House of Cards, Episodes 101-113
Original airdate: February 1, 2013 on Netflix
Spoiler warning: This page may contain descriptions of events in one or more of the season's episodes, including the finale.
A loose remake of a 1990 BBC miniseries (itself an adaptation of a novel by Michael Dobbs), House of Cards has been making waves not only for the talent involved (director David Fincher, writer Beau Willimon, star Kevin Spacey) and its estimated $100 million production budget, but also for its potentially ground-breaking rollout strategy: all 13 episodes of the first season were released online—simultaneously—to Netflix streaming subscribers at the beginning of the month. (A second season will follow next year.)
Reviews of the series, however, were based only on the first two episodes, which were made available to critics in advance. But with TV writers furiously binge-watching over the ensuing days, the time has come to get their opinions of the full season from beginning to end. As a group, critics seem to concur with the headline of Alan Sepinwall's review: House of Cards is "good but not great."
Standing in the way of greatness, according to these reviewers, are some poorly developed characters (especially the female ones), a few unbelievable plot twists too many, and the framing device (borrowed from the UK series) of having Spacey's character break the fourth wall and address the audience. They also find the series a bit too safe and conventional despite its unconventional release strategy. On the other hand, the cast (especially Corey Stoll) and the overall look of the show are drawing a lot of praise, while many critics also find that the series gets better as it progresses, to the point where they are eagerly awaiting the next season.
Below is a sampling of reviews for the entire first season. As we do with our periodic episode reviews, we have expanded our field of publications beyond our usual roster. We have grouped the reviews loosely into four categories (based on how much critics liked the series), and if any publications provided an exact score or grade, it is listed as well (converted to our 0-100 scale when necessary).
Extremely positive reviews
90 "The production is as sleek and well executed as any you would expect from this caliber of talent, and a match for most high-end cable programs."
— Roth Cornet / IGN
100 "Whatever its minor imperfections, House of Cards stands as a towering achievement."
— Ed Bark / Uncle Barky
67 "The best thing about House Of Cards is that it takes its time. The worst thing about House Of Cards is that it has no idea what to do with that advantage. ... I mostly enjoyed House Of Cards, but at all times, I felt as if the show was afraid to take chances, afraid to stray from its carefully laid-out path and its deeply cynical view of the world of Washington, D.C., both its political and journalistic spheres. ... The acting and directing was so good that I never found myself actively turning against the series. But I also don't know that I would have kept watching had it aired on a weekly basis (or had I not been getting paid to watch it)."
— Todd VanDerWerff / A.V. Club
"Like all television programs, there are some episodes that don't carry the same weight as others, but even the lesser chapters provide a lot to chew on and place us deeper into the well of Underwood's descent to the top."
— Scott Beggs / Film School Rejects
"If this was airing on Showtime or HBO, it would be one of the better dramas on television, but not one of the absolute best. ... As a drama — rather than a standard-bearer for a non-traditional distributor — it doesn't reinvent the form. It's a pretty good approximation of that form, but the flash of the Netflix model masks the ultimate lack of substance."
— Alan Sepinwall / HitFix
"As a model of TV production, it's an exciting experiment ... As a television show, however, 'House of Cards' is not so revolutionary. This isn't to say it's bad, or not worth watching, or unmemorable."
— Emily Nussbaum / The New Yorker
"The plotting can be far-fetched or contrived ... [but] quibbles and problems aside, 'House of Cards' has us absolutely hooked and we cannot wait for Season 2."
— Oliver Lyttelton / The Playlist
"The writing is, for the most part, sharp. But it does slip all too easily into the ham-fisted ... The acting is good, but not excellent. These aren't adroitly fleshed-out portrayals for the simple reason that the characters are little more than the sum of their motives."
— Jess Cotton / The Quietus
"Snarling and nasty ... Anyone willing to give 'House of Cards' a chance will find it rewarding even if you feel you need to scrub yourself clean after you're done watching."
— Brad Brevet / Rope of Silicon
"By the end, I thought that House of Cards had become the thriller it promised to be–just in time to end and leave me wanting more. ... It was a very good, absorbing, mature, well-executed drama, but hardly innovative in story, format or characters. I'm looking forward to season 2. But I'm not sure there are any lines I'll quote, or scenes that will pop unbidden to mind, between now and then."
— James Poniewozik / Time
"The series as a whole is completely absorbing, offering a multitude of pleasures. ... The true surprises come ... not in the main narrative, but in the bracing wit and elegance of the dialogue (snappy comebacks, witty conversation, clever double entendres, heated arguments) and in the margins of the story, filled with characterization and atmosphere."
— Peter Martin / Twitch
"It's good but not great, intriguing but not revolutionary, unsatisfying in big ways but very satisfying in small ones. I'm glad I watched the whole thing in one chunk, but I'm not sure I'd approach the already-in-production season two in the same way."
— Matt Zoller Seitz / Vulture
"The first three episodes made a neutral impact: too much politicking of a sort we've seen an inordinate amount of on TV – and usually done with more bite. ... A middle section of six episodes gradually took hold, but only the final four instalments really made me want to keep watching, thanks chiefly to Corey Stoll's portrayal of self-destruction, a real tragedy, followed by growing tension in the plotting. ... If I hadn't been obliged to watch the whole thing, I think I might have left after three episodes."
— Martin Hoyle / Financial Times
40 "The show projects an air of dark cynicism, but there's no substance to the drama, only faux-edgy posturing. After six episodes, I couldn't find any real reason to continue watching, apart from keeping pace with more dedicated viewers who had already beaten me to the finish."
— Josh Bell / Las Vegas Weekly
What do you think?
Have you finished watching season 1 of House of Cards (or have you watched some episodes and decided not to proceed)? Do you agree with the critics above? Let us know what you think of the show in the comments section below.