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If You’ve Seen All of House of Cards, Let’s Discuss

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards Photo: Netflix

The Super Bowl wasn’t the only major TV event this weekend: Netflix dropped the entire first season of House of Cards on Friday, virtually daring subscribers to consume all thirteen episodes as quickly as possible. I took that dare, and just before Sunday turned into Monday, I’d gobbled up the entire show, turned to my computer to discuss — and immediately the one major drawback of Netflix’s all-at-once scheduling was obvious. Unlike with virtually every other “adult” drama series, there were no House of Cards recaps, reviews, or message boards. You can’t tweet about it, because you risk losing a whole mess of followers. By Saturday, Girls showrunner Jenni Konner was tweeting what I felt: “I don’t know how to talk to people who aren’t at least halfway through House of Cards.” And yet, without finding some sort of safe zone, it was hard to find those people who were at least halfway through the show, let alone all the way through it. Thankfully, since I work for a Major Entertainment News Website, I have the ability to create just such a space. If you’ve finished season one of House of Cards, read on, as I’ve dumped my own random thoughts and questions about the whole series (spoilers everywhere, duh). Feel free to chime in with your own take in the comments. (Also, check back later this week when our critic Matt Zoller Seitz weighs in with his professional opinion on the full season.) And if you haven’t watched it all? Come back when you have. And congratulations for having a life.

— “Twitter Twat.”

— I can’t decide if I love or hate the ending. I mean, it wasn’t The Killing–level bad — not even close. But after so much drama, so many twists, so many Kevin Spacey monologues … it all ends on a frickin’ BlackBerry? My current working theory is that showrunner Beau Willimon deliberately avoided going for the traditional Big Shocking Moment finale because the show isn’t really a TV show, but a very long movie. This was chapter thirteen, not episode thirteen of season one. Many Future People who consume House of Cards will do so only after all episodes of the series have been completed. In such a scenario, a cliffhanger at end of the thirteenth hour is no more important than one at the end of hour six. Whatever the reason, while the finale wasn’t as explosive as I wanted, it perfectly set up the next phase of the story: Frank is poised to become VOTUS, if only those meddling bloggers don’t get in the way.

— Two episodes in, Matt Zoller Seitz had zero love for Kevin Spacey’s direct comments to the audience. But for me, Spacey talking to the camera ultimately became one of my favorite things about the show. Breaking the fourth wall this way works far better than the 5 million TV and film characters who narrate stories with voice-over. And while it’s not a new idea (it’s borrowed from the original British drama, which I haven’t seen), I’d argue it hasn’t been used so effectively since the days of Ferris Bueller and Moonlighting. It also makes you forget you’re supposed to hate a character so fundamentally, well … evil. Owning up to your sins does not absolve you from them, but it at least makes Frank someone for whom I could actually root.

— Robin Wright threatens to steal the entire series from  Spacey several times throughout. She was never less than riveting. (Well, except maybe when she was with Adam Galloway. I do not believe Claire is a woman who has time for long walks in Central Park, taking pictures of strangers.)

— Still, Spacey is what makes the show addictive. Even the clunkiest lines of dialogue (and you notice clunky much more when you gulp down an entire season in two days) are redeemed by his superior acting skills. There’s no question he’ll be nominated for an Emmy. (Wright, too.)

— Are we supposed to read something deeper into the recurring theme of origami animals?

— David Fincher and Willimon obviously hate journalists more than politicians. In All the President’s Men, those of us in the fourth estate are heroes. In House of Cards, the D.C. press will do anything (or anyone) for a scoop.

— I despise Zoe Barnes. People who whine about Hannah being self-involved on Girls need to watch House of Cards. That said, I begrudgingly respect her honesty: “You’re so sweet. But if I was going to f–k you, you’d know.”

— Also: When Zoe was being courted by every news organization in Washington, shouldn’t she have at least asked for enough money to move into a nicer apartment? One without spiders?

— The moment when Frank tells Claire he’s sleeping with Zoe for “work” may have been when I fell hard for House of Cards. Washington is a Company Town, and everything is business. Even adultery.

— The moment in which I rolled my eyes the hardest may have been when Frank and Claire brought out BBQ to the protesting teachers and their hearts just melted. The whole idea that a House majority whip would start micromanaging a charity event was lame enough; the idea of him personally delivering food was just ludicrous.

— Is “Slugline” supposed to be an homage to Nikki Finke or a slap against her?

— Agree or disagree: The first half of the season is stronger than the second? I’d argue momentum was lost as the writers started filling in backstory for the characters. Don’t get me wrong: I was still addicted. But side trips to Frank’s alma mater and Adam Galloway’s apartment dragged on a bit. And there’s the letdown of the ending.

— Of course, the library-dedication episode contained one of the biggest character-based twists: Frank has an omnivorous appetite for things other than Freddy’s BBQ. Will his past homosexual flings become blackmail fodder in future episodes? Or is D.C. over that sort of thing?

— Did you buy it when Claire didn’t tell Frank she was going to backstab him on the water bill? She knew the long-term game plan was to get Frank into the White House (or at least to destroy President Walker). She’s going to risk all that for one small aid project? Nah. There had to be a better way to cause a rift between this couple.

— Did anyone else wonder why Pete Russo’s luxury apartment building didn’t have cameras in the parking garage? You know, the better to protect all those BMWs and Benzes? And to guard against the occasional murderous congressman? (And no, Frank, putting a hat on doesn’t count as a disguise.)

— Also, I’m bummed there will be no more Pete. It was nice to have at least one character who was a consistent mess.

— The one good thing that might have come from Pete’s murder would’ve been the end to Christina Gallagher, his top aide and secret lover. I dare you to name a single interesting thing about this character. And yet: She’s still around! (Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez is a close second in the category of “most boring character.”)

— Even though he’s a Democrat, President Walker is a glimpse of what a President Romney would have been like: boring, indecisive, lots of secretive billionaires hanging out in the Oval Office.

–Gerald McRaney!

— I wish George Stephanopoulos were as tough on actual politicians as he was on Marty Spinella.

— There is no way Lucas would help Zoe and Janine get to the bottom of the Underwood conspiracy. He works for the competition. There’s no sharing in journalism!

— Dear Beau Willimon: I would be fine if an apartment fire killed Lucas, Janine, and Zoe at the start of season two. They give investigative journalism a bad name. Frank Underwood deserves far better enemies than these three schmucks.

— Is Frank’s cancer-striken former security chief still alive? Will he stage a miraculous recovery in time to blackmail Frank?

— Overall, I think watching House of Cards all at once was the right way to watch. When you’re mainlining episodes, you overlook a lot of flaws and forgive weaker episodes. The overall narrative wave of the show rushes over you, allowing you to get caught up in the generally fascinating world of Francis Underwood. The only downside? Now I’ve got a really long time to wait until season two.

If You’ve Seen All of House of Cards, Come on In