February 23, 2013

Binge-Watching ‘House Of Cards’

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When Netflix announced it was developing its first original TV series, part of the big announcement was that they would release the entire first season of the show, House of Cards, at once. They said this more accurately reflected the way people watched TV shows nowadays. All at once. A binge.

Everyone I followed on social media seemed to agree with this sentiment. “Yes!” they cried. Netflix got it. People liked buying TV shows on DVD and watching all the episodes, right in a row.

I’ve never done this. I’m not sure why exactly. I had a college roommate, one of my best friends, who plowed through The Sopranos in about five days. He tackled Lost over a long weekend.

I just never got into it. Whether it’s a short attention span or just some New England-born Puritanical need to at least feel like I was doing something productive with my day, I never had the desire to sit down and binge-watch a show.

But I wanted to try it out. I talked to my Thought Catalog editors and they, in their infinite wisdom, decided to let me take a crack at it. I would binge-watch all of Netflix’s House of Cards in one day. All 13 hour-long episodes. Right in a row.

Why was I doing this? Well, mostly because I’ve never done it before. But also because I know that, as a freelance writer with no kids, no mortgage, and no real commitments, this may be one of the few times in my life I could legitimately sit on a couch and watch 13 straight hours of television. That’s right, bitches: YOLO. I’m doing it.

HOUR 1

This seems impossible, but I don’t know anything about this show except for the fact that it’s on Netflix, they released all episodes at once, and a Twitter friend said he’d heard good things. I’m coming in blind.

Kevin Spacey opens the show by killing a dog. They don’t show the literal act of killing the dog, of course, because you can’t show that on TV. Or streaming TV. Or whatever this is.

But, I mean, Kevin Spacey! All right all right!

Here’s Robin Wright. Also good. Spacey’s doing the Southern accent thing he did in a bunch of 90s movies. I’m down with this.

The show takes place in DC. I live in DC. I’m not saying I’m going to do this, but I want you all to know that the temptation for me to turn this into a 13-hour long series of me typing, in all-caps, “I KNOW THAT PLACE” whenever I see a place I know…it’s a real temptation. I’m going to fight it. But the temptation is there.

Credits. Ominous music. Shots of DC (THE CAPITOL. I KNOW THAT PLACE!) Kate Mara is in this! OK. OK. This is all good so far.

DAVID FINCHER DIRECTS THIS? Buckle up, kids! I’m looking forward to the next 13 hours.

OK, we got standard political intrigue going on so far. Kevin Spacey got double-crossed. He wanted Secretary of State, not happening.

To set the scene here for you guys, with me: it’s 9:30 in the morning and I’m halfway done with my first cup of coffee of the day. I decided to splurge at Whole Foods and got the frou-frou Fair Trade expensive coffee this week, and let me tell you, worth every penny. I feel good, guys. I feel GREAT.

Robin Wright, who is no longer Robin Wright Penn, is doing the intense/Type-A power wife thing and I’m loving every second of it.

Mara is a journalist, and she meets with her editor, telling him they need to do more stuff “online” and then we have the standard old journalism/new journalism blogging debate. I only close my eyes in embarrassment twice, which compared to shows like The Newsroom, is pretty good.

Hm. Awesome moment. Kate Mara is walking into a concert in a very slim dress. I check out her ass, and then very briefly feel like a perv for checking out her ass, but then Kevin Spacey ON THE SHOW checks out her ass, and then it becomes clear that the whole point of the scene was that a photographer CATCHES Spacey checking out Mara’s ass, and thus Fincher exonerates me from any perv-feelings because it’s quite clear the entire point of the SCENE was that I check out her ass. So I’m clearly not a perv. Right guys? Guys?

Briefly want to applaud the set designer for this show, for putting Kate Mara in an apartment that someone our age would actually live in. Bravo, Set Designer. The apartment is a dump, and there’s laundry everywhere, and food is lying around, and half-empty bottles of crappy wine are resting on radiators, and Bravo Set Designer! I’m tired of every show putting young journalists in gorgeous apartments that no one could ever afford. Putting Kata Mara in the dumpy apartment her character deserves is a huge thumbs up in my book.

