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Monday, November 5, 2018

Don’t Kill Off the Hero!

George RR Martin thought he had started a trend when he allowed Eddard Stark to get executed in the second book. Betrayed and vocal fans stopped reading right when secondary characters like bastards and dwarves stepped up to fill the void.

Fans who followed the Game of Thrones TV series should have seen the execution coming, since Sean Bean seldom makes it to the second reel (Lord of the Rings, Golden Eye, The Island). There’s even an online game for how Bean will die in his next movie.

By way of example for those who are NOT Game of Throne fans…

The Conners on TV without Roseanne is like The Jackie Gleason Show without Gleason.
We see clearly how secondary (in talent) the other characters are even after decades of watching them grow up on screen.

And now we have the final season of House of Cards without Frank Underwood because Kevin Spacey was shamed for his life style choices. Critics laud the performance of Robin Wright as Claire Underwood Hale, but can she save the plot line?

Loyalty to a husband even after he’s disgraced or dead or both is admirable. Efforts to hold onto power to “finish his work” seldom works. The original concept was a satire on the presidency of the Clintons similar to the TV show Secretary of State is a play on Mrs. Clinton in that office. Tea Leoni shows the requisite bleeding heart approach while she and hubby and staff address current issues with outcomes the Democrats prefer (sort of like West Wing decades ago).

**Spoiler Alert**

Can House of Cards shows the first woman president with balance since there’s no role model yet? Unfortunately, no.

Claire Hale is more Cersei Lannister than Margaret Thatcher. President Hale is pregnant through an artificial process to secure the family fortune for heirs, as it was explained. Claire becomes untouchable in the worse way, like one of those toads whose skin gives off toxins. The need for power reigns supreme and any touch from friend or foe is a touch of death. This theme works for lead female characters in both HoC and GoT.

I was struck by how many scenes showed President Claire Hale silhouetted against a stark background displaying her baby bump in tight dresses but without friend or colleague, even after she seats an all-female cabinet – a move that was not challenged as discriminatory.

To balance President Hale’s power grab, we have rich siblings Annette and Bill Shepherd who represent a “third party” of money in politics who work to unseat President Hale as soon as she’s sworn into the office. None of the seasons of House of Cards were concerned with the timing of real campaigns and 4-year terms. The will of the people or party were discarded and “regular order” has no meaning.

Annette Shepherd, played by Diane Lane, was a classmate of President Hale back in middle school, highly improbable but useful for flashbacks that fill in the blanks. The story line rides along on questions of etiquette for rich girls of the Old South. The rivalry is personal as much as about power, and the subplots are predictable and wobbly. Annette’s son was really the housekeeper’s son by Bill Shepherd. Sound familiar?

Characters are dropping like victims of the flu and the final episodes take on the flavor of King Lear where all scores are settled through death or suicide. I wasn’t certain about the fate of Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson) since her migraines seemed to increase the closer she got to the Russian leader, like opposing sides of a magnet.

Claire is the last man standing and with blood on her hands, and still pregnant, unless you count the unemployed and persecuted reporter Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer) who carries the torch of justice for discarded victims.

I love strong roles for women, but not at the expense of soul or womanhood or even probability. The plot had many absent features that could have driven an understanding of real power in the White House. The timeline is compressed and not tied to the stream of current events, so the story feels more Lady MacBeth than wish fulfillment for feminist Democrats. At least, I hope this series is not the stuff of their dreams.

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