Depending on whom you talk to, I’ve had the pleasure or displeasure of binge-watching the first season of House of Cards twice. Once when it debuted on Netflix with all thirteen episodes available to watch and again last weekend. When House of Cards was coming to Netflix, the idea of releasing an entire season in one day seemed ridiculous to me. I no longer had to wait for next week’s episode and after “Chapter 1” came to an end I didn’t stop the autoplay from carrying me into the next chapter. Besides Lost, it was the only time I had binge-watched a show and this was an entirely different experience. By the time I began watching Lost, it had already been off the air for four years and the cultural conversation around it had died down; this wasn’t so for Netflix’s new original series. It seemed like everyone was hooked like me and we were witnessing something together, but admittedly in the confines of our own spaces, huddled behind our own laptops. Having already seen it once, I felt like I would be less susceptible to the shows’ tricks in how it arrests viewers and keeps them watching. While I was ever so aware to what was going on, I wasn’t any less grabbed by the show on the second viewing, even when I laughed off overly dramatic lines that first shook me when it debuted. House of Cards knows what it’s doing and it admittedly does it well.
For one, I would agree with Casey J. McCormick’s argument that the momentum of the show’s narrative was what prevented me from stopping the next episode from playing. Frank Underwood’s thirst for revenge is embroiling, to say the least, and as the web stretches farther and farther you can’t but help gets strung along as well. Again, the show knows it’s doing this to the viewer with Frank’s dialogues to the viewer who is probably only inches away from their computer, as his gaze builds upon what McCormick calls a “textual intimacy.” The chapter format for the show does this as well, as no episode as a definable title. When I discuss the show with someone who has seen the show as well as binge watching it, I’ve noticed we both suffer from a sort of confusion where it’s hard for us to recall what things happened in that episode. In fact, the conversation transforms into both of us trying to recall if a specific event happened in the same episode as another specific event. The chapter format here is completely unhelpful in this way, but it’s clear that the show intended for binging. This type of character and narrative absorption is effective and it’s clear from my conversations with other viewers that we’ve both been sucked into the seedy underside of the show’s depiction of the nation’s capital.
Yet, this sort of confusion that arises out of two people talking about the show is interesting in its own right and perhaps speaks to the darker psychological effects Zachary Snider writes about in regards to binge watching. McCormick admits that the narrative structure of House of Cards primes viewers to watch the show in as few sittings as possible something showrunner, Beau Willimon has always been adamant about. In my conversations, it has always been the case that other viewers have watched it on their own, much in the same way I have and these conversations seem to always happen after the entirety of the season has been watched. Of course with the release of more seasons, I have fallen behind and barred from discussion in the prevention of hearing spoilers. This it’s own type of social ostracization even if the intent is good. It seems that no one is ever in the same spot when it comes to the viewing and it’s always an uphill battle to catch up and be apart of the conversation. But this doesn’t happen in the company of friends or family, the viewer is obligated to do so on their own, away from the public, huddled once more behind the glowing screen of the laptop.