Kevin Spacey is going full evil genius, plotting things, and I’m loving every second of it. And can I just repeat again that this coffee is really freaking good? New life decision: I will skimp on everything from now on except coffee. My new philosophy on coffee is treat yo self. COFFEE. SPACEY. COFFEE.

We got a weird subplot going on with a sleazy politician and his secretary, but I don’t recognize either of the actors and I’m too busy getting excited about Spacey doing Spacey things.

OK, I need to pace myself, or else this article is going to be 15,000 words long and we’ll have to release it as the stupidest Thought Catalog e-book that ever existed.

Spacey and Mara meet, Mara rocks a push-up bra, Spacey again notices and comments on the push-up bra, it’s again made clear that checking out Mara is the entire point of the scene, and I am again exonerated from any guilt regarding perviness. Spacey is throwing a no-hitter right now, even if he sometimes forgets the Southern accent for a line or two. I’M STILL WITH YOU, SPACEY.

Robin Wright’s subplot is your standard ambition vs. decency thing, where she wants to fire people from her non-profit so they can “expand internationally,” even though her sweet office manager is begging her to reconsider, and the whole thing is so predictable I can tell you how it ends right now, 45 minutes into the season. This makes me sad. Give Robin Wright more to do!

I also realize that I’m referring to the characters by the actors’ names, but you know what, whatever. I don’t feel like putting the actors’ names in parentheses to remind you who these people are, and you don’t feel like remembering, so we’re just going with their real names. Sorry, TV critics of the world. I’m going rogue.

OK, Spacey does more criminal-mastermindy stuff, Mara gets her first big story as a journalist (fed to her by Spacey) and the episode ends with the inauguration and then Spacey eating ribs outside in the freezing cold. I just got hungry. I will not eat outside though, because I’m still in my jammers.

HOUR 2

In a Nate update: I’m sitting alone in my apartment, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of DC That’s right, D.C., right where they filmed the show! My life is basically the same as the characters on the show, except instead of working countless hours on the Hill, making connections, striking backroom deals to control the future policy of our country, I’m munching on a ham/egg/cheese and watching a streaming Netflix show in my sweat shorts and slippers and writing sort-of funny jokes about it.

(My sweat shorts are my pair of gray sweatpants that are chopped off below the knee. So they are sweat shorts. I wear them just enough to seriously concern my girlfriend. For all of you self-employed out there, I cannot recommend them highly enough.)

So, episode two begins. I should mention that Spacey is doing the thing where he talks directly to the camera. He does this intermittently throughout the show. I haven’t liked this since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but Spacey can do no wrong right now. Keep talking directly to the camera, baby. I’m all yours.

Spacey meets with some sort of lobbyist dude, and the two of them do the thing where they talk extremely fast about politics. I understand a third of it and love every second of it. This show is like an evil, well-directed West Wing without all the walking around and about half the sexism.

Robin Wright subplot is drippy. Her non-profit is going to fire everybody. Wright is a monster. Blah blah blah.

Also, this is somewhat embarrassing, but through two episodes I’ve only seen like three places I recognize. I’m trying to toss this off by imagining they shot this in LA or something, but it’s clear from a lot of these scenes it’s shot in DC.

I guess I should admit right here and now that I have done zero sightseeing since moving to DC two years ago. I have been to one museum and two monuments. If you don’t count the Chipotle on my block or the coffee shop across my street, I don’t really go anywhere in this city. This is embarrassing on several levels. But I’m still committed to seeing places I know.

I get up and close the blinds. Too much sunlight getting in for me to watch the show. This is a metaphor for something but I’m not sure what.

Spacey just looked at a rowing machine his wife bought him, and with a slow, Southern drawl said: “It looks positively Medieval.” The man is on fire. He is a walking fireball.

I should mention now that Spacey’s character has a little guy, his Chief of Staff presumably, running around doing black ops for him. The guy’s name is Stamper. Stamper meets people in diners, late at night, and makes them offers they can’t refuse. First off, how do I get a guy like that? An evil, political consigliore? Where does one find a guy like that? I want a Stamper! I want someone to go around and do all my evil bidding. I will be accepting Stamper applications in the comment section of this article, if it ever finishes.

