I wanted to like House of Cards. I really did.
When I first heard that Netflix was producing a new series starring Kevin Spacey I was thrilled. Mr. Spacey is one of the great actors of his generation. The opportunity to watch new work from him-- and a supporting cast of first-class actors-- via streaming media sounded too good to be true.
Unfortunately, it was. After viewing all 13 episodes I have finally lost patience.
House of Cards is a well-produced, well-acted orgy of ugly female stereotypes.
I mean 'orgy' in both the literal and metaphorical sense: None of the recurring female characters have any worth or importance apart from their male sexual partners. This is made clear by repeated sex scenes where male domination and control take the place of respect or affection.
As the lead in House of Cards, Kevin Spacey portrays Francis Underwood, the ambitious Majority Whip of a fictional U.S. Congress. Let's take a look at the women in his world:
Zoe Barnes- Played by Kate Mara, Zoe Barnes is a young journalist who vaults into bed with Underwood to advance her career. When that sexual arrangement sours, she changes her nightly booty call to a new young boyfriend-- and promptly begins manipulating him for the sake of her career as well.
A young hottie sleeping her way to the top. How original.
Claire Underwood- Claire (played by Robin Wright) is Francis Underwood's wife. She runs a high-profile charity that Underwood uses to lure and reward potential campaign donors. In return, Underwood occaisionally steps in to boost turnout at important fundraising events. The price for his support is pretty high: in addition to hiring, firing and lying at his command, Claire is expected to put up with his fondling of Zoe.
Claire's compliance is not perfect. At one point she abandons Underwood and runs off to spend a week with an old lover. But after just a few days she begins to complain about her lover's footloose, low-income lifestyle. When Underwood messages her about a new political crisis she leaves her lover without even a good-bye.
She can choose between men, but she can't choose independence.
A long-suffering wife who craves the status and material security of her husband's career. How modern.
Christina Gallagher- The character of Christina Gallagher (played by Kristen Connolly) exists to love dissolute politician Peter Russo. She warms his bed and runs his office. She walks out on him briefly at the start of the series, but when he pledges to reform she promptly resumes her proper place in his bed.
Christina Gallagher has no personal ambitions, hobbies or friends. The first time we see her she is having sex with Russo. The last time we see her she is grieving his death. I hope Ms. Connolly has a good agent, because her character has just become irrelevant.
A loyal handmaiden stands by her man. How unexpected.
Gillian Cole- Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt) works at Claire's charity. She had an affair with a married man and is now pregnant. She has decided to keep the baby. The peak of her character's storyline is a catfight with Claire, who accuses her of hiding behind her pregnancy to avoid conflicts at work. Gillian quits and sues Claire's organization for discriminating against working mothers.
A self-righteous single mom bravely decides to go it alone after berating her soulless, childfree boss. Wow, never heard that one before.
Rachel Posner- Rachel Posner (played by Rachel Brosnahan) is a young prostitute. Her character is kept in play by Underwood's henchman Stamper, who uses her to trap and destroy Russo. Stamper's relationship with Rachel becomes a miniature of Underwood's marriage: Stamper sets her up in a nice apartment, finds her a respectable job and intervenes when her job security is threatened. (Her new boss demands sexual favors. Not a shock for this show.) Meanwhile, Rachel becomes less and less comfortable with her role in Russo's downfall.
Vulnerable young hooker with a heart of gold. This is creative genius.
If you removed the female stereotypes from House of Cards it would make a long series very short. Every time an independent female character appears she is hustled off the show after just a few scenes. Recurrent female characters are reduced to 3 simple activities: screw, sob and scheme.
In the first episode Underwood says of his wife, "I love that woman the way a shark loves blood." That description made no sense to me until I watched the rest of the series. All the women in Underwood's world are wounded prey, desperately treading water while the male sharks circle.
I won't be back for the kill.