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The Worst Horror Movie is Real Life – A 'House of Cards' Review

By Hriday Mehta

It was a dark, late Tuesday night. I walked up to my bathroom at three in the morning (yes, my sleep schedule was messed up even before lockdown), feeling more fear than I ever had. I had just watched the most dangerous horror show of all time. I could trust no one; everyone was fake. The game is stacked, the rules are rigged, we are all doomed. I had just realised a grave truth, The Conjuring is for kids. I had just watched the Netflix original show: ‘House of Cards’. The real world is the real horror!

Produced by David Fincher and Kevin Spacey, House of Cards was the first Netflix original show that came out in 2013; a period of relative political stability in America. The show gives us an insight into the internal dealings of politics, the difference between what is shown on the face of the government and what actually goes on in backroom dealings.

House of Cards is the tale of Frank J. Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, is a house whip in Congress who’s been wronged by the newly elected President, Gareth Walker (Michel Gill) when he is denied the Secretary of State nomination he deserved. It is when he embarks on a solemn path of revenge, a dark, twisted path filled with hypocrisy and violence to gain power for himself. The very first dialogue of the show sets the tone:

“There are two types of pain: The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain...the sort of pain that's only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.” We expect Frank to be a kind and gentle person, but what he does in that scene completely shocks us. It establishes the two sides to his personality, one is the public persona of a political leader, and the other is of a corrupt man who has no agenda, except gaining power .

The show does not shy away from showing Frank Underwood as a ruthless, uncaring bureaucrat with a complete lack of a moral compass. But the interesting part is that even Frank knows about his pretense; after committing one of his most heinous acts yet, he looks into the camera and says“Do you think I’m a hypocrite? Well, you should. The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties. Never regret.”, He makes it clear that he is at war, and he is not taking any prisoners. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to be in his way, friend or foe, good or evil will be decimated. He has no moral objective to do justice for the sake of a country filled with issues, or to solve America’s problems, he just wants power and will go to any means to get it.

And that’s the real scary part of this show. The calming familiarity of seeing him look into the camera, breaking the fourth wall and letting you in on his little secret, making you privy to a truth that no one else knows about. But then he goes ahead and does something you weren’t expecting at all, and you’re left stunned again. You are constantly left wondering what he’s going to do next; who he’s going to manipulate, who’s life is he going to destroy, what extreme measure is he willing to take to get to the top? You watch him have affairs, betray his friends and enemies alike, commit the most loathsome crimes and you know that literally anyone has a better character than Frank Underwood. You sigh in relief when he gets out of a sticky situation. You feel a sense of victory when he manages to get his way and climb one rung in the ladder to power. You abhor him completely; you hate his character and despise his every action. You think he’s the most self-serving, despicable, foul, vile, scum of the Earth. But somehow, you’re still on his side. And that’s scary, and that’s also what makes the show so compelling. But isn’t that what we do in real life as well? We end up electing leaders despite their corrupt, sordid deeds, falling for their deception and their lies. Maybe, this show is as true as it gets.

Throughout the show, Frank seems really intent on creating a legacy. He wants to be remembered as a monumental figure in American history, and he believes power is the best way to achieve that. He continues to value power over money stating,

“Money is the Mc-mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn’t see the difference”.

It is clear Frank believes him gaining power will somehow immortalise him, and he’s building up this grand design to make sure he lives on forever. However, the show contradicts him in not only the plot or storyline, but in the very title. But in fact, what he’s really building is a fragile structure that can fall apart at any moment. Something that requires care and preservation, and the constant threat of someone coming along to tear it down. He is actually building a House of Cards. Much like a House of Cards, even one thing going wrong in his plan could lead to its eventual collapse. And even if everything does go right, eventually everything does fall down. The opening credits of the show also comments on the constant fight for power. It’s a collection of Time Lapses from different areas of DC, where everything is changing and everything is moving, but what remains intact are these towering buildings which don't move what so over. It represents the inner politics of the system, even when everything is changing and the streets are empty, there is always something happening in the background to take over that House of power: The White House.

House of cards also succeeds in showing us the flaws in the political system. “Democracy is so overrated”, Frank says, giving you an idea of how undemocratic a democracy actually is. The show still shows us how big businesses have a lot more power on the dealings of the government than regular people, that at the end of the day the country is in fact ruled majorly by a few powerful people with vested interests.

One of the main reasons this show has done so well is a remarkable performance by Kevin Spacey. His performance as well as his amazing delivery makes you hang on to his every word, makes you want to follow his every move; makes you want to keep clicking on that ‘next episode’ button till your brain eventually gives way and you have to sleep. Robin Wright, who co-stars with Kevin delivers a compelling performance as Claire Underwood,

Frank’s wife and partner-in-blasphemy. In the beginning, Claire seems like a genuinely kind person and a loyal wife who sticks by her husband. She seems like the complete opposite of Frank: an honest and a good person. But as the show progresses, the horrible realisation dawns upon you that she just might be worse than Frank. One role that really stood out for me was Kate Mara, who plays the rebellious and feisty journalist Zoe Barnes. Her personality is one of ruthless ambition, similar to Frank Underwood, but her progress is hindered by a moral compass and a trusting nature where her character completely deviates from Frank. But as this show shows us countless times, there is no space for good in the real world.

The storyline of the show was extremely gripping and the changing environment every season kept the show fresh, and kept you on your feet. As Frank progresses through the political ladder, the environment gets more tense and the stakes get higher. As this happens, you can even watch Frank up his game and get ready for the battle at hand. You can watch how he’s always three steps ahead of what’s going on around him. The story somehow maintains its authenticity and being easy to follow, while being complex enough such that you don’t know what is going to happen next. Frank Underwood gives you just enough information to keep you gripped, but doesn’t let you see the whole picture until it finally happens. That moment of realisation, when it finally dawns on you what happened is what makes the storyline so riveting.

Overall, House of Cards is a thrilling show with an amazing cast and a wicked storyline. I would definitely recommend watching this show if you want to watch something thrilling and suspenseful; something that takes you into what really goes on in the world and gives you a better understanding of human nature. While this show is about politics, this show really gives you an idea of dealings where any kind of power is involved, whether it is your school student council or the government of the United States. Binge watching this show is going to be the reason you fall asleep in an online class. You’ll probably have nightmares about a crumbling system with bureaucrats with vested interest, out there to kill you, specifically. But it would still be worth watching.

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