Given that my wife was one of the 2% of Netflix viewers who "binged" by watching House Of Cards, Season 2 straight through, and given that even I, who seemingly eschews all trendy behaviors, find myself having finished that second season a mere 10 days after its release (13 episodes in 10 days), I've been pondering what it all means.
The pleasures of watching House Of Cards, it seems to me, are threefold. At least.
First, House Of Cards has those Shakespearean overtones that give a work these days instant credibility. Frank and Claire Underwood are, in essence, Iago married to Lady Macbeth, though which one is more truly evil and which one is more cravenly ambitious might make for an interesting discussion over multiple beers sometime. If anything, Season 2 plays with classical Shakespearean dramatic elements even more, taunting the audience with Frank's asides, driving us to the edge with the rampant use of dramatic irony, watching all of the seeds planted in Season 1 bear fruit. House Of Cards truly is "a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing," except to remind us that we all have that ambitious part of us, at least from time to time, that can command all of our other aspects into its service.
Second, the series seems to give us that inside look at our government that we all think we want. It is government as NASCAR, with plenty of wrecks that are hard to look away from, no matter how we might cringe. Even from its "reductive" perspective (just as on other shows like 24 or The West Wing, top national leaders seem to have only two or three people on their staffs, seem to have only a very, very few people whom they confide in, have just a few underlings who have far more individual authority and flexibility on a whole range of issues from economic to geopolitical), the show gives us the reassurance that this is, indeed, what the corridors of power look like. We see the backroom dealing, the quid pro quo, the strong-arming and blackmailing, the wheedling and cajoling for sure, but we also see the agendas of Frank and Claire in particular when they are at home, alone, sharing a cigarette, and plotting the fate of the free world purely for their own advancement. We see how the private drive the public, how the sexual determines the political, how what happens off the clock and away from those very powerful corridors is where the real action is. House of Cards is about how, why, and where the plots are hatched more than it is about the outcomes, which almost become a kind of predestination by the time they reach fruition.
So, beware: a bingeing on House Of Cards has its consequences. One cannot view episodes late into the night and expect that Frank and Claire will not haunt one's dreams. Indeed, and much scarier than waking from one of those dreams, one cannot walk through the corridors of one's own workplace, watching the small, barely political machinations of a business or an institution, without the Underwoods' manipulations coloring the lenses of every interaction. House Of Cards will make you look behind the motive of every decision whose process never sees the light of day, and then it will make you wonder why the decision-maker allowed you to see as much as you saw.
Maybe, after this examination, "pleasure" is the wrong word to describe how you might feel about what you just watched.