As always, “House of Cards” looks gorgeous, and Kevin Spacey as machinating politician Frank Underwood can chomp scenery with the best of them.
But three years into creator Beau Willimon’s remake of the original British series, the rot at the heart of “House of Cards” on Netflix is clearer than ever. “Cards” fancies itself a sophisticated critique of Washington. Instead, it’s a muddled and naive insult to our intelligence.
This is a series where, when Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) tells her husband “Francis, let’s be realistic,” her idea of pragmatism is to suggest that Frank ought to nominate her to be ambassador to the United Nations as a reward for her years of loyal service as his wife. It’s a position for which she is entirely unqualified and which seems to have little to do with her periodic interests.
If “House of Cards” mistakes the Underwoods’ emotional decision-making for hard-headed manipulation, it’s also strangely inconsistent on the subject of political real talk.
If the Washington captured by “House of Cards” feels distinctly airless and empty, it’s no wonder the Underwoods dominate the town so thoroughly. They’re cool to the point of resembling the walking dead more closely than actual human beings. Frank and Claire barely need to breathe, even as the people around them strangle and stifle.