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House Of Cards: What Makes The Show Addictive

Jorge Sette By Jorge Sette Published on December 1, 2015

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Netflix has conducted a survey to find out how far into a show the audience becomes hooked and feels compelled to watch it to the end of the season. Surprisingly, very few people get addicted to a show after watching its pilot. 

In the case of House of Cards, the study indicated that only after the 3rd episode in season 1, 70% of the viewers could not help watching the show till the end of the season. I remember this is exactly what happened to me, as it was after the third or fourth episode that I got addicted, and went on to watch the whole show. The drug was so potent that made me watch every season, so far, as soon as it came out. Die-hard fans like me are now anxiously waiting for season four to come out next year.

The show, however, can be considered kind of dry by many people. It lacks the physical action provided by the likes of Breaking Bad and The Sopranos. It doesn’t boast the detailed reconstitution of a previous era, including the stunningly elegant and psychedelic wardrobe of Mad Men, or the humor of Sex and the City. So what is the attraction? Based on my own perception, and the comments I've read on social media, these could be considered the strengths of House of Cards:

The acting. First rate acting across the board. Even if the actor has a really small and secondary role, he makes sure to shine in it. Of course, the protagonists, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, in the roles of Francis and Claire Underwood repectively, are delivering the best performances of their long and productive careers. It’s a pleasure to appreciate their ability to convey all kinds of complex feelings and emotions by just applying the right kind of stare or using a certain tone of voice. They have both been awarded deserved the Emmy for their performances in consecutive years. 

Charismatic, round, three-dimensional characters. The characters have been written to maintain realistic consistency. Spacey and Wright have perfect chemistry together and make one of the most unusual and yet believable couples in TV history. The Underwoods can be considered two sides of a coin (until season 3!), and share the same ambitions. They are brutally honest with each other, occasionally have extramarital affairs, which, if not clearly discussed, are not hidden, but there is great love and tenderness in their relationship. That is made explicit in their sweet ritual of sharing a cigarette by the window at the end of a hard day’s work. This commitment to each other (can we call it love?) is evident more than ever in the scandalous gift the wife gives the husband when she notices Frank has a crush on his bodyguard and chauffeur, Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow). She invites the employee for a couple of drinks, while the husband is away, and starts a subtle process of seduction, but only when Frank gets home to find Claire bandaging Meechum’s hand, which got accidentally cut in a shard of broken glass, does the erotic atmosphere fully bloom, propelling them to a threesome. Next day, it is business as usual, and the trio behaves as if nothing has happened.

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Peeking behind-the-scenes of the Congress and the White House. Rumor has it that Francis and Claire are based on the Clintons. This is very possible. Besides, we all like to see how power works in the higher echelons of the American political scene. Of course, the rules of dramatization require that potent amplifying lens filter reality, but one can tell that at least part of what we witness must reflect what really goes on in real life: the dirty deals that must be struck; the endless plotting; the manipulation of people as mere pawns in a dangerous game; the lack of loyalty; the constant realignment of partnerships and alliances dictated by convenience; the ruthless backstabbing. Besides, the fact that many of us have, at some point, worked for big corporations only adds to the attraction of the show, as we can easily draw parallels between the corporate and political worlds.

The one-liners. The cherry on the top of the cake, though, are some of the outrageous thoughts expressed mainly by Kevin Spacey’ s character when he looks directly into the camera and addresses the viewer, one of the hallmarks of the show. Who doesn’t get scandalized or amused by the witticisms expressed in the following quotes:

There are two kinds 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.” He says that before killing an injured dog.

“I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood.”

“Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.

"Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years; Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries."

But the most shocking line so far came from crafty Claire, as she threatens to immediately discontinue a pregnant employee’s health insurance because she’s quitting the job:

“I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside of you if that’s what’s required.”

The end of season three, when Francis is running for presidential reelection, hints at a possible break up between husband and wife. Claire says she’s leaving Frank and walks out. It will be fun to see those two at each other’s throats in the next season. A war of Titans is about to be waged. I place by bet on Mrs. Underwood.

Jorge Sette.

Jorge Sette is Bookwitty's Regional Ambassador for South America. He represents the company, writing relevant content for the region, recruiting contributors, contacting partners and ... Show More

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