House of Cards: Fade to blech.

*Here be Spoilers.*

I finished House of Cards Season 1 last night, and I can tell you firmly: I am underwhelmed. Perhaps unfairly. I wanted weight, and I got…journalists looking around. There were opportunities to end the season brilliantly.  They were not taken . The demise and death of Peter Russo, that’s a season ending event. It wasn’t; the show pushed on. Underwood’s appointment or failure to achieve VP, that’s a season ending event. But the show altered its tempo for the first time, enamored by its cleverness, and slowed to a grinding halt. A twist, a revelation, anything to hang on, give me an ending.

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If this past season of Downton Abbey took the “season ending event” idea a way too far (it did, and it was TERRIBLE), House of Cards has shrugged off the notion entirely. The finale of House of Cards Season 1 was not a finale at all, but an arbitrary episode ending point like any that came before. There is a reason that television shows end a season with a “Season Ending Event.” They reveal, they cliffhang a spectacular bit of juicy action, they round out a story-line. Most importantly the event gives audiences a reason to come back next year.

But that’s alright. House of Cards was at risk of spiraling out its own control in the last few episodes. Watching the downfall of Peter Russo over three hours instead of three weeks, that’s difficult. And the manner in which Russo’s end arrives propels the show quickly into new territory–the leap from machination to murder is truly momentous, even if the show breezes along with horribly cool resolve–that with such rapid viewing the audience (my wife and I anyway) struggled to take the leap. This is, chiefly, how House of Cards suffers.

Regardless of the time that it occurs, a break provides, if nothing else, reprieve. I like the show, and distance will potentially increase my appreciation. Such is not uncommon with bleakness like that in House of Cards. In this format, it all comes so fast.

Perhaps more interesting than how the finale wrapped up, however, are the limitations of the attempt to stream an original television program. In a discussion with a friend about the show, she wondered about an audience’s willingness to linger for an unknown period, only to return to another complete season which will be again devoured just as quickly. She watched the 13 episode season 1 in about three days. Largely because she could. My wife and I spaced it out over about 2 weeks. But still, that’s fast. Now, we wait.

I can’t say that’s a liability. We do the same with serial novels, for example. We awaited Harry Potter for two long years then read the whole book in a weekend. Maybe TV audiences are no different.  It’s also possible that House of Cards was so affecting–for good or bad–that I am left trying to figure out how the wait will work on the show itself.

House of Cards season 2 is scheduled to begin shooting this Spring. That will likely keep the show on a relatively standard television schedule. But, at least in part and perhaps unfairly, the show’s success or failure seems to hinge on the response of a weary, waiting audience for the release of an entire season at one moment. I wonder how that will work. It’s new territory for Netflix, and for television viewers.

Previously: House of Cards drains my blood

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