Some initial thoughts on the UK and US versions of House of Cards

I’m only about six episodes into the US version, but I’ve already seen the UK one. It’s interesting to see the differences. [NOTE: some mild spoilers below].

The more recent US version has some somewhat blatant Sony product placement (I don’t know if there’s funding involved, but I have noticed that there seem to be a lot of Apple phones around).

They have more space in the American format, so I’m enjoying how they develop the characters more. Claire Underwood is fascinating; about midway through the season (where I’m up to), they’ve shown her to be both as ruthless as her husband, and some interesting interactions with weak people that don’t seem fully developed. I’m not sure where that goes yet, but I’m interested to see.

There are no characters that are really outside the circles of power; not in a meaningful way, although there are some brief cameos that I suppose make Frank Underwood a little more likeable. When vulnerability or gentleness, or anything less than total ruthlessness is shown, it’s portrayed as weakness, and nothing more. There’s no real … anything – outside of Underwood’s machinations, so far. Which both makes the show fascinating, and makes my skin crawl when I watch it. It’s almost like a train-wreck that it’s hard to look away from; Underwood is a deeply, deeply wrong character, but there’s no offsetting redemption. This may emerge later, but given how the King fared in the UK version, I’m not optimistic.

On a strangely related topic; I was reading Order out of chaos: Patronage, Conflict and Mamluk Socio-Political Culture, 1341-1382, recently. It’s one of the best explanations I’ve come across of the interactions of personal relationships and structural systems as they relate to power, and particularly patronage. And a lot of the ideas that the author (Jo Van Steenbergen) talks about show up in HoC; patronage, opportunity, service and favours.

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