Friday 15 December 2017

Farewell from me, Frank, but at least we've still got Saul

Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) wonders what he'll do next
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) wonders what he'll do next

WELL, that’s it, at least in my house, for ano-BUUUURP! . . . . oh, pardon me . . . another season of House of Ca-BUUUUURP! . . . . oh, dear, I really am terribly sorry . . . House of Cards.

Apologies for all that disgusting belching; wolfing down 13 episodes in five days plays havoc with the digestive sys-BUUUUUURP! Ah, dammit!

Keeping things spoiler-free, was the gluttonous binge worth it? I think so. Just about. It really depends on what you thought of HoC season 2, and whether you felt Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) had things too much his own way far too easily.

Entertaining as Frank’s Machiavellian machinations can be, there was always the lingering feeling that no matter what obstacles were thrown into his path on the way to the ultimate prize, the presidency of the United States, he’d ultimately knock them down as easily as, well, a house of cards.

He never had any really worthy adversaries. He always had that extra ace hidden up his sleeve. But you can only get away with that sort of thing for so long before it becomes repetitive, and it had become obviously repetitive by the end of the end of the previous season, when Frank finally ascended to the throne.

Readers old enough to remember the original BBC House of Cards and its sequels, To Play the King and The Final Cut, will know that it took just 12 episodes to chart the rise and fall of Francis Urquhart (the late Ian Richardson).

Twelve is a nice, compact number, but it was never going to be enough for a Netflix remake – especially not when Spacey is pocketing a reported $20 million for this latest run.

The bald truth is that Frank oiling, manipulating, clawing and killing his way to power was always going to be more compelling than Frank actually in power. So now that he’s POTUS, where does House of Cards go?

In season 3, it was into the domestic shadow-boxing that is the Underwoods’ marriage. Frank has finally found an adversary as cunning and ruthless as he is: his wife Claire (Robin Wright).

Season 3 finished with – and again, I’m biting my lip ‘til it bleeds to keep things spoiler-free – with a big fracture, a big cliffhanger.

In all honesty, it’s not a surprising switch. The series, which was never really an accurate (one would hope, anyway) depiction of big-league American plolitics in the way the 1970s miniseries Washington:Behind Closed Doors, a barely-disguised  account of the Nixon reign, was, couldn’t have continued on the same track without becoming a parody of itself.

A fourth season is most likely a given. Expecting Frank to find another ace up his sleeve might be a stretch, though.

If House of Cards is the 18oz steak that demands to be consumed at a single sitting, Better Call Saul is Netflix’s equivalent of the dessert Death by Chocolate, rich, delicious and best consumed no more than once a week.

This week, however, it was more like a bowl of custard: tasty but insubstantial. Jimmy’s new-found fame after the faked billboard rescue won him some new clients, mostly nutjobs: a mad rancher who wants the state of New Mexico to secede from the US and tries to pay Jimmy a million dollars in bills with his own face printed on them, and an inventor who’s developed a talking kiddie-training toilet that spouts some unintentionally suggestive praise (“Gosh, you’re big! Fill me up!”).

It got better near the end, with Jimmy realising (but still not accepting) that brother Chuck is mentally ill and a deeper glimpse into Mike Ehrmangraut. In all, though, very much a holding-pattern episode.

House of Cards***

Better Call Saul***

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