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.