House of Cards vs. Orange is the New Black

Originally published on Trevor Trove on June 22, 2017

I’ve been with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black since both shows since they debuted in 2013. But as they each enter their fifth season, I’ve come to terms with the fact that as I try and create my own content, I’ve definitely lost a lost of time that I used to dedicate to consuming content like this. Binge-watching seasons of these shows like I used to has fallen by the wayside so I thought for today’s TV Thursday, I could at least check out the first episodes of each one’s latest season.

House of Cards

The new season of House of Cards continues Frank and Claire Underwood’s road to the election. When we last left off, a group of radical domestic terrorists had slit a man’s throat as the President and First Lady looked on without remorse. Additionally, Tom Hammerschmidt had just released a damning article about the President’s prior actions. (And I definitely needed the recap video to bring me a little bit back up to speed on some of the show’s sub-plots).

In an uncomfortable parallel to real-life, the Underwoods prey on the idea of fear and use it to rule. Frank stops by the House of Representatives to disrupt their proceedings with some over-the-top political theatre demanding that Congress declare war on the ICO (the House of Cards stand-in for ISIS) all before attending the funeral of the man who was killed.

Frank and Claire continue to play their roles as the wolves in sheep’s clothing. The show has always drawn clear inspiration from the works of Shakespeare like Richard III and Macbeth. And my frustration has often been centered around the idea that Richard III works because he’s a charming villain, but a villain who gets his comeuppance nonetheless. With House of Cards, we’re four seasons in and Frank continues to skate by somewhat bulletproof (he was shot last season but he pulled through that all too cleanly and it only helped him politically).

The lens through which I watch this show as also inevitably changed, given the current political landscape. I now live in a world where I have to suffer daily through a woefully unprepared President who repeatedly denigrates the office with profound new levels of ineptitude. But he gets a pass because his party has spent the better part of the last decade shoring up their political clout and choosing party over country, time and time again.

So the combination of seeing a shitty person in the White House in both fictional and non-fictional accounts leave me even more disenfranchised. Neither villain will get the comeuppance they so richly deserve and so I’m left having to muster up the desire to even continue watching House of Cards. And there’s every chance I won’t stick with it this season. The world has changed. Frank Underwood is no longer as much of a boogey monster compared to the reality we find ourselves in.

Orange is the New Black

I had a much sharper recollection of how the last season of Orange is the New Black ended. The tragic death of Poussey and the overbearing and inept replacement guards were the fuse that set off the time bomb of a Litchfield riot. The season ended with an iconic shot of Daya holding a loaded gun that one of the shittier guards had smuggled in but lost control of as the women rioted.

The new season opened right where that moment left off, with Daya holding the gun as chaos screamed all around her. She winds up firing off a warning shot to shut everyone up so she can think. The guard tries to humanize himself by telling a childhood story about a frog (in English and Spanish) before Daya shoots him in the leg to shut him up.

It’s an incredible tense scene because there’s no telling what will happen in the chaos of the moment. And the gun continues to invoke fear throughout the episode as people look to Daya for answers and she begins to grapple with the severity of her situation.

Elsewhere, the inmates really do begin taking over the asylum, gathering guards together as hostages, locking the doors, and holing up in areas like the commissary or medicine cabinet. Enraged by a lack of justice for Poussey, Taystee and her group head to Caputo’s office and record a video of him announcing her name. They also finally make him aware of what’s going on regarding the riot. As we saw last season, he has been trying to fight for a lot of the things that the women want but has been shut down at every turn so when he says that he hopes their demands are met, we actually believe it. But he also recognizes that riots never end well.

I find myself much more invested in how the women of Litchfield handle the chaos of this riot than the Underwood’s Happy Terror Time show so based on these episodes alone, I’ll keep Orange is the New Black on my “things to watch” list with House of Cards on the “if I get around to it” pile. 

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