True colours in political dramas

This post will have to be work in progress, firstly because I’m short on examples and secondly because copyright laws on YouTube have made it damned near impossible to post the examples I mention so far.

Last night I started House of Cards, the new Netflix series, which I plan to review and wholly recommend everyone watch. The series, which is loosely based on the BBC trilogy by the same name, follows the devilish Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Congressman and House Majority Whip, who feels hard done after being passed up for the role of US Secretary of State.

Instead of getting mad however, Frank takes the politically sound route and chooses to get even, stacking figures against one another, exposing sensitive stories and leaking closely guarded White House information to the press. But his ruthlessness isn’t revealed by mere action but rather through a series of sideways remarks addressed to the viewer and always delivered in a candid, collusive Southern drawl.

I am now on episode 5 but last night I watched episode 3 where Frank delivers a highly charged requiem speech, beginning with “I Hate God” followed by a rationalisation of that statement in which he explains how necessary anger is in grieving, and how that process ultimately draws people closer to God.

Brilliantly, he describes, through a voice inflected with rage and despair, a charged tale about his father, who died suddenly at the age of 43.

“My father dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 43,” he begins, “And when he died I looked up to God and I said those words [I hate you]; because my father was so young, so full of life, so full of dreams, WHY would god take him from us?”

This is when he looks into the camera and sneeringly remarks, “Maybe it’s best he died young, he was just taking up space.”

Underwood’s thought tracks are so persistently dirty and insidious that it’s practically impossible not to be drawn into the series.

Earlier this year, I also started HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, another series that I love which focuses on the smarmy Republican figure, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi); Atlantic City Treasurer and a New Jersey bootlegger.

In episode one, season one, there is a scene not unlike the House of Cards one discussed, where Nucky delivers a strong anti-alcohol speech at a meeting organized by the Women’s Temperance League.

With eloquence, Thompson tells the story of a family driven to desperation by a hard-drinking father during a cold Atlantic City winter. He tells the story of a young boy, so hungry and desperate for food that he resorts to eating rats. He finishes this story by revealing that, not only did the family survive that cold winter, but also that he was that boy.

Nucky leaves the meeting to a standing ovation and outside receives further praise from Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), Nucky’s right-hand in all matters illegal, who praises Nucky’s gripping tale of survival and reflects on the First World War where he was often forced to eat dog meat. Bluntly, Nucky informs Jimmy that the whole story was a lie:

“The first rule of politics is to never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

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