House of Cards is the U.S. remake of the critically acclaimed UK series House of Cards. It marks the first step in Netflix's next stage of original programming; its pilot was directed by David Fincher.After a successful campaign, the Democratic party is swept back into The White House and long-standing chief whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is looking forward to his seemingly long-awaited appointment to secretary of state. Only it's not to be. Underwood is foiled by a president unwilling to appoint him, stating that his talent is needed where it is. But Underwood is not that easily dissuaded in his quest for power...Aided by his loyal wife, Claire; his chief aide, Doug Stamper; young Intrepid Reporter, Zoe Barnes; and a host of unwitting pawns, Underwood begins a chess game of immense political importance. How far will Underwood go in his pursuit of power?
House of Cards provides examples of the following tropes:
Adaptation Expansion: The British original takes four hours to bring Urquhart from Chief Whip to ruler of his country. The American remake takes thirteen 50-minute episodes just to get Frank from majority whip to being tapped as the new Vice President. It's much easier to rise to Prime Minister quickly than it is to rise to President.
Ambiguously Gay/Ambiguously Bi: Underwood is either bisexual or a closeted gay man. He had an affair with a man in school whom he seemed to truly love, while his marriage occasionally comes across like a business arrangement, though he also states earnestly that he loves her like a shark loves blood. The fact that they never had children seems to be an uncomfortable sore topic for his wife. Zoe draws attention to the fact that Underwood seems to get no pleasure from their affair.
Bodyguard Crush: Steve for Claire Underwood; when she finds out on his deathbed about his crush on her and his jealousy-fueled hatred of Frank, she attempts to give him a pity deathbed handjob (which he refuses) and tells him point blank that he could have had her at any time, as far as revealing that she and Frank had an open relationship.
Break the Cutie: Peter Russo might not exactly be a paragon of virtue, especially with his weakness for alcohol, drugs, and women, but he genuinely tries to protect the interests of his voters and be a good father to his children. But as his Fatal Flaw allows Frank to grab him by the balls, his life quickly starts a downward spiral as he is forced to abandon principle after principle.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Claire Underwood, to a degree. She runs the Clean Water Initiative, an environmental advocacy group that she wants to turn into an international charity, even if it means firing half her loyal staff, including a heavily pregnant assistant later in the season who was let go almost entirely because she disagreed with the direction the group was taking. The entire setup for the plot, with her husband Frank angling for the Secretary of State nomination, came about because he would then be in a position to help streamline the C.W.I.'s efforts internationally.
Country Matters: Using this word in reference to Zoe (and being unknowingly recorded by her doing so) gets Hammerschmidt fired.
Double Entendre: When Zoe wants to break off her sexual relationship with Frank—then sends him a text-message asking to see him (on the eve of an important House vote)—Frank has this exchange with his wife:
Claire: Going somewhere? Frank: Just for an hour or two. I've got one last holdout to whip.
Underwood's alma mater, The Sentinel, is a stand-in for The Citadel. He even mentions "his education at The Citadel" in a later episode.
The Washington Herald seems to at least have the same position as The Washington Post has in real life.
Heel Face Door Slam: Russo really wants to take responsibility for his actions and what he has gotten away with. Unfortunately for him, Underwood realizes this could be very bad for his cause, so he murders Russo instead.
Hidden Depths: Doug Stamper is normally Underwood's political hatchet-man. But when Russo's old call girl, Rachel, comes out of the woodwork for more money, Stamper secures her a safe place to stay, a regular job and then pays her a deposit on a new apartment.
Honey Trap: Acting on Frank's orders, Rachel sets one for Russo. It works all too well. Later, Lucas pulls an odd inversion when trying to locate Rachel, posing as an undercover cop conducting a prostitution sting in order to blackmail one of her co-workers into offering information about her whereabouts.
Zoe, zig-zagged and then inverted before finally being played straight. Up until that point, all of the stories we see her write are either suburban minutiae or leaks fed to her by Underwood to serve his purposes.
Her colleagues Janine and Lucas.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In a scene where Frank is taking pictures of Zoe as she strips for him, he asks her to pose, telling her to use "use your imagination." He says it just as Zoe moves out of the frame, making the comment apply to the viewer as well.
Let Me Tell You a Story: To sway the bereaving parents at the memorial service to their dead daughter, Underwood recalls his own experience of losing and regaining faith in God after the death of his father, who suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 43. But subverted in an aside glance when he reveals that his father was an unremarkable man and that his death meant little to Underwood. He even comments that maybe it was actually for the best he died so relatively young.
Lighter and Softer: The US series compared to the UK series. Underwood, while not a good or altruistic person, is nowhere near as dirty and corrupt as Urquhart, Zoe is not emotionally damaged like Mattie is, and the introduction of Raymond Tusk provides the show with a clearcut black hat villain to justify a lot of what Underwood does. The only character who retains their UK counterpart's evilness is Claire Underwood, who possibly even worse than her UK counterpart, given that she deliberately betrays her husband in season one in order to align herself with bad guys he does not want to get involved with.
