The Hate-Watchers Guide to ‘House of Cards,’ Season 2

In which we review all the reasons you shouldn’t watch this season’s “House of Cards” but will anyway.

 Actor Kevin Spacey arrives at the special screening of Netflix's 'House of Cards' Season 2 at the Directors Guild of America on February 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros and Lucia Graves
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Matt Vasilogambros and Lucia Graves
Feb. 14, 2014, midnight

It’s been a year since Net­flix’s polit­ic­al thrill­er House of Cards out­raged and ad­dicted Wash­ing­to­ni­ans (about 50,000 years ago in blog­ger years). Be­cause Sea­son 2 starts Fri­day, we’re here to re­mind you what you hate most about the show. So, you know, you’ll have your of­fice talk­ing points ready.

What fol­lows is an an­noted ver­sion of our dis­cus­sion over G-chat, the me­di­um you’ll most likely use to com­plain about the show to your friends on Monday. You’re wel­come!

Lu­cia Graves: I’ll be­gin with my No. 1 reas­on to hate this show: its hor­rible por­tray­al of lady journ­al­ists and their al­leged will­ing­ness to sleep their way to the top. In par­tic­u­lar, there’s vet­er­an writer Jan­ine Skor­sky’s as­ser­tion that “we’ve all done it.” I don’t know any wo­man in Wash­ing­ton who’s “done it” to get ahead, but I know that some guy in Wyom­ing is go­ing to watch the show and be like, “Knew it!” People are al­ways ask­ing me, “Is your life like House of Cards?” and it’s very awk­ward.

Matt Vasi­lo­gam­bros: I used to feel dirty go­ing to events, shak­ing hands, mak­ing point­less small talk — “Oh, I haven’t gone to Le Dip­lo­mate yet, but I hear the duck con­fit is quite good” — and drink­ing free booze, but then this show came around and ad­ded a whole new defin­i­tion of be­ing used. Yea, Zoe’s tech­nique isn’t the way you source-build in this town. Ugh, THIS TOWN.

LG: So did the show make you feel bet­ter about us? Were you like, “At least we’re not as ter­rible as THESE people?” Be­cause I know it’s not just lady journ­al­ists who get a bad rep in the show. Frank Un­der­wood, the House ma­jor­ity whip, ac­tu­ally kills a man for polit­ic­al gain.

MV: Yeah, I don’t think Kev­in Mc­Carthy has done any­thing that drastic be­fore. I mean, I THINK he hasn’t.

LG: Right, but he would have us think that.

MV: He would have mem­bers of his rowdy caucus think that too.

LG: I guess it just dis­turbs me that people love watch­ing Wash­ing­ton so much (think Home­land, House of Cards, Scan­dal, The Amer­ic­ans, Veep), and this is how they see us. I re­mem­ber when I got a job on the Hill as a press per­son right out of col­lege and someone from home was like, “So you’re a pro­fes­sion­al li­ar now?” People are so cyn­ic­al! We’re just here try­ing to save the world. Sheesh.

MV: I had one of those same press jobs on the Hill, too. I think people for­get that what Hill staffers are do­ing an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the time is writ­ing let­ters back to con­stitu­ents and an­swer­ing angry phone calls from folks not even in that con­gres­sion­al dis­trict. Then for even few­er it’s work­ing on policy in com­mit­tees. A even smal­ler group is writ­ing floor speeches. And an even smal­ler hand­ful are those “seni­or lead­er­ship aides.”

LG: Yeah, a more real­ist­ic show would show long hours, frumpy blazers, and a whole lot of mono­tony. You think the show gets any­thing right?

MV: The one thing that Hol­ly­wood’s rep­res­ent­a­tion of Wash­ing­ton gets right is the al­co­hol and happy hours.

LG: Yes, the drink­ing cul­ture is hard to keep up with.

MV: It could fo­cus on brunch more, though.

LG: Yeah, but brunches aren’t a re­place­ment for bar time.

