Review: House of Cards, Season 1 Episode 1

Netflix's first foray into television production may be the beginning of a bright future for on-demand television.

If Netflix’s original series House of Cards represents a new model for television, the future is bright.

The Internet drama, created by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director David Fincher and Ides of March co-producer Beau Willimon, captures the politico spirit of Washington, D.C. and the changing dynamics of a print newsroom, while the commercial-free nature of the distributor allows the story to progress in such a way that is impossible to do with network TV.

Kevin Spacey plays congressman Francis Underwood, the House majority whip who has played the political game long enough to be considered for a major cabinet position under recently elected President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill). But when Underwood is informed he won’t be appointed, the congressman turns the game on its head with the help of young Washington Herald reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara).

On several occasions, Underwood breaks the actor’s ‘fourth wall’ to reveal the depth of his inner monologue. Directly addressing the viewer, Spacey weaves us into the storyline and gives a glimpse into the mind of a political strategist. From the opening scene, these thoughts are eloquently expressed.

“There are two kinds of pain: the sort of pain that makes you strong, and useless pain — the sort of pain that only leads to suffering. I have no patience for useless things. Moments like this require someone who will act, to do the unpleasant thing, the necessary thing,” Underwood said as he prepares to put a wounded dog out of his misery.

Barnes plays the stereotypical young reporter in today’s age, part idealist and part social media maven. When she’s fed information from Underwood, Barnes quickly verifies it and gets it ready to publish — straight to the Web. Her audience comes from a generation that gets its news from Twitter and Stephen Colbert, and she plays to that crowd as an aspiring political correspondent while her editors focus on what she can do for the print edition. The dynamic leads to hilarious conversations with editor Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) — which most reporters remember having in their idealistic youth.

Perhaps the biggest advantage House of Cards has over network TV is its lack of commercials. Netflix’s paid subscription model allows for more flowing storylines, and the writers are able to tell a story without the need for cliffhangers and pauses every 12-15 minutes. The episode’s 56 minutes packs story into every second, rather than the 42 minutes of an average hour-long TV show.

Netflix released the first season in its entirety, allowing viewers to binge on all 13 episodes or space them out as they would a normal TV show. But with the pace of the individual storylines, viewers will likely advance instead of standing still. They’ll take Underwood’s advice: “Forward. That is the battle cry. Leave ideology to the armchair generals; it does me no good.”

On to the next episode.

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