Stamper pays a hooker $10 grand for her silence. BECAUSE OF COURSE STAMPER PAYS A HOOKER $10 GRAND FOR HER SILENCE. GET ME A STAMPER!

So I don’t feel like explaining the subplot, but basically the balding sleazebag politician goes and meets with a lunatic in the boonies to get some political info. The lunatic and him do a bunch of blow, smoke some weed, and start talking about who actually controls the world. Big banks, FEMA, 9/11 conspiracies. It’s all there. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve had conversations that ring a little too closely to the one the psychopath and drunken guy are having.

The bald dude just rolled a massive joint and then said: “Can a corporate sellout roll a joint like this?”

NO, HE CAN’T, BALD GUY WHOSE CHARACTER’S NAME I FORGET AND WHO KIND OF LOOKS LIKE A HANDSOMER CHRIS ELLIOTT.

I pour my second cup of coffee.

Spacey and Mara meet in the DC Metro. I peer closely at the stop to try and figure out where they’re at, because the Metro is actually one of the parts of DC I’ve explored, other than my apartment and my local Chipotle. I make a mental note to get out more. Spacey gives an awesome speech. SPACEY IS THE KING AND WE ARE THE PEONS.

The episode closes with Spacey walking outside the Capitol. A policeman stops him and says they had a lunatic try to break in the building. Spacey goes over to the screaming homeless guy, who is handcuffed to a light pole. The man has pissed himself. Spacey stares into his eyes and says: “Nobody can hear you. Nobody cares about you. Nothing will come of this.” In a brief moment, I feel like Spacey is talking directly to me, and the apartment gets a little darker.

HOUR THREE

SO I make a fresh pot of coffee. And I am feeling better already! It’s 11 in the morning, and we are making time here!

OK, Spacey has to go back to his hometown in South Carolina in this episode. Leaving DC? C’mon. I’ve recognized like four places already. They still haven’t shown my Chipotle, but my fingers are crossed.

Mental note: go to Chipotle for lunch.

I don’t know how to say this properly, and I honestly don’t mean anything bad by this, but Kate Mara looks like the world’s sexiest marmoset. She’s stunningly gorgeous, but, you know, she kind of looks like a marmoset.

Robin Wright is jogging through DC. I don’t recognize anything. She runs through a cemetery, and then an old witch-looking lady pops up and yells at Robin Wright for running in a cemetery, saying it’s disrespectful. Is that disrespectful? I feel like I’ve run through a cemetery before. Not on like, purpose, or anything. But I probably have run through a cemetery.

I’m getting hungry. Or maybe I’m not. I’m not sure. I’m way caffeinated and I’m sitting for so long my ass is kind of going numb. How do people do this binge-watching thing? Is this like other types of bingeing?

Kate Mara and Kevin Spacey are texting. Kate Mara sending double entendre text messages. I see your text game, Kate. I SEE IT.

Robin Wright going back to the cemetery. NOPE. Turn around. Witch scared ya. No worries, Robin. I rarely run through cemeteries, and rarer still when a witch tells me not to.

So Space is down in South Carolina, and now he’s speaking at a church. Spacey is speaking to the congregation. SPACEY IS PREACHING. I’m in. I’m 100% in. If Kevin Spacey started a cult tomorrow, I am horrified at how quickly I would follow him. Sign me up right now. I am sipping the Spacey Kool-Aid. I am ladling it for my friends.

Spacey just delivered a Ferris-Bueller-direct-to-the-camera-confessional IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS EULOGY. IS THERE NOTHING THIS MAN CAN’T DO?!

Robin Wright goes back to the cemetery. Kids are making out on a grave. Who’s the disrespectful one now?! thinks Robin Wright probably. I have absolutely no idea what that running in the cemetery subplot is supposed to signify. She’s close to death? She doesn’t respect death? Young people respect death less than she does? What does this have to do with her running a non-profit in an evil sort of way?

