I’ve said this before, but I think one key to enjoying House of Cards is simply to accept that it has no deeper meaning or morality. That makes it an odd thing to analyze, because when someone tries to suggest that “American politics needs a Frank,” you are left wondering if they’re aware that they have just recommended a power-hungry sociopathic cartoon villain for public office. This is trash television, and that’s not an insult. I have great affection for good trash. And House of Cards, cynical though it is, is excellent trash much of the time.
However, the series still struggles with the foremost issue that bedeviled season one: It’s not about a goddamn thing, other than getting you to keep watching the episodes by keeping the plotting as obvious and easy to understand as possible. What the series has to say about American politics is brain-numbingly basic and devoid of nuance, largely boiling down to the easiest kind of cynicism but then refusing to grow beyond that….
House of Cards is a series intent on congratulating the viewer for being suspicious of politicians, but it’s not particularly interested in examining root causes for political corruption—or even the motivations of its protagonist Frank, and why he so covets power. It’s the ultimate binge-watching experience, in that it rewards even the laziness of thought.
As with Doctor Who, Moffat has become his show’s biggest problem—this episode is primarily concerned with being as cool and implacable as the Sherlock it’s created. (We’re saving man-child stuff for later, I assume.) Much ado about the Belstaff coat? Cumberbatch’s parents in a cameo as Sherlock’s parents? Tearful declarations of feeling at the climax of the action? Sufficient declarations of No Homo beforehand? Occasional, often dismissive nods to the canon? Moffat has it all; it’s going to be a meta season.
For two years, John’s been grappling with a loss that left him feeling helpless, guilty, and alone, and in an episode that has plenty of time for cameos by Sherlock’s parents, we get mere moments of his grief…. Sherlock did himself no favors with his reintroduction, and by letting others in on the ruse—duplicities John discovers by degrees—there’s a breach of trust the show would have to make real effort to address. Yet it largely refuses to engage Watson’s grievances, even sticking him in a bonfire for Sherlock to rescue as a reason to swiftly return to the fold. Even in the weaponized subway car, Sherlock wrings tearful forgiveness from John by convincing him they’re moments from death, and then flicks the bomb’s off-switch and mocks John for doubting him. It doesn’t so much re-establish a snarky equilibrium so much as it re-establishes that Moffat’s Sherlock is a total dick.
I just remembered: one of my favorite college memories was from taking this upper-div playwriting class. There were maybe ten students, and one of them was this guy I had never seen in the theatre building before or since — white guy, neckbeard, t-shirt with some smarmy-ass thing on it like “kill your heroes” or “jam the aristocracy” or whatever makes boys who read a lot of Bukowski and Palahniuk feel cool.
We’re going around the room on the second day talking about our favorite kinds of stories — not our favorite stories in particular, but our favorite types of stories, our favorite plot devices and tropes, to get us to think in terms of structure and analysis.
This Bukowski guy completely derails the discussion, which for each person was maybe three or four sentences, to talk for twenty minutes straight about The Wire. It’s as though he had been watching The Andy Griffith Show all his life and had never seen serial television before. It was the funniest thing in the world. And then it became awful. And then funny again. BECAUSE HE MISSED THE POINT OF THE DISCUSSION AND KEPT ON GOING.
“Like, it’s about everything — literally everything. They show you every kind of social strata [sic] and it’s just genius how all these different plots are juxtaposed. Like, it really shows the war on drugs for what it is, and the cops, and the schools. It shows you exactly what’s wrong with society.”
My impatience with people who fawn over The Wire began right then and there because somehow this show, which isn’t THAT great, convinces a certain kind of male intellectual he’s seeing a singular artform — that there’s television as usual, and then there’s The Wire. And it’s so disgustingly entitled how much time and bullheaded energy they spend trying to convince anyone within earshot the show is incredible.
I’m not above reproach, because I too have my stories that I love with all my heart, but there’s really something about The Wire in particular that gives men raging hard-ons and it’s baffling and tedious.