – Was willing to kill a fetus to win a legal battle.
  • Remy Danton – Lobbyist. Terrible by definition. Became slightly less terrible as the season progressed.
  • Jacqueline Sharp – Sold out mentor and his illegitimate mentally handicapped daughter to become Whip.
  • Raymond Tusk – Crushed bird inside fist.

And the list goes on and on. Finding someone to root for is really hard. Even the First Lady isn’t so much “good” as she is “not terrible,” and I’m convinced the only reason she rises that high is because she’s too nice — or helpless and naive, if we’re being pessimistic — to know how to be terrible. But Freddy? Freddy is my dude. I was legitimately WAY more upset about what happened to him than I was about Zoe Barnes getting obliterated by a train.

Nothing good ever happens in the woods. R.I.P. Doug Stamper, murdered with a big rock by the lesbian Jesus-loving former prostitute he used to ruin a gubernatorial candidate’s life and later developed a creepy mother/daughter/lover-type relationship with that manifested itself in him yelling at her and/or having her read Dickens to him in a parked car late at night.

But is it reeeeaaaalllll? A quick shout-out to the most annoying part of the House of Cards experience: The flood of political journalists taking to their blogs and columns and Twitters to spout off about about whether and to what degree the show is an accurate portrayal of Washington, and complain about the parts that are not. I’m going to say this once, with feeling, in the hope that it reaches all of you before Season 3 rolls around: Whoooooooooooooo caaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrres? It’s a TV show. It’s fiction. That’s fine. Next time you want to do a thinkpiece about how true to life a piece of a entertainment is, and whether its plot is plausible, tackle this movie instead. THAT I would be interested in.

Okay, but, like, what now? The first two seasons focused on Frank Underwood’s rise to power. Now that he’s reached the pinnacle — without being elected, like he’s an evil, ruthless Gerald Ford — the question is how the show handles that in Season 3. He’s shown no real interest in governing or any particular cause unless it served his master plan to acquire more power, so now that he has all the power, what is he going to do with it? That’s the most interesting question at play for me.

My guess: He proclaims himself King for Life, starts wearing a military uniform every day, and invades countries two at a time like modern-day Napoleon. It’s the next logical step.