All My Random Thoughts on House of Cards, Season 3

Where do I start with House of Cards? I finished season three last night – that’s record binge-viewing time for me – and each time I think about it, new theories, thoughts and questions pop into my head. This was such an intriguing season, and it was definitely my favorite of the three so far.

I realized a few episodes in that this was my favorite season of HoC because it’s the season that can be most easily compared to The West Wing. This New York Times Magazine Beau Willimon profile from last year made a perfect connection between the two – that each generation gets the political show representative of its moment – and, yes, even last year as Vice President, Frank entered the realm of the White House. But now he’s really in the White House, and his supporting cast more closely mirrors that of The West Wing.

Throughout the season, I found myself comparing House of Cards characters with their West Wing counterparts. The Underwood-Bartlet comparison doesn’t amount to much, or at least it didn’t to me. The one I found myself thinking about most often was Remy (Underwood’s Chief of Staff) and Josh Lyman (Bartlet’s Deputy Chief of Staff). It actually didn’t dawn on me until right now, as I write this, that Josh is never actually Bartlet’s Chief of Staff – he’s only the deputy in that administration. But I think the comparison holds; Josh and Remy are more comparable than Leo and Remy, age-wise, so maybe that’s why it sprang to mind, but I also think Josh does more Remy-like things than Leo. Anyways.

This is where I couldn’t get it out of my mind: When it’s clear the hurricane has turned and the America Works program will die because Frank’s signed that bill, he leaves the situation room and asks Remy what can be done to stop it and get the AmWorks funding back. Remy doesn’t know what to do, and basically tells Frank it’s hopeless. Faced with the same situation and the same amount of time, Josh Lyman would have gotten the bill back, rescued AmWorks, and given Donna a condescending explanation of whatever Constitutional loophole he used to accomplish the previous feat.

On a more peripheral level, I’m always interested in the way different politically focused shows and movies concentrate on different players. I mean, I get it – each show chooses who they want to tell the story through – but I just wonder how those decisions are made, and why. There is no Toby Ziegler or Sam Seaborn in HoC (or at least no depiction of their counterparts, because the real Sam and Toby would probably flee the country if Frank Underwood was president). In the same way, The West Wing never had (if my memory serves) a U.N. Ambassador present during tense moments in the situation room.

Aside from the ease with which West Wing comparisons can be made, HoC season three was my favorite because for a long time, we don’t know where it’s going. Season one, these characters and this story are brand-new, and we don’t even know what we could assume. Season two, it’s fairly obvious Frank will become President. But season three, Frank is President. So where will it go?

I loved watching Frank struggle with the day-to-day issues of the presidency, rather than make the broad-strokes moves to get there in the first place, which we saw in the first two seasons. You remember he actually has a job to do. But even though that’s why I loved the season as a whole, it’s also why the ending left me dissatisfied. It felt like the finale concentrated on storylines that hadn’t been considered much at all in the previous 12 episodes. Of course Doug has to find Rachel, and of course we have to get some idea of what’s going on with the Underwood marriage (this Vulture piece articulates a lot of frustrations I had with the season’s end, as far as Frank and Claire’s relationship), but I was disappointed we didn’t get a closer look at how Heather Dunbar narrowly lost the Iowa primary, or get some idea where Jackie Sharp’s headed next, now that she’s done campaigning and admitted unhappiness in her marriage.

Slightly disappointing ending aside, though, I still thought this was a fabulous season. These are my other lingering, random thoughts:

  • End of episode two, when Claire cracks those two eggs into a pan. WHAT DOES IT MEAN.
  • Even if there weren’t direct comparisons to all the characters, there were some moments that reminded me of West Wing Frank’s visit to the bishop reminded me of when Toby went to chat with his rabbi. Heather Dunbar’s surprise announcement of her candidacy reminded me of CJ’s surprise when that awful Peter Lillianfield gave a surprise press conference about alleged drug use among White House staffers.
  • I liked Thomas Yates, the author Frank hired. But I will never love a writer on this show as much as I loved Janine Skorsky.
  • This scene – Frank sings a little ditty for guests after the Petrov dinner – is straight out of my fever dream.

frank singing!

  • The dialogue between Claire Underwood and Michael Corrigan, as they negotiate in his prison cell, is insanely good. As is the dialogue between Frank and Claire later that episode, when they’re fighting on the plane.
  • This show reminded me how House of Cards season one really introduced me to the greatness of Kevin Spacey, who is now one of my most beloved actors. I’d seen him in movies before this show, but I remember watching the first season and then wanting to know all of his other stuff. I watched L. A. Confidential not long after finishing season one, and it’s now one of my favorite films. I kind of forgot until this weekend how HoC was responsible for my love of Spacey.

So, I’m sure tons of other thoughts and theories will come to mind as I chew on this season and discuss with others. Here’s to season four.

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“Boy, Those Were the Days, Huh?”

Thanks to the @sorkinese Twitter account – one of the best there is – I learned today is the 15th anniversary of The West Wing’s premiere. Sam, Toby, CJ, Leo, Josh, Bartlet, et al entered America’s living rooms on September 22, 1999. The show has only been part of my world for the last 18 months, but nonetheless, I celebrate its beginnings because I like thinking of people watching the show in real time, in an age when Toby’s airplane phone and Sam’s pager were actually technological marvels.

I know anniversaries are completely arbitrary, and why should we celebrate the 15th over the 14th or the 9th or the 37th or whatever. But since basically any day is an excuse for me to celebrate this show, I’ll do it today, too.

