|Kevin Spacey is deliciously unlikable in House of Cards (image via Netflix)|
Hit the jump for my thoughts (and please discuss in the comments).
I think part of the House of Cards appeal to me is, in fact, that I don't like any single character on the show. I dislike almost every one of the characters, and as I watch most of them spiral downard, I harbor joy at watching their demise. In my other favorite TV dramas, I can find at least a couple main characters for whom to cheer (Dexter, Rita, and Harrison from Dexter; Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, any of the Starks from Game of Thrones; Kate, Jack, and Hurly from Lost). I realized my dislike for the HOC characters at the beginning of season two when Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) pushed Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) in front of the subway train. Barnes almost never smiled, and her only goal in life appeared to be to move up the journalistic ranks, no matter who she had to screw to get there. The only thing I would miss about her was the eye candy she provided.
After that incident, I started looking at the other characters. Peter Russo? The guy was pompous, out of control, and too easily manipulated by substances and other people. Raymond Tusk? His most redeeming quality is that he reminds me of Major Dad, but in all other cases, he's a money- and power-hungry prick who represents the ridiculous influences of corporate America on politics. Garrett Walker? It's difficult to strongly dislike the president on the show, who is generally shown to be a thoughtful, conscientious, humane, and intelligent person; but the fact that Tusk and Underwood bully and manipulate him into making poor decisions made me lose a little bit of respect. He almost won me back over when he shut out Tusk and told Underwood that he would no longer take his calls, but that was short-lived.
That brings me back to the Underwoods, Frank and his wife Claire. Perhaps it's because we see behind the scenes, but his voice and actions are so dripping with obvious distaste for those around him that it's difficult to see how he got this far in life without being beaten to a bloody pulp. I silently cheered when Donald Blythe (Reed Birney) chewed Frank out for feigning compassion for Blythe's marital situation only for political capital. Claire (Robin Wright) is another character as fake as they come, and the way she handled the Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt) situation was cruel and cold-hearted. Furthermore, I lost a great deal of respect for them when they cheated on each other, although obviously they have somewhat open relationships. The media uproar over Adam Galloway's (Ben Daniels) release of the pictures of the vice president's wife was well deserved, and I felt a great deal of indifference when he got upset that Claire lied to him, as if he thought she was incapable of lying. The Underwoods continue to ascend, and I hope for an even more spectacular failure.
The two characters I find/found to be most sympathetic were Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and Freddy (Reg E. Cathey), because both were troubled souls who were yearning for redemption. Stamper, a recovering alcoholic, was Frank's lap dog and did everything he could to try to get back into his boss's good graces. And while he covered up some bad things along the way, he clearly struggled with the differences between right and wrong. Unfortunately, that ended with him getting brained with a rock by Rachel Posner at the end of season two. Freddy escaped season two with his life, and I doubt we see him much at all when the series continues to a third season; but he had to leave his business behind once Tusk revealed that he was a former gangster convicted of manslaughter. Both of those guys were headed in the right direction, but they were the victims of larger forces.
I only have a few qualms with the series, and they're relatively insignificant. The sexual tryst between Frank, Claire, and their Secret Service agent Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow) was a red herring that had nothing to do with anything. Unless that comes back to bite the Underwoods in some way in season three, it was useless and offended my sensibilities. Also, I was about to punch something if I had to watch Frank "pitch" another ball to Meechum; it's a good thing the power went out in Baltimore, because then the nation didn't have to be subjected to watching Kevin Spacey throw a baseball like a complete sissy. Perhaps most significantly, the pace of the show seems to go at breakneck speed. It seems like such a short time ago that Frank was the Whip from South Carolina, then he became vice president by suckering the previous VP out of office, and now he's become POTUS all before President Walker could finish his first term in office.
It was recently announced that the show has been renewed for a third season, which will be released in February 2015. In the meantime, I will be searching high and low for another enthralling show with characters I hate this much.