Sunday, March 30, 2014

Themes Throughout "House of Cards" (*mild spoilers)

The award-winning Netflix program, “House of Cards,” is an intriguing and innovative show that could change the norm on how shows are created. There are many aspects on “House of Cards” that attract a wide variety of viewers. The show has a great amount of quality and I believe there is niche for everyone who watches this show. What makes “House of Cards” so appealing? Some reasons for the shows success is the shows ability to break the “fourth wall,” use of past literature, such as Shakespeare, and the shows ability to touch on sensitive, but relevant social issues.
To many, breaking the “fourth wall” is a violation, and something that should not be done in writing. Screenwriting coach, Robert Mckee says, “God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends, God help you. That’s flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character (Seward, 2013).” This makes it clear what some people believe when a character breaks the “fourth wall” and speaks to the audience directly, like an aside in theatre.  However, I believe that “House of Cards” does this in a beneficial and exciting fashion. It was clear after the first season that Frank Underwood, played my Kevin Spacey, spoke directly to the audience to convey messages or further explain his schemes. In the first episode of the second season, Spacey does not interact with the audience at all until the final minute, in which he glimpses at the camera and says, “Did you think I’d forgotten about you? ... There is but one rule, hunt or be hunted, Welcome back.” The shows writing style is entrancing and really makes you connect with Spacey on a level no other show has.
Breaking the “fourth wall” and talking to the audience is undoubtedly a reason people are interested in the show. When I was watching the first episode of the second season and Spacey said “Welcome Back,” I got chills because I had forgotten how much the show lures you in and I truly felt a part of his life. Spacey is always one step ahead of the game in the show, and he lets the audience in on just enough without giving away his next move. Even though many of the things he does are illegal or immoral, something about how the show is written has you rooting for him as he keeps gaining traction in the government. We are always aware of his subconscious plans or ideas, but are oblivious to whether they will be successful.
These types of techniques go all the way back to Shakespeare’s Richard III. “The way Frank addresses the camera, revealing his real thoughts to his audience. Similarly, in his soliloquies and asides, Richard often shares his murderous plots with the audience, mocking the fools around him and inviting us in on the joke. We can't help but identify with him - because otherwise we'd identify with the fools. Frank, like Richard, makes us accessory to his crimes by winning us over with his mordant charm and wit (Blank, 2014).” It is an aspect of the show that really makes you want to watch. You want to find out if this plan Spacey has been creating for weeks, maybe months will turn out successful.
Hints of Shakespeare are throughout the entire series. Whether this was intended or not is unclear, but it could lead to significant foreshadowing as the series progresses. There are scenarios with the likes of Macbeth and Othello as well. Another common theme that parallels Shakespeare and “House of Cards” is the use of gay roles in the series.

Some of the success of “House of Cards” is due to its ability to touch on contemporary, and sensitive social issues. Throughout the series, there has been strong sexual content, both hetero and homo relationships. As always, this is a heavily debated subject in the world, but something important to touch on nonetheless.  We first get the thought Spacey is gay in season one when Frank visits his old university to see some friends. After this episode, it is easy to question what kind of relationship they had. Then, in season two, it is clear that Spacey is at the very least, bisexual due to his encounter with his wife and bodyguard. This is becoming more and more common in Television, but the hope is to eventually make it something not worth conversing about.
There are way more social issues that are represented, many of these happen to be linked with other politicians trying to hide their skeletons. Some issues include rape, affairs, prostitutes, etc. It is a contemporary show so all the issues raised can be connected to modern life. People can often connect to something more when it seems legitimate, and this is what “House of Cards” tries to do. Many of the issues in the show are farfetched (such as Kevin Spacey murdering), however many of the bills being passed can be educational and associated with societal problems.
Reasons for the shows success is the shows ability to break the “fourth wall,” use past literature, and the ability to touch on sensitive, but relevant social issues. House of Cards is a compelling show that can interest just about anyone. It is not easy to be recognized as a five star recommendation on Netflix. The show has already won multiple Golden Globes and has been brought back for a third season. The show interests people in a variety of ways; these were just some ways I thought were interesting both while reading up on and viewing the series. It will be interesting to see whether or not some of these themes persist as the show moves on.


Blank, Paula C (2014). “The Bard explains ‘House of Cards.”’ The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Seward, Zach (2013). “House of Cards’s fourth wall.” Quartz. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. Love this post because I am obsessed with House of Cards. There's something about this show that really gets me paying attention and wanting to know what happens next. It's also the type of show when you are truly engaged with what's going on because seriously - who saw you know who dying in the train station?! Literally, my jaw dropped and I was screaming. This show is very raw and you see the true colors throughout the characters. Especially when Frank speaks his thoughts out loud while looking right at the screen - probably my favorite part of the show is the actual interaction we (the audience) have with him. I cannot wait till the next season comes out!!


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