MV: Brunch is a con­sequence of bar time.

LG: Ha-ha.

MV: So, what do you think the show gets right?

LG: It gets a lot right. There’s a great in­ter­view with Beau Wil­li­am­son about how much time they spent get­ting the de­tails right, the doorknobs and desk de­cor. I also think the show’s a lot bet­ter on polit­ics than me­dia. The stuff about the high school­ish nature of power, I mean. Frank Un­der­wood does a lot of play­ing people’s egos off one an­oth­er, à la, “Mr. Pres­id­ent, you won’t be­lieve what the vice pres­id­ent was say­ing about you …” I think a lot of people nev­er out­grow that.

Frank doesn’t get in­to the high school pet­ti­ness him­self, but he ex­ploits it in oth­er people. He’s sort of like Harry Re­id in that way. He doesn’t care about hav­ing his ego stroked or go­ing on Sunday talk shows: What he prides him­self on his be­ing ef­fect­ive.

MV: I think that’s right. There are some out­stand­ing prob­lems that I have with this show, if you would in­dulge me.

First, most of the out­doors scenes are filmed in Bal­timore. Now, I know how much of a pain in the ass it is to film in the Dis­trict, but don’t show me the Wash­ing­ton Monu­ment of Bal­timore and ex­pect me to think it’s THE Wash­ing­ton Monu­ment.

The second is the co­ordin­a­tion between Zoe and her boy­friend on the Russo story in the last epis­ode. They work for sep­ar­ate pub­lic­a­tions. When was the last time you worked on a big story with your former col­leagues at HuffPo?

Fi­nally, the amount of Frank Un­der­wood asides to the cam­era would make Wil­li­am Shakespeare blush. Some­times it’s nice; oth­er times, it’s just ex­cess­ive. But maybe that’s what this show is: ex­cess­ive.

Rant over. Thank you.

LG: Oh, I don’t think the co­ordin­a­tion between Zoe and her journ­al­ist boy­friend is that weird. Ob­vi­ously it’s prob­lem­at­ic and clearly he should re­cuse him­self, but I get why he’d want to help his part­ner. And I love the Frank Un­der­wood asides! Those are the best part.

MV: What’s the biggest takeaway for our haters out there?

LG: I think haters should take in­spir­a­tion from Car­rie Un­der­wood, who is, to my mind, the best em­bod­i­ment of Wash­ing­ton on the show. She’s dark but not too dark, prac­tic­al with a soul.

MV: Tak­ing a base­ball bat to the car of her cheat­ing boy­friend?! “I took a Louis­ville slug­ger to both head­lights.” It’s a good song …

LG: Wait, did she do that? Oh, crud! I mean CLAIRE Un­der­wood.

MV: Ha-ha! OK, so Frank’s wife not the coun­try sing­er?

LG: Yes! Played by Robin Wright who just won a Golden Globe award.

MV: Of Prin­cess Bride fame, yes. Sorry, so what about her again?

LG: Just that her char­ac­ter is one of the most real­ist­ic on the show. She genu­inely cares about her work with the Clean Wa­ter Ini­ti­at­ive, even if she makes com­prom­ises and hatches deals along the way. And she genu­inely loves Frank/Kev­in Spacey, even as they both have dal­li­ances with oth­er people. And she’s the per­son at the end of the sea­son to step back and ask, “What’s it all for?”

MV: I also see some re­demp­tion for Zoe Barnes com­ing. After she real­izes that sleep­ing with Frank Un­der­wood was the wrong move and starts act­ing like the journ­al­ist that we grew up want­ing to be — the Wood­ward/Bern­stein types — and un­cov­ers the story be­hind it all, she may ac­tu­ally turn out to be a hero char­ac­ter. But that could just be my na­ive hope.

I think the biggest takeaway is, watch the show, laugh at the ab­surdity, en­joy the ex­cess­ive­ness, scoff at the in­ac­curacies, and have enough ammo to hate on the show at work come Monday.

LG: Amen.

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