Final Review of House of Cards + Binging

House of Cards was a very well done political drama. Granted, I usually stay away from that particular genre, so maybe I am not an expert. However, I found that if any show could get you into watching political dramas, it would be this one. It’s fast paced, so it never bores the audience, but it still gives time for it’s characters to breathe and be fleshed out. I found myself liking this show quite a lot. In a lot of ways, I think this is due to the variety in the cast.

Not everyone is an old white male politician (though of course a good chunk of the politicians depicted are just that.) Frank Underwood, while fitting this criteria, is cunning, manipulative and sarcastic enough to keep the audience entertained. Claire isn’t just a “supportive wife”- she is his partner in most everything they do. Not only that, but the cast has about an equal amount of strong female characters to the male characters. Like I said, I am not well versed in the “political drama” genre, but I have to say I was not expecting to see that. Zoe is in no means as strong as Claire is, yet she also makes a well rounded character, and the other women on the show range from prostitute to distinguished politician. The whole setup of the show allows for a number of characters to interact with one another and to develop through the idea of “show don’t tell”. I think this is what attracted me to the characters in the first place. No one is shoving their backstories at the audience’s face, things are revealed gradually adding a hint of mystery.

House of Cards itself isn’t as boring as I though it would be. I wouldn’t say I was confused, but I did find myself pausing at some moments to register what was going on.The terminology took some getting used to (I am ashamed to say that I had no idea what a “whip” was until I started watching) but overall the plot wasn’t so hard to understand that I ever felt completely lost as an audience member. Not to say that the plot wasn’t intricate. There were a number of subplots, ranging from career choices to romantic relations. Yet it all felt very real. Claire loves Adam but has made the decision to stay with Frank years ago. She isn’t necessarily unhappy with Frank, nor does she not love him, but she is an adult who is allowed to feel conflicted sometimes. The only thing that I felt was weak about the show was Claire’s desire to have children . I just don’t see Claire as the kind of person who would want children, and for her to want to have a baby at the end of the season felt a little wrong. They did hint at it of course, but it still felt out of character. It also felt like the show was pushing the agenda of “all women want babies whether they say so or not”. I’m unhappy with it, but I’m looking forward to seeing Frank’s reaction in the second season about it.

The soundtrack was flawless. It was dark and melodic and fitted the show well. It created a great atmosphere for the majority of the events, and I found myself recognizing some of the more dramatic ones and realizing that something was about to happen. That is one of the highlights of binging, you start to notice little details. This was mentioned in Aaron Riccio’s article on binging, where he writes that his binging friends “picked up on subtle cues I hadn’t noticed late in that fourth season, were better able to get inside Walter White’s head, and became more a part of the series than I ever had”. Binging House of Cards allowed me to pick up on some music cues and subtle things that I would not have noticed if I had watched this week to week.

I feel that binge watching may work for some shows, but not for others. House of Cards can certainly be binged on, because it was made with that set up in mind. However, there are shows where I think the audience needs time to adjust their feelings about an episode, or a character’s death, or something major that happened. There’s also another problem with binging; not everyone will see it at the same time. While that may not sound like a problem, This article brings up a good point, “Dave Winer, a well-known web developer, wrote on his blog that he had reactivated his Netflix subscription to watch House of Cards but he was missed “the ability to discuss it with people online”. That is, if a show is released all at once, a person could either watch it right when it comes out or take the risk of it being spoiled for them. Not only that, but discussing it with friends becomes almost impossible when someone has to wait for the other to catch up.

Of course, there are shows where binge watching wouldn’t improve anything. Binge watching is a preference of the audience. While binge watching House of Cards will add the benefit of being able to watch characters develop very rapidly, binge watching something like Gossip Girl won’t improve the experience. It is just the preference of the audience to find out what happens as quickly as possible, and to catch up to the rest of the world. Syndicated shows still have a place on television. I doubt that that will ever change. Shows that are made for binging may be the future, but appointment television won’t vanish completely. However, there may be a shift in genre for syndicated shows. Binge watching allows for the watcher to pick up on subtle cues, so I feel that more complex shows will start being made specifically for binging, and the shows that do not require attention to detail will be aired on television at appointments.