Newscaster Cameo: Many real-life anchors and commentators report on the events in the series, including Soledad O'Brien, John King, Bill Maher, and even Dennis Miller with his trademark obscure references.
Nice to the Waiter: Inverted with Frank and Freddy, who clearly have a very warm relationship.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Catherine Durant, the democrat who "campaigned hard against [the president] in the primaries" and who gets nominated for Secretary of State to show that the administration is above party politics, sounds a lot like Hilary Clinton during the first term of Obama's administration.
In episode 9, a television pundit that criticizes Russo and his campaign can only be a stand-in for Glenn Beck with his use of visual aids and polemics.
Old Media Are Evil: Deconstructed. Zoe has contempt for her job at a newspaper standing-in for The Washington Post. She eventually leaves the dull newsroom for a Politico-like website. The trope is ultimately played without irony: The newspaper's old-fashioned managing editor gets fired and is one of the few characters in the show to disappear for good, as does the newspaper. Zoe's website gets all the important political stories from then on.
Old Media Playing Catch-Up: Averted. The Washington Herald's editor makes a passionate but irrelevant defense of why newspapers still matter, while modern Intrepid Reporter Zoe doesn't fit in at the stuffy newspaper at all.
Pac-Man Fever: Averted; Frank Underwood is as stiff and focused as you'd expect someone playing Killzone.
Francis Urquhart was NOT a nice guy even with his leather pants. Something he would especially prove when he went of his way to utterly and cruelly obliterate his opponents, even when it was completely unnecessary, simply because he could. So it's understandable that the producers decided to make Francis Underwood be less of a bastard and more likeable and pragmatic with his actions.
Same with Zoe; Mattie's Elektra Complex was completely dropped from the Zoe character and she has a spine when it comes to dealing with Underwood than Mattie did with Urquhart.
Pennsylvania's importance and the need to protect it from Republican gerrymandering. Republicans captured the statehouse and governors mansion in 2010, using it to dramatically redistrict it to favor Republicans so severely that Democrats will never be able to recapture any House seats in Congress until 2021's redistricting. Not to mention the GOP recently threatened to eliminate the "winner take all" dolling out of electoral college votes, to districts controlled by the respective parties that control them, which would make it utterly impossible for the primarily blue swing state to ever go Democratic again, serve as context for the governorship being so utterly important to the Democrats.
The frequent references to natural gas and nuclear energy.
Underwood's "selection campaign" to find a replacement for the Vice President slot, with him rejecting all possible picks so he can be picked, mirrors the way Dick Cheney ran George W Bush's Vice President search committee, in order to get himself picked for the job
The teachers' strike bears resemblance to the 2011 strikes in Wisconsin when the state public workers' collective bargaining rights were threatened.
Frank tends to use LBJ's tactic of invading personal space when he's verbally strong-arming someone. There's even a shot that lingers on a photo in his office of LBJ delivering "the Johnson Treatment."◊
Senseless Sacrifice: Frank call this his "martyr rule" persuading people to remove themselves by suggesting their position is untenable and they would be better off using this as an opportunity to draw attention to issues close to them.
Sexy Discretion Shot: Used exclusively with Francis and Zoe, so reliably that it feels pretty weird when they don't cut away.
Shout-Out: "You might think that. I couldn't possibly comment". In the British original, Urquhart used this phrase routinely to imply statements without explicitly confirming them. In the American version, Underwood only says it a couple of times — just enough to tip his hat to his British predecessor.
Shown Their Work: A lot of effort was taken to accurately portray the geography of Washington D.C. In particular the overall crappiness of Zoe's dingy run-down apartment over an Asian market is quite plausible, given rental values in D.C. and indeed the entire metro area.
Those Two Guys: In order to pass a piece of legislation key to his plans, Underwood tries to strong-arm two congressmen whose only defining features are that they are extremely liberal and that there are two of them.
Throw the Dog a Bone: In Episode 13, Meechum is told by Francis that he has played an valuable and useful role and he will arrange Meecham a transfer from Capitol Police to the Secret Service.
Episode 11. Underwood crosses a new line. He murders Russo and makes it look like suicide.
Episodes 12-13. The President, too, is embroiled in schemes. Schemes that will make your jaw drop. Underwood discovers that the President is secretly working with a reclusive billionaire, who was also the one who advised him to pass over Underwood for Secretary of State. And both of them already KNOW that Underwood's been plotting to reach the vice presidency all along, and have been playing dumb because Tusk is looking to gain advantage in a looming trade war with China and sees Underwood as the man to see to it in the House.
Wham Line: Zoe puts the puzzle together. Maybe he wanted Russo to self destruct?
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Frank ends the teachers' strike by provoking the lobbyist who's the public face of the union to punch him, which he does by literally backing him into a wall and taunting him about having staged the brick attack.
Xanatos Gambit: Frank openly admits to favoring these, or as he puts it, "I make a habit of considering all trajectories in any given situation."
Xanatos Speed Chess: Frank usually plays the long game, but he shows himself capable of speed chess in the chapter when teacher's union lobbyist Spinella comes close to upsetting his plans.
Hell, even when he's playing the long game he's playing Speed Chess, adapting and evolving his plans as he goes.