Episode over. It’s really sunny outside, guys. It’s cold, yeah, but it’s sunny. Might be nice for a walk. But no. I will tread on.

The fact that I have ten more hours of this just hit me. It hit me right in the heart. IT HIT ME RIGHT IN THE HEART.

HOUR FOUR

The tiniest twinge of self-loathing kicked in when I hit the next button on Netflix. Is this how it always feels? Binge watching? Does everyone hate themselves like this?

They’re doing the episode where Spacey tries to get a law passed by staring at a magnetic board with all the representatives’ names on it, and moving the names into different columns. I have no idea what they’re talking about. But it sounds pretty awesome.

Just looked outside again. Sunny. So sunny. I will not break. No Chipotle for lunch. Making a sandwich. I’m locked in. This binge is hitting its stride.

Robin Wright has a creepy photographer come up to her, and he is straight creeping. His mustache is strong to very strong. He is laying it on thick. British accent.

Robin going to a hotel with the dude. They are making out. This is happening. Really? I’m confused. Is that all it takes? An English accent and a mustache? IS IT REALLY THAT SIMPLE?

Ah, it was an old affair. But she ended it. “When I end something I end it.” I should take that motto for this write up.

Spacey clearly knows about the affair.

Russo, the bald drunk sleaze bag politician who looks like Chris Elliott but isn’t Chris Elliott, is paying for his earlier misdeeds. Spacey makes it clear he has to let 12,000 people get fired from a base that gets closed.

Robin Wright just got hit with a hot flash I think?

I just Googled “menopause.”

Fascinating.

Kevin Spacey just destroyed the majority leader’s life. I went to the fridge and got some chips and tzatziki. Why? Because what else is there to do? The next eight hours of my life are the property of this show’s. Might as well have some snacks.

Kevin Spacey going to Kate Mara’s apartment! Here we go! Sexy time sexy time!

Oh. Cut to credits without sexy time. But sexy time was definitely implied. This tzatziki is the bomb, if I do say so myself. Nice selection, Nate. Thanks for saying so, Nate.

HOUR FIVE

Morning after. Kate Mara is in bed. They talk, and then Spacey destroys her phone. Why? Why not. Don’t question Spacey.

The soundtrack to the opening credits is similar to the Homeland opening credits soundtrack, with more strings and less horns. Maybe the same composer did it. I’d Google it but whatever.

Robin Wright asks if Spacey slept with Kate Mara, and he admits it. She is cool with this.

THEY BOTH KNOW EACH OTHER SLEEP WITH OTHER PEOPLE AND THEY’RE TOTES COOL WITH IT. THIS IS WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO IF YOU WANT TO LEAD THE COUNTRY, PEOPLE. YOU HAVE TO BE COOL WITH YOUR SPOUSE BANGING ON THE SIDE. HEAVY IS THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN.

Spacey is getting yelled at by someone. I want to stand up for him.

Ugh, Mara gets fired from her job, so she goes to interview at a hot new “blog.” So she goes to the young blogging office, and all props I gave the show’s set designer for putting her in a suitably crappy apartment is now out the window. BOO Set Designer! BOOO!

Why/ The fictional bloggy mini-Politico has an office that’s nicer and “hipper” than the nicest room at Google. Ping pong tables. Kids working on bean bags. Massive windows overlooking the city. (How come the Thought Catalog offices aren’t this nice?) Give me a break. If this fake bloggy site existed these morons would be meeting at Tryst coffeehouse once a week and otherwise working on people’s couches. The start-up blog has a $15,000/month office space? Eat shit.

Robin Wright calling British photographer mustache dude. Get yours, Robin. British mustache dude looks like Michael Fassbender in ten years. With a mustache. I’m starting to see the appeal.

OK, we’re back at Kate Mara’s apartment. Kevin Spacey is taking nudie photos of Kate Mara. My heart flutters. Something is alive in me. Hear that, binge watch?! I STILL FEEL.

I feel gross. I need to shower. Or shave. Or something.

The balding dude, Russo, shows up to Spacey’s house drunk. Spacey puts him in the bathtub and gives him a razor blade to kill himself.

