On My Watchlist: House of Cards and Les Revenants

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I have been spending a lot of my days watching Netflix and it’s because of two shows: House of Cards (the Kevin Spacey version), and Les Revenants. They’re excellently written shows, and actually drawing my attention away from Korean dramas. Even though I still love Korean dramas, I sometimes crave being able to listen to a show rather than actively watch the subtitles.

House of Cards (2 Seasons)

I wasn’t interested in this drama for the longest time because it was political and had Kevin Spacey, who’s not a big draw for me no matter what his acting merit is. (Side story: I once walked past him on a street in New York while he was seated on a table in the sidewalk. I literally walked right past him and didn’t see him until my aunt pointed him out when we were half a block away. Ugh – my missed brush with fame!) But one day I was bored and craving an English-speaking show, so I turned it on. And then I was hooked.

What made House of Cards interesting wasn’t just the writing or the music but also the narrative form it took on. We follow Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood as he navigates through the House of Representatives, Congress, and White House as if it were a third-person narrative. But then he breaks the fourth wall and addresses you, making his journey that much more personal because you are now complicit and knowledgeable of everything he is doing. You want to root for the good guy but you find yourself on the bad guy’s team. What a delicious drama.

The story has Macbeth-like feel to it where we follow Underwood’s rise to power out of revenge for not being chosen as part of the newly elected President’s Cabinet, and greed. He schemes and manipulates everyone around him with the help of his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), who sometimes makes sacrifices to her own goals for his. He will do anything to remove obstacles in his way, and has no qualms about resorting to murder and getting his own hands dirty. At the end of the day, it’s about power and the Underwoods will do anything to have as much as they can over the fate of the United States.

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It’s a really compelling series even though you know in the back of your mind that Frank Underwood will somehow succeed no matter how dire his situation seems. Just when you think he’ll be found out for all his schemes, he manages to still have the upper hand in the situation. Despite this “hero’s luck” in the drama it’s actually frightening to see him get away with everything. It’s also one of the reasons why I keep watching and why I like season 2 so much. A man who gets lucky and succeeds that often is bound to fall, and I’m just waiting for him to fall.

Another thing that is a bit frightening is that what happens in the show sometimes mirrors reality. I wouldn’t be surprised if our representatives had to “whip” others in shape through underhanded means just like Underwood has to. One example of how art imitates life is when a bill concerning sexual assault in the military is brought to the floor; It happened in real life too, and the way the bill is handled is eerily similar in both cases.

The show’s writing is smart, the acting is stellar, the cinematography is crisp. It’s got an almost sterile feel to it, which makes the drama that much colder and crueler. It’s not the most evil show on the planet, oh no. But when you think like Underwood thinks and calculate like he does, I don’t think you could ever feel safe in your own country. I’m aware that it’s based on the British series made in 1990, and I did try watching that show after finishing the American one. Both are very similar save for the positions and type of government, and for the fact that the British one is shorter and more concise. But the struggles are the same, the emotions are the same, the conflicts are the same. Money, wealth, power, selfishness, desperation – all of these are universal feelings and so this drama has a storyline that can be translated into every other language for every country, and still be the same.

Les Revenants (1 Season)

I just finished watching the French show Les Revenants, which translates to The Returned. If I could only describe the drama in less than 10 words, it’d be: a zombie show not about zombies.

Les Revenants is about people who come back from the dead exactly as they were before their death. It’s been many years since they’ve passed and so many of their families have moved on, or tried to move on. When the “returned” attempt to go back to their old lives in a small mountainous town, it ends up being more disruptive because they’re not exactly the same people as they once were. They cannot sleep well, and they’re forever hungry. (Not for flesh.) At the same time that they start coming back, the water level at the dam starts lowering. It’s worrisome because if there is a leak in the dam the town will be flooded, and yet there is no leak.

Let me just say that the music is AMAZING. I am in love with the soundtrack Mogwai, a Scottish rock band, put together for this show. It is both light and intensely creepy. You’d think that when watching a zombie flick the music would be heavy and full of dun-DUN’s. The music in this show is the complete opposite. It’s light and melodic with repetitive notes that get a little stronger each time, making it sound a little more eerie and a little less innocent. I love the juxtaposition in the music because it conveys exactly the feeling in the drama: You have no idea what is going on.

Back to the drama. It completely subverts the zombie genre because it isn’t about horror and gore and your worst nightmare. The “returned” are not around to hurt people but when they are shunned as monsters then they are forced to act like them. It’s about people who were gone too soon and miraculously come back. It’s about faith, and how it can be shaken up when you get something you want but aren’t sure if it’s okay to have it. It’s about the relationships of the people within the town to each other and to the dead. It’s about acceptance, whether you are at peace with your loved one’s death or you accept the dead person back into your life.

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The drama is only eight episodes long and aired back in 2012. It’s enjoying a revived popularity thanks to the American adaptation Resurrection, which is following a similar storyline since they’re both based on a book. Thankfully, its success also has led to the commissioning of a second season, hopefully airing in early 2015. This show needs a second season. Too many questions are left unanswered; While I want to know the dead’s backgrounds and how they died, I want to know why the dam’s water level is decreasing.

I love this show for its atmosphere, for its story, and for its actors. I love how emotional it can get, and how it manages to freak me out without all the makeup and the gore. I must admit that I’m also watching The Walking Dead nowadays, and Les Revenants is a welcome reprieve from all the gore and bloody makeup. It’s a very quiet and thoughtful drama, but it doesn’t detract from the horror of what is happening to the characters.

Verdict: House of Cards – 7.5/10; Les Revenants – 9/10

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  1. Sabrina 25 March, 2014 at 05:57 Reply

    Les Revenants sounds strikingly similar to this japanese movie i watched way back – Yomigaeri. if you like les revenants, i suspect you may like Yomigaeri too.

  2. mskololia1 25 March, 2014 at 08:51 Reply

    Recently watched Les Revenants last month, and it was atmospherically…spooky. The further along the series went, the more questions were left unanswered at the end. What?! So agreed, S2 is needed only to tell me why these people returned and what’s really going on.

    HCs is classic and gritty. Yes, we have a hero who gets dirty. lol

    @Sabrina, I’ll look for Yomigaeri (2002) and thanks for the recommendation.

    Nice article @Kaede Jun.

  3. Denali 30 March, 2014 at 14:09 Reply

    Ooh that’s interesting. To a French native ear, the revenants first and foremost point to ghosts. Yet after thinking about if for a short time, the English translation is 100% accurate, because the noun is derived from the verb revenir, meaning to come back/to return, which is exactly what this show is about, not so much about spirits.

    • Kaede Jun 30 April, 2016 at 23:48 Reply

      Haha! Technically I probably have… I’ve watched Jessica Jones (Netflix), The Man in the High Castle (Amazon), caught up on The Walking Dead (AMC, network), and a lot of anime (http://www.kaedejun.com/2016/04/what-ive-been-watching-anime/ – which I probably should have categorized with the rest of these!). I definitely just haven’t been writing about them! T_T Sometimes it’s because I have no time or forget to, and sometimes it’s because the shows don’t pull me a certain way that I feel it’s necessary to write about them. I probably should have for Jessica Jones though – that show is amazing when it comes to having the best villain in a series in ages.

  4. martin fennell 1 May, 2016 at 10:15 Reply

    Hi. I was thinking more along the lines of non asian, and non english language stuff.
    eg. Have you seen any of the bridge, or the original version of The Killing, or Borgen, Or a Generation, Or spiral, or Braquo etc etc. anyway nice to see a blog that deals with media from all over.

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