Thursday 17 October 2019

Couchsurfer: Time to fold

House Of Cards returns this weekend, and, like Barack Obama and the show's legion of fans, Donal Lynch can hardly wait

Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey in House of Cards
Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey in House of Cards
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Do you binge, like some drama-famished couch potato, or do you dip in, limiting yourself to a strict paleo-diet of programming? That will be the question many have to ask themselves as House Of Cards, the series that elevated Netflix to the pantheon of streaming services, seeks a third term in our collective consciousness this weekend. Unlike Better Call Saul, Netflix's other big spring outing, House Of Cards, like its previous two series, will now be online, all in one go. And besides wondering how much is too much, the other big question facing Barack Obama and the show's legion of fans, will be just how series creator Beau Willimon will continually ratchet up the drama now that South Carolina's answer to Machiavelli, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), and his coolly enigmatic partner-in-crime, Claire (Robin Wright), pictured, have achieved their ultimate Oval Office ambitions.

Netflix let the cat stick one paw out of the bag last week when, through some glorious technical error, the entire first episode along with detailed descriptions of all subsequent episodes went up online for 20 minutes. The non-bingers might want to look away now: As glimpsed in the quite terrifying trailer last week, Russia is the new China, the big geopolitical bad guy, and it seems that the show's writers may have created a guest spot for Pussy Riot. Two members of the Kremlin's favourite girl group were spotted on the House Of Cards set in Baltimore last August.

There's also a host of new guest stars to replace those who have been shunted aside by Frank and Claire's ambition: among them Gone Girl's Amy Hickson. But for those who haven't watched solidly since Friday night, questions remain, including: will the show's makers finally come up with a worthy adversary for Frank? And do the couple's occasional pangs of conscience ring true given their desire to win at all costs.

During the sneak preview (surely no mistake) we learned that Claire has set her sights on the United Nations, and as the dark heart of the show it's enthralling to see that her sociopathic tendencies remain as icily poised as ever. But what does Washington's Lady Macbeth really want? Is it power for herself and Frank, plain and simple? And why does she recoil from him at the senate hearing? The scene seems set for a rift within Washington's ultimate power couple and perhaps a future Hillary-like presidential run for Claire (did someone say spin-off series? We'd kill to see Claire go head-to-head against Julia Dreyfus's bumbling Veep). Like the Clintons, to whom the writers are obviously paying mischievous homage, the series' power couple can be accused of not understanding the value in quitting while you're ahead.

Can the same be said of House Of Cards itself? The word on the street (by which we mean internet message boards) is that this will be the last season of the show. The original BBC show ended after three series (with the president being assassinated by his wife), the thinking goes, so where else could this American version take us? Kevin Spacey also appears fairly booked for the foreseeable future, House Of Cards having given a shot in the arm to his movie career. At the moment he's filming Elvis and Nixon, about a 1970 encounter between Elvis Presley and President Nixon; no prizes for guessing which character Spacey is playing.

Perhaps it's time for Claire and Frank to go - they've had a good run - but that means that the rest of us are forced to pick up our own lives and move on. And if Obama, with actual geopolitical concerns to distract is him, is going to find that difficult, where does that leave the rest of us?

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