PA­TRICK FREYNE

Be­fore read­ing this, please note there will be spoil­ers and you need to pic­ture me turn­ing to the cam­era: I’ve binged on all of ‘House of Cards’ so you don’t have to

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

One of the fol­low­ing things does not hap­pen in the new se­ries of

House of Cards: a) Pres­i­dent Frank Un­der­wood (Kevin Spacey) uri­nates on his fa­ther’s grave­stone while his mo­tor­cade waits. b) Pres­i­dent Frank Un­der­wood spits on the face of a statue of Je­sus which then smashes to pieces on a church floor. He picks up a frag­ment and turns to the cam­era. “Well, I’ve got God’s ear now,” he says. c) Pres­i­dent Frank Un­der­wood finds a bas­ket full of pup­pies and punches them each in the face in or­der of cute­ness (from least to most cute). He turns to the cam­era and says: “Ha! Th­ese pup­pies think they’re great. But I’m a bad man. I’m pres­i­dent Frank Un­der­wood.”

Two of th­ese things do hap­pen in House of Cards. It’s not the most sub­tle of tele­vi­sion dra­mas. The logo fea­tures an up­side-down Amer­i­can flag. In pro­mos, Frank has ac­tual blood on his hands. His shtick is schem­ing di­rectly to cam­era. “Tit­ter ye not,” he says. Or is that Frankie How­erd in Up

Pom­peii? I think mur­der­ously am­bi­tious Frankie Un­der­wood prefers evil apho­risms to dou­ble-en­ten­dres (he’s plan­ning an evil as­pi­ra­tional cal­en­dar) and de­liv­ers them in a voice some­where be­tween Foghorn Leghorn and Bat­man. If the writ­ers could cred­i­bly give Frank horns or a ro­botic claw, they would.

Frank is pres­i­dent now and this sea­son he kills no one out­side his ca­pac­ity as com- man­der-in-chief (there are some drone strikes, but even Obama does that and he rarely turns to the cam­era to cackle evilly).

Ter­ri­ble pres­i­dent

But he’s a ter­ri­ble pres­i­dent. He tries to es­tab­lish a pro­gramme called “Amer­ica Works”, es­sen­tially a plan to en­slave the hu­man race by destroying the en­ti­tle­ments of the New Deal.

He also helps to turn a peace process into a po­ten­tial war (some­times I wish they could throw away the “re­al­ist” rule­book and have House of

Cards go full men­tal. I mean, why can’t Frank nuke Bel­gium?).

Frank’s main an­tag­o­nist is “Petrov”, a fan­tas­ti­cal makey-up au­to­crat from a fan­tas­ti­cal makey-up coun­try called “Rus­sia”. Petrov and Frank play a sea­son-long game of “Yo Mama”. Petrov out­mans Frank at func­tions by singing folk songs, swill­ing vodka (“Let us all drink and laugh like true Rus­sians,” he says) and ruggedly flirt­ing with Frank’s wife Claire. Frank seethes. He thinks about telling Petrov that he and Claire had a three­some with their body­guard last sea­son, but re­alises it will sound weird rather than cool, so keeps quiet.

Petrov later boasts that when he was a sol­dier he killed a man with his bare hands. Frank has only ever killed peo­ple su­per se­cretly with the help of car ex­hausts (Pete) and trains (Zoe), so he is dead jeal­ous.

Petrov has per­son­al­ity. Few other char­ac­ters do. The vot­ers are eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated hicks who find Frank’s in­sin­cere, folksy speechi­fy­ing in­ex­pli­ca­bly com­pelling. Ri­val politi­cians are id­iots who don’t no­tice how evil Frank is de­spite his robot claw and omi­nous self-nar­ra­tion.

As for Frank’s al­lies, I can barely tell Seth, Jackie, Remy and “pen” apart, even though, as Wikipedia in­forms me, the ac­tors are of dif­fer­ent races and gen­ders and, “pen”, is, in fact, a ball­point pen.

Fox/mole­hy­brid I crave more ex-chief-of-staff Doug Stam­per, who starts this se­ries in a coma. He was al­most killed by Rachel, the pros­ti­tute with whom he was ob­sessed (a sen­tence no par­ent wishes to say about their child). He spends much time drink­ing, plot­ting, re­cov­er­ing from his in­juries and be­ing psy­cho­sex­u­ally fix­ated. “I think we’re invit­ing the fox into the hen house,” says one char­ac­ter of Doug, be­fore an­other sug­gests he might be “a mole”. Now, this may just be bad dia­logue, but I think maybe be­ing a grotesque fox/mole hy­brid ex­plains Doug’s strange ap­peal.

Then there’s Claire. Frank and Claire have a won­der­fully sup­port­ive, polyamorous, evil mar­riage (there should be guide­books on “evil mar­riage”).

Un­for­tu­nately, not con­spir­ing to mur­der any­one for 13 episodes puts a strain on their re­la­tion­ship. Fur­ther­more, no longer con­tent to just waft around the White House like the ethe­real girl alien from

Mars At­tacks, Claire craves real power. Over the course of the se­ries, she gains power, sym­bol­i­cally dyes her hair, ques­tions Frank’s loy­alty, en­gages in heavy handed metaphors (there are Ti­betan monks in­volved) and even­tu­ally makes a big de­ci­sion.

That de­ci­sion is mod­er­ately shock­ing if you’re shocked by that sort of thing. Over­all though, sea­son three is un­der­whelm­ing. House of Cards can’t de­cide whether it’s a “re­al­is­tic” ex­am­i­na­tion of ac­tual gov­er­nance or a ri­donku­lous thriller. The new se­ries un­con­vinc­ingly fo­cuses more on the for­mer, so, like in “real” Wash­ing­ton, the pace is slow. It only took Frank two se­ries to be­come pres­i­dent, so I was hop­ing that by now he’d be em­peror of space and not do­ing te­dious, im­plau­si­ble deals with po­ten­tial elec­toral ri­vals.

Spoiler alert: by the end of sea­son three, Frank Un­der­wood is not em­peror of space.

“Well that was around 13 hours,” I sigh, bleary-eyed af­ter my binge.

“Who are you talk­ing to?” asks my wife.

I glower. “She’ll rue the day she un­der­es­ti­mated me,” I say, look­ing off to the side at no­body in par­tic­u­lar. Then I spit on a cru­ci­fix, wee on a grave, punch a puppy and go to bed.

Ri­val politi­cians are id­iots who don’t no­tice how evil Frank is de­spite his robot claw and omi­nous self-nar­ra­tion

Over­cooked: Kevin Spacey as Frank Un­der­wood

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