IN PRINT: Postmodernism, ‘House of Cards’ and the anti-anti-hero

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All episodes of “House of Cards” second season are available on Netflix.

by Brian Clarey

 

It’s a tricky business, throwing a word like “postmodern” into a headline like that.

It’s a loaded term, often used by college grads who barely understand the concept to differentiate themselves from the riffraff, and even those of us who grasp it wince at its pretentiousness. The word makes you want to twist up a wedgie on the guy who just used it.

But it’s as good a term as any to describe Vice President Frank Underwood, Democrat of South Carolina, a man of many plans, schemes and capers.

Shorthand: The postmodern man is detached from, and critical towards, the traditional concept of morality. There is no “good” or “evil.” Not in this paradigm. There are just these things that happen and the actions we take. I’d call it “nihilistic,” but it would make me want to swirl my own head in a toilet.

Francis Underwood — everybody else calls him Frank, but like his wife Claire, a severe and formidable blonde with morality issues of her own, I prefer Francis — is a postmodern man who at the end of the first season managed to become just a heartbeat away from the presidency. That a man who wields this much political ambition might have a plan to ascend to the presidency one way or another has likely not escaped viewers of the show, who were blessed with a season-long dump of episodes on Valentine’s Day.

Our friends Chad Nance and Carissa Joines said they were going to spend the holiday binge-watching the series. My wife and I cracked the first three episodes that night, too, knowing full well that Underwood’s ride wouldn’t end in the No. 2 position.

We, along with everybody else who watched in the first few days after launch, were treated to a sick plot twist that nobody — nobody — saw coming until a wave of habitual spoilers gleefully took to the internet to ruin the moment for everybody.

I would never do that. All I’ll say is that I couldn’t have been more surprised if someone had grabbed me and threw me in front of an oncoming train.

I will say this: It was a television moment on par with that when Gustavo Fring got his face blow off by the old man in the wheelchair with the bell in “Breaking Bad.”

Fring’s another postmodern TV character that we were rooting for… until we weren’t. The inside of an eye socket has never been so enjoyable to see.

We’re still pulling for Underwood, too, at this point in the series — we’re eight episodes in as of this writing, taken in sporadically over a nine-day period — even though he’s given ample evidence that he’s one of the most despicable men in a town known for them.

He’s already refused to occupy the traditional VP residence at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, entrapped a reporter, turned a double agent sent by his former aide Remy over to his own side, helped his wife drive a wedge between the president and his first lady and continually broken the fourth wall in exceedingly clever asides that give us tiny glimpses into the Grand Scheme. And we’re barely halfway through.

It’s not like the first season, which we tore through in about a week, a gateway drug to the Netflix model that quickly led to a four-day binge of “Orange is the New Black” and a summertime marathon of old-school HBO show “Six Feet Under.”

I’m a postmodern man myself. If bingeing on television shows is wrong, I don’t want to be right.