Underwood v. Cohle

Y’know. I’m not proud to say that in this day and age, we are able to stream hundreds upon hundreds of TV shows, episode after episode, for hours on end. I am also not exactly proud to admit that I have fallen prey to such marathoning… so captivated by the allure of a series, that I must watch it all at once. That’s the society we live in—instant gratification through various mechanisms… one being video streaming. But that’s another tangent to get into on another day… today I just want to talk about the leading lads in two shows that succeeded in sucking me in: House of Cards and True Detective.

netflix-house-of-cards true-detective


I watched the first two seasons of House of Cards when Scandal went on a winter hiatus, because I needed more political drama in my life. For someone who prides herself on not being into politics, these shows are fascinating to me. I’m currently making my way through Season 3, which was released at the end of February. This Netflix series stars Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, and follows his elaborate scheming to rise to higher power within the White House. It’s an addictive, scandalous, and ridiculous show that isn’t so ridiculous if you think about it long enough.

I gave True Detective a try over the summer because I had a serious Law and Order: SVU and Criminal Minds hangover. I craved some fresh characters and cases to watch. True Detective is an 8-episode series on HBO (starring Matthew McConaughey as Rustin Cohle and Woody Harrleson as Marty Hart), and the show follows the two homicide detectives through a 17-year span of hunting down a serial killer. If you haven’t watched it yet (and have a strong stomach for messed up shows) then steal your friend’s HBOGo account info right now and come back later.


[Disclaimer: There aren’t necessarily spoilers ahead, but if you haven’t watched at least the first seasons of either show, you probably will not appreciate my superb analysis.]

Both shows have lead characters that are equally captivating and driven as they emulate genius. There’s Frank Underwood: a well-organized man driven by power and a master at manipulation… one who always seems to have the cards stacked in his favor regardless of the forces constantly trying to take him down. And on the other side, there’s Rustin Cohle: an elusive, existential recluse who consistently seeks the truth no matter what the cost. Both men got to where they were by not following the rules, literally saying ‘fuck you’ to everyone who stood in their way.

The palpable difference in these men and their genius is that Rustin is a genius in rhetoric, while Frances is a genius in action. One shining example comes to mind to prove this point:

In True Detective, after extracting a disturbing confession from a mother admitting to killing all of her newborns, Rust whispers in her ear, “The newspapers are going to be tough on you. And prison is very, very hard on people who hurt kids. If you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself.” Lovely.

Conversely, in House of Cards, Frank draws the down-trotted, drugged-up Congressman Russo a warm bath, hands him a couple aspirin, and tells him rather matter-of-factly, “The hot water will open up your capillaries. The aspirin you just took will make your blood thinner. It’s up to you, Peter,” as he sets a single razor blade at the edge of the tub. “Oh, and if you do decide to take the coward’s way out, cut along the tracks, not across them. That’s a rookie mistake.”

Translation: both will tell you to go kill yourself, and while Rust will paint the dismal picture for you, Frank will take it one step further and put the proverbial gun in your hand.

Where these two also differ is in what motivates them. I guess that should be obvious, one show being about crime and the other about politics. [But are the two really that different? Hmm?] Neither men are motivated by money in the slightest, but where Frank sees money as trivial and power/control as the ultimate statement of wealth, Rust seeks truth and justice. And not the kind of justice found in a court room, but rather a philosophical, karmic justice where the really bad ones get exactly what they deserve. Neither men are saints, nor do they claim to be. Personally, I think in a showdown between the two, Rust could bring down Frank in a heartbeat, but maybe that’s the optimist in me.


And there you have it. A comparative analysis of the bad-assery of two leading men in popular shows. Season 3 of House of Cards is currently streaming on Netflix and True Detective will take on new characters (starring Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn) and a new case this summer on HBO.

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