I’m Mad as Hell at Kevin Spacey and (Maybe) I’m Not Going to Take it Any More

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housecardsspaceyfacecropped2After watching the second episode of Season 3 of Beau Willimon’s House of Cards, a horrible thought occurred to me. I began to wonder if Willimon was doing to me, that is to say to the audience, what Frank Underwood, played perhaps too well by Kevin Spacey, was doing to his colleagues in Willimon’s fictional Washington, D. C.: hitting me/us with dishonest, manipulative plots, for his own self-promotion. And Spacey, that talented, idealistic actor was LETTING HIS TALENT BE CO-OPTED IN THIS WAY? I’d been having suspicions about this series since Season 2. But Season 3 is starting off in way that more than justifies them, and not only because the first two eps have left me actually feeling queasy.

FIRST SEASON: FULL HOUSE

Season 1 was sensational and gave the original British House of Cards mini-series(1990) which inspired it a run for its money. Spacey’s Frank Underwood, a southern Democrat hell-bent on taking control of the government was a more trenchant, upwardly mobile version of Francis Urquart (Ian Richardson), the upper housecardswhitehousecroppedclass Conservative smarming his way toward a bloodless coup of England. Underwood’s trademark asides to the audience were, if anything, more evocative of Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth, on whom both characters were based, than Urquart’s. Spacey was having a blast, and so was I. Then came Season 2 and many doubts.

PLAYING WITH A SENSATION-STACKED DECK

Season 2 had an air of desperation about it, as if Willimon felt that the only way to follow up on his initial success was to assault me/us with sensational, taboo-breaking villainy in every
episode, whether or not it organically grew from the situation or even made any sense. It just had to make a splash. And the series began to curdle for me housecardsdeckcropped1and look like a travesty of the British original. Case in point, we were treated to Frank Underwood luring his young reporter mistress to a public metro station–wearing a slouch hat as a disguise–to push her under the wheels of an oncoming train. Try to imagine Ted Cruz attempting that kind of anonymity in D. C. Wearing a slouch hat. Urquhart had more plausibly lured his little journalist to an isolated roof of a government building where his dastardly plot could be developed with more style. Picky-picky? Yeah, maybe. But it was part of an endless barrage of similar unconvincing “OMG moments,” most of which suggested or confronted us outright with not only boundless viciousness, but also the decadent, predatory sexuality of Underwood and his equally unsavory wifey, Claire (Robin Wright). Slimy. And all too convenient to the needs of Series 2, since all that seems to have disappeared in Season 3, now that Frank is President and there are other ways to wallow in grand guignol.

TIPPING THEIR HAND

So, someone is saying, you’ve only seen two episodes of Season 3 and already you have an opinion? Umm, yes. Let me say why. Here’s what happened in S3, E2. Underwood/Spacey made a speech to the nation, a follow up to a plot that was already brewing in S3, E1 to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and everything that all the characters agree are “entitlements.” Yes, this is the plan of a Democratic president. In the speech, Underwood, who believes he can manipulate his party and the nation this way to get a second term that his party doesn’t want to give him, said that we as a nation are entitled to nothing. What he was offering was the end of these “entitlements,” because we can’t afford them and creating jobs too, and a massive jobs program is what F. U. insists is necessary to restore the American dream. housecardsspaceyprescropped1

There’s a strong, poisonous whiff in this speech of something sinister about these projected jobs, probably because the neo-con ideal, which Willimon has placed in the mouth of a Democrat, is a nation of helpless wage slaves with no protections, no dignity, and no money to speak of that the wealthy class can control. But much, much worse is that no character of any party, or of no party has yet pointed out that Underwood’s political/economic point of view is riddled with factual errors. The main one being that the government doesn’t pay for Social Security. It is self-perpetuating. So destroying it has no bearing in the real world on whether we can afford a massive jobs program for ten million people. Then there is also the fact that the government could afford a great deal if the 1% paid their taxes. Not a word is mentioned by anyone about that.

housecardspodium1And my point is that even if one’s politics do not run toward a progressive point of view, it is a fact that such a perspective is quite vocally alive in Washington today, and we have heard nothing about it in House of Cards. All we hear is that it would be unpopular to drop the “entitlements.” A derogatory term for government in support of human dignity and the dignity of work is, in this series, the accepted nomenclature of what a lot of us consider a humane society. Well Damn!!

MEDIA MISREPRESENTATION FRACKS REALITY

The British House of Cards, Andrew Davies’ adaptation of a novel by Michael Dobbs, had a rich sense of political reality. (Full discosure: Andrew Davies is a writer-producer on this House of Cards, so I am not singing his personal praises when I praise the series he wrote 25 years ago in England.) Urquart was a believable Thatcherite conservative and his asides to the audience taunted the spectators with the results of their tendency to trust such lying bastards as himself. There is no comparable political reality to Willimon’s series, and Underwood’s asides to the audience come across as little more than a gimmick.

Beau Willimon

Beau Willimon

Underwood as a character has been increasingly cut off from any American political reality. Willimon grafts the words and anti-democratic ideas of the Koch brothers onto a Democrat, and gives us a front running Republican for 2016 whose ideas we don’t yet know. In fact, this Republican, Hector Mendoza (Benito Martinez) leaves us with a vague impression that he respects the political reality that the entitlements are here to stay. Well Damn again!! Only Willimon can say why he has fracked with political reality in this way. But the onscreen result is that the delusions of the lunatic right wing that the Democrats are fascists (and the Republicans semi-reasonable at the least) are realized in Willimon’s increasingly perverse and dishonest view of America today.

CALLING OUT CHARACTER FLAWS

It’s not only the politics, I have to tell you. The scrambling of Underwood’s characterization is also infuriating to me. In the episode 2 of S3 that spawned this tirade, we see Underwood, the all-time hustler, master of every situation, dissolve pathetically into tears on the floor behind his desk when he begins to feel that he won’t be able to find a way to run again in 2016, resembling me when I was 13 years old and didn’t get the part of Lady Chiang in The King and I because I can’t sing in a high enough register. housecardsspaceywrightsmallAnd Claire, the least empathetic character on American screens ever, spotting his disconsolate figure, does not slap him silly and intone some version of “Snap out of it!” but compassionately brings him back to life by administering sex to his prostrate body. A very original scene, very cleverly shot, but for two other characters surely. WTH? Which Frank and Claire Underwood are these? I could go on.

I’m even more disconcerted by what I have learned about Willimon, who has been quoted as saying that “a lot of bad writing focuses on causality,” which he attributes to “Freudian bullshit.” That’s weird. He has also characterized the act of writing as “fundamentally a selfish one,” or so IMDb tells us. If Willimon actually said this or anything like it, there would appear to be a more than passing resemblance between F. U. and the man behind him.

So, Spacey is still having the time of his life with juicy scenes which shred the image of American life into degenerate airy nothings that give to manipulative lies a local habitation and a name. His irresistible performance is the engine of this series, and legitimizes it. And I’m furious at him for carrying water for this Big Lie. Will I keep watching? I don’t want to, but as a critic I would like to be able to evaluate my first impressions of Season 3. So, if I can stomach it, I will see the other episodes, or enough to ascertain where Willimon is, in fact, taking this trainwreck. If I do watch, in the words of someone or other, I’ll be back.

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