He then says something along the lines of: it’s your choice to kill yourself. Again, you better not be talking to me Spacey. I’ll follow you. I’ll follow you anywhere. I’ve eaten a pint of tzatziki and I have nothing to lose.

HOUR SIX

I just paused for a minute to cycle laundry. Why? Because I’m a man and I can do things. OK? IS THAT OK WITH EVERYONE?

There’s a teacher strike going on now that Spacey has to deal with. I was about to pause again so I could write a long, elegant paragraph about the dark undercurrents of the show, in which the writers are suggesting that Spacey’s character’s drive for vengeance and power is ripping the country apart, and that his spiteful actions are affecting thousands of Americans, but then I spilled some hummus on my chest and sighed loudly instead.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you guys: I got some hummus from the fridge to compliment the tzatziki.

Kevin Spacey just gave another speech. I don’t know what he said but I agree with it.

Brick through Spacey’s window. WHO DID IT? I WILL FIND YOU.

I need to brush my teeth. I put the hummus away. I’m in hour six. I have only gotten up twice. My ass is numb. Six hours straight of sitting is terrible.

Kevin Spacey debating on TV. Kevin Spacey…losing the debate? Kevin Spacey just lost a debate, and embarrassed himself doing it. He made a fool of himself.

OH MY GOD THEY ARE AUTOTUNING KEVIN SPACEY’S SCREW UP ON YOUTUBE ON THE SHOW. YOU DON’T DO THAT. YOU DON’T LAUGH AT KEVIN.

Robin Wright just gave a guy with cancer a hand job. I’m not sure what else to say about that. But it happened.

At the end of the show, it’s revealed that Stamper threw the brick. So that they could blame it on the teachers’ union. Or something! STAMPER THREW THE BRICK. GET ME A STAMPER!

HOUR SEVEN

Maybe instead of getting a Stamper, I should BECOME a Stamper, you know? I have friends on the Hill. Maybe I just need to call them and tell them that, you know, if something needs to be done, I can be the guy. I’ve got nothing to lose. After six hours of this, any moral compass I once had is gone. I’ll be the black ops man. I’ll bribe people in diners late at night.

As for me, it’s three in the afternoon. I’m still wearing my sweat shorts. I took my slippers off because my feet were getting sweaty. I’m not sure what this apartment is starting to smell like because I’m inoculated but if I had to guess I’d guess “a mixture of B.O., tzatziki and shame.”

Robin Wright is learning origami. Maybe I can learn origami.

The prostitute from earlier is back for Stamper. She wants more money. Damn. See? This is the hard part of being Stamper. It’s not all backroom deals and stolen memos and being the bag guy or whatever. Sometimes you gotta take care of a prostitute who wants more money to keep quiet.

Kevin Spacey just put a spider in a glass, then went down on Kate Mara while she talked to her dad on the phone. It’s a metaphor for something, I’m sure.

HOUR EIGHT

Do you think Kevin Spacey would like me? Like, just as a friend. I bet he’d like me.

HOUR NINE

Is there such a thing as too much entertainment? What is this, exactly? Why is this acceptable human behavior? I have not moved from my couch, other than to satisfy the most basic human needs, for eight full hours. I feel disgusting. I smell disgusting. This show is as well-written and well-acted as anything I’ve seen in a while, and my recaps have been reduced to fawning compliments to Kevin Spacey and frenetic updates whenever there is a sex scene.

I’d comment on the overarching themes of the show but I can’t appreciate them anymore. There’s a little fleck of drool on my left lip and I have absolutely no idea what time it is.

Is this what we demand, America? Is this what Netflix needs to give us? Can we not just wait a week to appreciate another hour of television? Does it need to come all NOW, fast as we can, so that we can sit and watch all of these in a straight-through, gluttonous sitting? Netflix says they are giving America what it wants. Is this what we want? Can it be what we want?

Here in Hour Nine, as I watch Robin Wright totally stab Kevin Spacey in the back, which is something I will NOT be forgetting, Robin, I realize I’ve been watching this show for three times longer than any movie I’ve ever sat through, minus Gandhi, which I only sat through because my middle school Social Studies teacher showed it to us one spring day when he needed four hours to keep us quiet. I have never sat through this much “entertainment” in one sitting in my life.

