Friday, April 10, 2015

House of Cards, S.3: Just tell me what they WANT

Like so many of you, I’m sure, Craig and I binge-watched Season 1 and 2 of House of Cards, ripping through each season as soon as they came out, in no more than two days each. Especially since Season 2 was even better than Season 1, we were waiting with bated breath for Season 3, ready to watch the whole thing in a weekend. Finally, the day arrived. We settled down in front of a fire, with the cat and Pop Chips, and prepared to be riveted.


 It never got off the ground.

We let whole days go by between episodes. We watched other shows (Boardwalk Empire, love it! And may I say, a 1000% better character and performance for Paul Sparks in Boardwalk than in HOC 3), and other movies (Drop is so tense I spent pretty much the whole movie balled up in the corner of the couch).

Don’t get me wrong. I would watch Kevin Spacey sleeping, and I would watch HOC just for the way Robin Wright walks and holds herself and gets out of a car. I’m not about to give up on it.

But it does give me an excellent opportunity to rant about something I’m always telling you all here, and in the workbooks, and in workshops.

Because Season 3 makes a beginner’s mistake that is really quite shocking for such an accomplished show.

We don’t know what Frank Underwood WANTS.

Remember, the INCITING INCIDENT (or CALL TO ADVENTURE) starts a DESIRE in the protagonist, and they make a PLAN and gather ALLIES, either consciously or subconsciously, to go after that desire.

(If you need a refresher on internal and external desire, go here).

For Seasons 1 & 2, Frank and Claire want to be President (that is, they want Frank to be President and they both will rule). Very clear. They’re willing to do anything to get it. And the guilty pleasure of the show is that we know we shouldn’t want that for them, but we do anyway.

Well, in Season 3, they have become President. So now what do they want?

Okay, Frank wants to get re-elected, yeah. But why? He’s not exactly reveling in the power that he has. He’s certainly not driven in the way he was in Seasons 1 and 2. He just doesn’t seem to want it that much.

And yeah, he wants to pass and implement his America Works program. He may be a little bit more enthusiastic about that than wanting to be re-elected, actually. But why does he want it? In order to leave a legacy, his biographer says. But do we feel that? More importantly, do we want it FOR him, or want him NOT to get it? Aren’t you a little perplexed about why Frank wants AmWorks, and not at all sure why you should care?

This is why I am always saying - You have to tell your reader/audience what your main character (s) wants, and just as importantly, you have to make sure that WE WANT IT FOR THEM. 

Or, just as effectively,  you have make sure that we actively DON’T want them to get whatever it is.

Now as always, you may not agree with me. Maybe you were riveted by House of Cards, Season 3. Maybe you can even tell me exactly why we should care whether or not Frank gets AmWorks, or whether or not Claire gets to be Ambassador, or whatever it is SHE wants (to actually be President, I’m assuming…) 

I wish you would!

But it’s absolutely fine if you disagree. Remember, there’s no accounting for taste! The point is, HOC 3 is not working for me, and I have analyzed exactly what it is that’s going wrong for me and made a mental note never to let that happen in my own work. That’s practicing my craft, and that’s what I’m always encouraging you all to do.

So, HOC fans - what do YOU think? I'd love to be told off on this one!

      - Alex


If you're in the UK - has dropped the price of HUNTRESS MOON and BLOOD MOON to just  £1 each for the entire month of April, leading up to the release of Book 3, COLD MOON. Fantastic deal!

(And yes, that's a sneak peek at the COLD MOON cover - not finished, yet!)

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clarke said...

I agree. I kept wanting it get better, but it never did. I'm still not sure what the story was bout.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

I wish I could tell you, Clarke! Or that someone could tell me.

Maybe Kevin Spacey is struggling with the idea of doing some actual good with AmWprks, but if that's what's happening, it's not coming across.

Diane Chamberlain said...

I know what you mean, Alex. Yet I remained fascinated by season 3 because now the House of Cards is crumbling and it's like a train wreck--I can't look away. I think what Frank wants now is what he's always wanted: power in his and Claire's hands, and he's horrified to discover that Claire is the one wrecking the scheme. So it's till working for me, but only by a hair.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hey Diane! That's an interesting take - that he's horrified to discover that Claire is wrecking the scheme. I can sort of see that, but all the motivations this season are so muddy that I'm just not sure what's going on. There's just no clear through line for me, and it's really frustrating!

Wish we could watch it together!

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Alex,

I can't agree more. Wanted to get his program passed, that's just politics.

He must want to get Claire some position, or to ruin some threat, or to slingshot someone else (Doug Stamper?) into a position of power.

Convincing the people to back his plan? That's just not worthy of the Underwoods.


Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Stephen, that's exactly right. It's not worthy of the Underwoods. Even if the point is that they're falling apart, they would be falling apart SPECTACULARLY.

Saumya said...

I couldn't agree more! The last episode was the most disappointing. I didn't understand Frank or Claire's motivations. It seemed as though Claire's struggle with Frank's power was forced. A lot of the character desires felt absent or contrived just to push the plot.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Saumya, exactly, Claire's struggle with Frank's power was forced. I couldn't figure out if she was having a crisis of conscience or something else, whatever that something else might be.