Published on: March 6, 2015
One of the challenges of writing about "House of Cards" just a week after all 13 episodes of its third season were made available for streaming by Netflix is that most people have not had the time to watch them all. But I'm not most people ... I considered it my duty as Content Guy to watch all 13 episodes as quickly as possible (and dragged Mrs. Content Guy along for the ride) so I could offer some thoughts and business lessons here.
Which I will do, while assiduously avoiding spoilers to the best of my ability.
With the first two seasons now well in our collective rear view mirror, I think it is fair to say that they mostly focused on the pursuit of power by Frank and Claire Underwood, Washington, DC's version of the Macbeths. For two seasons - a total of 26 episodes - we watched Frank move from the leadership in the House of Representatives to the Vice Presidency, and by the end of the second season, he'd maneuvered himself right into the Oval Office. We've learned that Frank seems to have few compunctions about anything, and that Claire is just about as cold-blooded ... for them, power is its own reward, and public policy and public service are afterthoughts ... almost an inconvenience to be dealt with as a consequence of increased power.
It has been great fun, I must admit, to watch their singled minded pursuit of power - the bridges burned, the people seduced and cast aside,and the human atrocities committed. And while they have distinct personalities, it has at times seemed like they were two parts of a single-celled organism, albeit one that is frequently toxic and capable of inflicting great damage.
Now we come to season three, which almost by definition has to be different in tone and scope than the first two. After all, Frank Underwood is the dog who actually has caught the car ... it is hard to yearn for more power when you occupy the most powerful office on earth. And yet, in many ways, I think the third season of "House of Cards" is about powerlessness, and how difficult it is to lead when one has little in the way of a moral center, and when one has managed to disenfranchise almost all constituencies in the pursuit of a goal for its own sake.
I don't want to give much away here, but one of the thing that becomes evident almost from the beginning of the first episode of the new series is how little Frank listens. For him, listening is the bridge that sits between his making up his mind and giving orders ... he has to do it to show any sort of leadership, but he's not really invested in it. And because he has not gotten to the White House through normal means - he is an unelected President, having replaced the Vice President and then the President through parliamentary procedures - there is little foundation for the power structure he is attempting to build. And while one would think sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office would make him more powerful, there are times in the series that he seems almost diminished by it, that he misses the back room dealings and political maneuverings of the legislative branch, and finds state craft - and the requisite stage craft - almost frustratingly limiting.
Of course, this is how I view the series. Others may view it differently, and draw different conclusions. Perhaps because I was an enormous fan of "The West Wing," I see allusions to that series here ... it is almost the anti-"West Wing," spitting in the eye of a series that fervently believed in the noble exercise of power and servant leadership. And I must admit that I would like to think that government and politics are more like"The West Wing," I fear that "House of Cards" may be closer to the truth than any of us would like.
The business lessons? Without giving too much away, I think "House of Cards" shows the importance of building coalitions and teamwork, of appropriate delegation, and of servant leadership. Mostly, it is because these are things that Frank Underwood is not very good at; "House of Cards" ultimately asks if hollow victories are actually victories at all.
The third season, as much as the two that preceded it, is really well acted, written and directed with what seems to be an insider's knowledge of Washington ... and above all deeply cynical about the nature of power. It is upsetting to watch, sometimes. And I can't wait for season four.
One piece of excellent news ... Tom Selleck will return as Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone in a new TV movie, "Jesse Stone: Lost In Paradise," that will air this fall on the Hallmark Channel.
Thanks to MNB reader Michael Schillo for alerting me to the new movie, part of a deal that will result in at least two new Jesse Stone movies.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.