The Divinely Human Prison: Chapter Fourteen: The Increasingly Painful Realities of Fiction: American Television's House of Cards
By Michael Moriarty
Shakespeare's Macbeth as a television series?
Replete with unapologetically shameless asides and soliloquys?
On top of the occasional quote from The Bard himself, House of Cards is everything Shakespearean, minus iambic pentameter, plus the most ambition-ridden love affair since Macbeth. Certainly the longest revenge drama I have ever experienced on film or in television.
3 seasons, 39 episodes!
Poetry of an irresistibly poisonous blend.
This homicidal version of Brechtian anti-heroism, leading its audience into a White House version of Elizabethan court intrigue.
Macbeth mixed in with Shakespeare's most villainous of creations, Iago.
Shamelessly bold in its message of America as a House of Cards!
America as an acrid fruit, a peach-turning-brown from corruption.
With Robin Wright as the modern-day Lady Macbeth, giving perhaps the greatest performance of an actress in any television series in the history of American television.
But how so?
Surrendering to her increasingly stunning style and stylish good looks, Robin Wright becomes a villainess you cannot help but almost forgive and simultaneously, at least in my admiring opinion, fall in love with.
Claire Underwood seems to define the very meaning of unconditional love.
A middle-aged and shockingly gorgeous Juliet as Lady Macbeth.
A love both for her insanely bold and villainously ambitious husband and for her compulsively ambitious self.
Yes, there are a multitude of surprises coming, until, in my opinion so far, the biggest eye-opener, in Chapter 32, Episode 6 of its third season.
And, in true Shakespearean fashion, Claire Underwood seems to turn even more vilely heartless than her husband whose flaw in his villainy is an occasional and surprisingly human concern about his closest friends.
As Robin Wright portrays Claire Underwood, this eventual First Lady has no other choice but to be who she becomes; and who she becomes has such a divinely large underpinning of inevitability that we excitedly taste her helplessness in the face of her pre-destined fate. Her calling, her vocation as the female half that builds the couple's distinctively corrupt House of Cards.
The most intriguing part of the opening credits to House of Cards is the American flag inserted between the word HOUSE and the word OF.
An upside-down American flag.
After over 225 years of blazing, Free World leadership and glory within the United States, what are we told that creation amounts to?
America as a House of Cards.
No surprise to me, having left America for Canada because of the Clinton Administration.
While our leading character, Francis J. Underwood, most resembles an unusually lucky President Clinton, a POTUS not only slipperier than a greased Southern water moccasin but almost as lucky as Lucifer himself, "Frank" Underwood has a wife far more stunningly beautiful and brilliant than "Bill's" Hillary.
One wonders how Robin Wright's Mrs. Underwood might even lunch with the likes of the present-day Hillary Clinton.
However, given the strange bedfellows of Third Millennium Washington D.C., anything and everything in that particular House of Cards is possible.
What is most arresting in House of Cards?
Aside from the brilliance of its creators and perpetrators, the increasingly impressive, political detail in its scripts, the perfection of its casting and the subliminal power of its musical score, House of Cards forever remains, rather like life, unpredictable.
One: you can't entirely hate these undeniably villainous lovers, Claire and "Frank".
Two: they are both unpredictably helpful to other people in an occasionally selfless way. Not often but often enough to throw us off guard.
"Frank" has his intermittent crises of conscience which pepper his asides and soliloquys, all ending with bitterly angry vituperations over and against what "Frank", rather like Jonathan Gruber, might call "criminal naiveté", the "stupidities of goodness".
Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth.
Third Millennium Shakespeare with one blazing mistake: "Frank's" asides and soliloquys.
Given the equipment modern film and television have today, The Bard Himself would most certainly have those "thoughts" of his main villain pre-recorded.
The actor would most certainly look directly into the camera at his audience of millions but the intimacy of one's inner being, a quasi-sexual link that Shakespeare prized, would have been greatly enhanced in a recording studio, with the exceptionally gifted Kevin Spacey and his very lips almost kissing the studio microphone.
The subtlest of loving venom.
On the other hand, what keeps Shakespeare himself not only in the House of Cards' picture but feeding his actors, as if from a prompter's box, are these historic throwbacks to Elizabethan England, these asides and soliloquys.