And I feel shitty. I do. And not just in a gross, I’ve-eaten-too-much-tzaziki-and-have-not-technically-bathed-myself-today way (which I do also feel). I feel shitty in a deeper way, a real way. A feeling closer to despair. Here in hour nine of my TV binge, it’s become clear to me the long list of things I really should be doing instead of sitting here. I could be doing laundry, yes. I could be sending out story pitches to my editors. I could be refining my resume, or working on some marketing copy I owe an editor in the morning. I could be working on my novel, which have I mentioned that I have been writing a novel for three years? It isn’t finished. Have I ever finished anything serious in my life?

You get the drift. I have been watching TV for nine hours straight, and I feel like a boy who decided to eat candy for dinner because his parents left him with a careless babysitter. All that sugar was nice. And now I feel like I need to vomit.

HOUR TEN

I showered. Does that count as cheating in a binge TV session? To be honest, I don’t care. It needed to happen. The darkness was settling in and this whole column was spinning out of control. I just compared myself to a little boy who needs to vomit after eating too much candy. Let’s just pull back the reins a little bit, shall we?

Kevin Spacey is still doing Kevin Spacey things. It’s dark outside. My girlfriend came home for a minute, looked at me, sighed, and went back out to meet a friend. This was before I showered and, to be totally honest, factored into the whole showering decision.

In somewhat unrelated news, I just called my mom. She asked me why I was calling, and I didn’t have an answer for her. Sometimes you just need your mom to tell you she loves you. You know?

Things are spiraling out of control for Spacey on the show. Everyone is turning against him. I feel a deep empathy for him that is neither warranted or healthy. But I feel it, Kevin. I feel you, brother.

HOUR ELEVEN

I feel like this is a good time to point out that I have a Master’s degree. And that I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so, so, sorry.

HOUR TWELVE

I ate dinner. An hour or so back. I don’t remember. It’s late, past eleven. My girlfriend got in bed a while back to read. Any relief the shower brought me is gone.

To say I’m “watching” the show is probably a misnomer at this point. The show is on. My eyes are open. But I’m not watching. Honestly I keep pausing the show to see how far the little scroller has gone at the bottom of the screen, so I can know, to the minute, how much time it will take until I can get into bed and go to sleep.

I’m also thinking about the fact that the average American household watches six hours of TV a day. If you follow my timeline, that’s about the moment this stopped being fun and started getting weird. Is that it, then? Do we as Americans watch six hours of TV because we want to? Or because that’s the limit of watching TV before you start getting uncomfortable and feeling like shit? In the words of Louis CK: we don’t eat until we’re full. We eat until we hate ourselves.

HOUR THIRTEEN

To pre-empt the commenters below: I know this, more than anything else probably ever written about on this site, can be categorized into “First World Problems.” But that’s exactly the point of this article. (Other than the fact that if Kevin Spacey started a cult I would be the first one to take the cyanide capsule with him.)This IS about first world problems. Our problems. That we are so desperate for entertainment that it’s a winning strategy for a network, online and fledgling at it is, to release 13 hours of television simultaneously. So that we can gorge.

I won’t spoil the end of the show for anyone because I’m barely watching the thing. For the last half hour, in fact, I’ve only sporadically been checking in, mainly to see a Spacey speech (still loving you, Kev, no matter what) or any big plot twists or turns. Otherwise, I’ve been staring out my window. It’s not much of a view: my one window looks out over an alleyway, and behind that, another building. Across the way, in the building across from mine, I see a few remaining lights on in the other apartments. It’s late but some people are still up. I can see flickering lights, as well. They’re watching television. And after a long day of actually doing work, and not sitting like some gluttonous pig, who can fault them for putting their feet up and watching a few hours? Even after all this, I know I cannot. TC mark

Nathan Savin Scott

Nathan Savin Scott is a writer based in Washington, DC. He enjoys writing about music, sports, and was briefly a High …

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