As someone with plenty of TV/movie/culture obsessions, I think a lot about what makes something an obsession versus just something I simply enjoy. I enjoy How I Met Your Mother. I am obsessed with The West Wing. Why is that? Sometimes I can barely make it through the first episode of something. Other times, I can just feel it, five minutes in. I am going to spend a lot of time with these characters.

It may not have been five minutes in for me with The West Wing, but I remember watching the pilot for the first time and when the President makes his entrance…I just knew. What was this show! He comes in with just a few minutes left in the episode. The whole time, you’ve been hearing about him – POTUS in bicycle accident? – but you don’t see him until much later. And the thing is, you don’t even notice! You’ve been swept away by all sorts of other stories. And then…oh, yeah. The President.

And it all comes together. This would not be the last impassioned Bartlet speech that brings the rest of his staff to its senses. It would not be his last cry against religious fanaticism. But it was his first entrance, and it was a great one.

As I went deeper into the show, characters other than President Bartlet became my favorite, but in my mind, that first episode is all about him (though Toby delivers some of his finest shouting in that first episode).

So happy birthday, West Wing. I do The Jackal in your honor.

 

Obligatory New Year’s Post

One of my perennial New Year’s resolutions is to “blog more.” I never make it specific enough to really get motivated, so my goal for 2014 is to develop more of the thoughts I have for posts and stop leaving so many in my drafts folder. Ideas spring to mind at all hours of the day, and I want to get better at acting on that motivation.

I did leave a ton of half-formed “end-of-2013” posts sitting as drafts, but in the spirit of writing more and wrapping up the last 365 days, here’s a quick look back at some of the highlights and notable obsessions.

I’ll start with the most recent event: A ten-day trip home to Portland for Christmas. I’ve been back in New York for a couple days now, and with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how that trip helped me hit the restart button. It was rejuvenating to step out of the everyday routine, have a change of scenery, and rekindle friendships that are hard to maintain when living on the other side of the country.

Looking at the year as a whole, I’ve now completed my first full year of life after college – and my first one settled in a full-time job. I had a lot to learn about the post-college world in general, and specifically about the post-college world in New York City, but definitely feel like I’ve found my feet in a way I hadn’t thought possible when I first moved here.

On a lighter note, I’ve discovered and indulged a few new passions/obsessions this year, including movies and movie criticism. I’d never been much of a movie person before, but discovered a love for watching movies and reading reviews that place the film and its message in the larger context of society. This is due in large part to rediscovering Roger Ebert’s brilliance (I’m sad to say it took his death in April for me to remember how much I love his writing), and listening to Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday‘s weekly review segments on the Tony Kornheiser Show. Of the films I saw for the first time in 2013 (both brand-new releases in theaters and new-to-me films on Netflix/DVD), favorites include American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, Fargo, Up in the Air and The Royal Tenenbaums. 

Staying in the media vein, I discovered The West Wing this year, which changed my life a little. I don’t even care if that sounds dramatic! It’s the best show I’ve ever seen and it helped me understand a lot about the American political process. Educational value aside, it’s brilliantly written and structured, with deep character development that leads you to love even the most insufferable characters (except Mandy – she’s unlovable). I have fallen especially hard for Toby Ziegler, the White House Communications director, who proved with this rant that he is my spirit animal.

It was also wonderful having my sister in NYC over the summer, and I loved traveling to Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando and Portland over the course of the year. So many of the moments that made 2013 great would seem silly if I tried to explain them, but little things like a great night out with new friends or a funny text from an old friend gave the year even more character.

As far as 2014 goes, I have a few resolutions – but again, nothing really specific. I’d like to travel abroad (hopefully to London) and milk even more out of my time living in NYC. I’ve also been saying for years that my dream is to write a novel. At the moment, I’m pretty thin on ideas, but maybe I’ll start piecing it together in the next twelve months. 

Who knows where the next 365 days will lead, but here’s to a fresh start.

I Love You, Toby Ziegler

I know this puts me about seven years behind the times, but I’ve spent an embarrassingly large portion of my last three weekends watching The West Wing on Netflix. I’ve never been much into politics or television dramas, but since I went through a brief Washington, D.C. obsession after reading a Ben Bradlee biography and watching House of Cards (and because my sister kept telling me how The West Wing was God’s one and only gift to television), I decided to give it a go.

The West Wing really is God’s one and only gift to television. (Well, maybe not the only gift. There’s also 30 Rock.)

Toby Ziegler, the Director of White House Communications on the show, has emerged as my favorite member of the Bartlet administration. What can I say? I’m a sucker for TV characters who speak with a biting wit, point out grammar mistakes and love pie.

My all-time (so far) favorite Toby moment, not included in the above montage:

I’m not an expert on political dramas or Aaron Sorkin shows, but I can’t get enough of The West Wing and the way it’s a drama mixed with a bit of workplace comedy. Another thing that intrigues me about this show (actually, about a lot of TV shows) is how it blends reality and fiction. Jay Leno, a real-life celebrity, shows up at a benefit for a fictional president. Real-life newspapers report on real-life political issues as they play out in a fictional White House. It’s not completely made-up, but it’s not completely real, either. I get it – this is TV, and of course Jay Leno would attend a benefit to support a president who stars in an NBC show – but the interplay between real and fictional issues and characters is intriguing.

I’m only on the second season, so there’s plenty more obsession to indulge. Let the Netflix binge continue.