Theatrical genius, as with Orson Welles, demands courage. From all the producers as well as from the actors.
Or, as Elaine Stritch once instructed me, "Michael, what is the most erotic thing in the world?"
Quoting Kissinger I replied, "Power?"
She said, "No."
So far I have seen the series into its 32nd episode.
The politics fly by so fast and furiously that you soon begin to dismiss world crises as background music to the villainy before us.
A third, really very, very bad and exceptionally villainous character has been added: the House of Cards' version of Neo-Soviet Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Putin's depth of present-day reality certainly puts American villainy into greater relative clarity.
I am not quite sure, since both styles of villainy are horrid, which of these is worse? The oozing disease of America's political lies, "hits" and hypocrisy? Or Putin's shamelessly homicidal greed for Soviet expansion?
Because of the Clintons and then Putin, the "Reality" stakes have been raised and we now have a television series villain not only alive and in today's headlines but threatening, with increasing boldness, a large portion of the free but undeniably and nauseatingly corrupted worlds of both Europe and the Americas.
No mention of ISIS yet.
That nightmare cannot be far off from appearing in the House of Cards.
A fourth, record-breaking, villainous reality as fiction.
ISIS as divinized, spiritually benighted, pure and undiluted Evil!
The Third Millennium as pure melodrama without a rescuing American hero in sight.
Therefore House of Cards is recording America as a once-great nation living the greatest cliff-hanging era in her entire history.
Presently, and ever since the assassination of President Kennedy – with the single exception of President Ronald Reagan – we, myself particularly, have become certain of only differing depths of villainy within the Bush family, the Clintons and that ultimate in bitter, Third World vengeance, America's Obama Nation.
Most of the black characters in House of Cards are either flawed and very likable or merely ladder-climbing, typically American careerists or street punks.
When is such a black, Islamic-loving, American version of Vladimir Putin, Barack Hussein Obama, going to enter stage-left in House of Cards?
When will we see the fictional President Barry?
House of Cards already has its hands-full with 8 years of the Clinton Administration coming up.
The subplot might become Obama's rise to power in Chicago!!!
Will the creators and producers of House of Cards live long enough to portray the Clintons' entire reign?
Let alone its following Bush era.
And then the Obama White House?
Neither time nor the unpredictability within House of Cards would allow it.
Hmmm… good luck, House of Cards. You are so impressive and boldly honest that you have become dangerously threatening to the despicable status-quo in Washington, D.C. itself.
My years on Law and Order never became that close to the truth about what has and is still destroying America, erasing individual freedom and stealing Mankind's last and, I dare say, only hope for the future.
Oh, by the way, as the creators of House of Cards would want it, I was fooled… kind of.
The villainously steep road that Claire Underwood was falling down?
So far, this series has the First Lady increasingly feisty.
She does not remain the obedient politician's wife that her husband thought he would make of her.
The True Villain in House of Cards, while symbolized by "Frank" Underwood, is and always will be late-20th-Century American politics itself.
Nothing destroys Truth more subtly, more slowly or more unrelentingly than politics.
Politics as quicksand.
Upon the suicide of an imprisoned American homosexual and pawn in the hands of Neo-Soviet Russia, the self-destruction of this idealistic protestor being negotiated over by the likes of Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin, Clair Underwood says to her Clinton-like husband about the heroic young gay man, "He had more courage than you ever had!"
She then adds all too knowingly, "We're murderers, Francis."
Francis declares angrily, "I never should have made you Ambassador!"
She replies with quiet truthfulness, "I never should have made you President."
Then she exits that corner of Air Force One, as it is hurtling into a darkened future, back to Washington, D.C. and the Capital of Politics, The White House.
There is something so divinely frightening about that episode's ominously last image.
Can they stay together? Keep their villainous coupling alive?
Everything, including villainy, being relative?
Unless, of course, this tale is, as one might suspect, the portrayal of a white Barack Obama.
Not a villainously failing black President in his second term, conniving and conspiring for, at this point, an illegal third term, but a Vice-President elevated to the Presidency by his President's Nixon-like resignation, a President Macbeth looking for re-election his way and no one else's.
If your appetite is up for the most serious of television dramas? One that surpasses all other television efforts at cinematic gravitas?!
Pay for an admission to House of Cards.
I doubt if you'll regret it.
You certainly won't be bored.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.