This is The Monday Line
by Denis G. Campbell
Fans, like me, of the original BBC produced House of Cards loved how the Kevin Spacey Netflix creation stayed closely to the original 12 episodes’ themes over its first two seasons. Now at three seasons (39 episodes and counting), the original British parliamentary tragi-comedy is lost. In typical American production excess, the grit of PM Francis Urquhart became the ruthless anger of President Frank Underwood. Both men were tragically transparent and easy to understand. Now Underwood looks and acts like an angry Napoleonic clone.
Their initials F.U. were a tease of network censor sensibilities. They both had journalist mistresses whose lives they controlled and then tragically ended. Both started as chief whips and rose through deviousness to the highest office in their land (Urquhart’s rise was easier, Underwood did have to become Veep first). Both had henchmen named Stamper. Both had strong wives who looked the other way and encouraged their peccadillos. Both had security detail chiefs very close to them and their wives.
For two seasons it was somewhat like looking in the mirror as Francis and Frank looked away from whatever scene they were part of and spoke directly to us conspiratorially in frank and brutal asides about what they thought about everyone in their political world. The only thing missing from Underwood was Urquhart’s charmingly transparent line of deflection, ‘You might very well think that… I couldn’t possibly comment.’ Urquhart’s 1990 series and dramatic rise took place post-Margaret Thatcher with him as a centrist Tory leader. Underwood is a right leaning Dixie Democrat in current time.
Spoiler alert: Season Three, if it was to be a true to form copy of the original, should have ended in episode 39 with the killing of Frank at the hands of Meechum to save his legacy as planned by the head of security and his wife. This was the case with the original House of Cards. This season ends VERY differently. As with the original, Frank becomes more angry and power hungry. But that is where this House of Cards ends its parallel track with the original. Unlike Bugs Bunny, THIS version takes a hard left turn at Albuquerque. But unlike the New Mexico based Breaking Bad, another Netflix streamed series with a man gone very bad, we do not have much about Underwood to like at the end of this season like we did with Walter White.
Whilst Spacey joked “this show could run 37 seasons,” the current iteration is one long setup for Season Four which could easily focus on the campaign when it drops in 2016 (pure speculation) during the white hot real political primary season. That then frees up Season Five in 2017 to focus on Francis trying to govern despite winning a close election but losing the Congress.
So as long as Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright remain attached, this series could live for 10+ years. It also needs Michael Kelly who returns from near death as the brilliantly tortured Doug Stamper rehabbing and falling off the wagon. And Nathan Darrow is as loyal as ever to the Underwoods as Secret Service detail head Nathan Darrow. The rest? They can come and go as they please. And they do. Even Freddie the ribs man returns in a very different role…
So yes, I, like so many, binge watched the entire season in two days and will likely do it again next time. Like most, I wanted to see if Frank could survive. Now that he clearly has, I am not certain this is a good thing. 39 episodes was not enough to set Frank up for a legacy?
Let’s hope there is something remaining for us to like and find redeeming about Frank Underwood at the end of the series. This angry Frank was less charming, more loud, blatantly angry and rude to all around him, including his long-suffering (or is she?) wife.
Somehow, even in death, we felt more for Francis Urquhart than we ever will feel for Frank Underwood. There was a captivating delicious evilness to Ian Richardson’s portrayal that is lacking in the impatient and angry Underwood. And that is a shame because Spacey is a brilliant actor. It’s as if we just saw Harry Potter film Six or the bungled Season of Homeland where we collectively scratch our heads and wonder, ‘what was that all about?’
Let us hope we can again find Frank as interesting in the long-term as we did Walter White. I fear though we may have already lost that chance.