House of Cards – Season 2

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There is nothing like a little political espionage to break you out of the winter doldrums.

Netflix really couldn’t have timed their release of the second season of House of Cards any better. Going into the Presidents’ Day long weekend, I was in something of a slump. Between a rough couple of weeks both at work and in my personal life and the incessant snow and cold, I really needed a distraction. Unfortunately for me, the Olympics have pretty much derailed all regular television and I wasn’t desperate enough to go see any of the dreck that is at the cinema. I was even without my pal Jimmy Fallon to make me laugh as there was a week hiatus between the ending of Late Night and the beginning of The Tonight Show. So it was like a gift from the heavens when I could binge watch House of Cards and lose myself in political scandal and maneuvering. From late Friday evening until Sunday afternoon, I immersed myself in the power hungry world of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

And it definitely did not disappoint.

In the first season of House of Cards, a lot of time had to be spent building the world in which the series takes place; we had to meet all the important players and understand their relationships to one another and their secrets before the show could really dive into the insanity and constant positioning and repositioning for power. With that groundwork already established, the second season doesn’t have to take its time and can dive right into the juicy stuff. Season two hits the ground running, literally, picking up just minutes after the season one finale that found Frank and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) going out for a midnight jog. Because the entire season is posted at one time and there is an assumption that most people will watch multiple episodes in one sitting, the normal storytelling structure just doesn’t apply to House of Cards. Cliffhangers don’t really apply, since the viewer can jump right into the next episode if they wish, so big moments that might be saved for later in the season can pop up at any moment in the series. Within the first hour of the series, the first of many game changing moments occurs; I was audibly shocked by what transpired and I knew that I was in for quite a crazy ride. It may have been the first surprise of the season, but it certainly wasn’t the last. The stakes are higher in the second season, which is saying a lot since plenty of shenanigans (including murder) transpired in the first. But as Frank accumulates power, his moves have to become bigger to maintain his position. To say more would be to spoil much of the fun; just know that things move more quickly and dramatically in the second season. There may be some new players in the game, but the word of the day is still manipulation.

One of those new players is Deadwood alumni Molly Parker, who is welcome addition as a potential ally for Frank.  As a member of Underwood’s party, she has similar goals as Frank but also has her own way of doing things. Another new face will be familiar to fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Jimmi Simpson (one of the McPoyle brothers on Sunny) turns up as computer hacker Gavin Orsay. Some returning characters are increased in prominence; Robin Wright becomes more central to the political storylines when a secret from her past is revealed. Gerald McRaney (Raymond Tusk) was introduced at the end of the first season, but is a prominent player in the second. Even BBQ maven Freddy (The Wire’s Reg E. Cathey) is given more room to shine. Some of the characters that are given more screen time aren’t worthy of this promotion; I quickly got bored with reporter Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) and his part in the series. I also could have done with a continued focus on Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan); I felt that her story had really wrapped itself up in the first season.

House of Cards still remains a good, but not great series. The issues that I had with the first season are still there. It’s a whole lot of fun to watch, but there are definitely some ridiculous plot moments. It’s all a little over the top and if you really stop to ponder a lot of what you witness, it all seems unbelievable. It is definitely entertaining, but it all doesn’t amount to much other than a lot of scheming for scheming’s sake. There is less humanity in the second season than the first; there were characters in the first season that were at least conflicted about their roles in political machine. That is absent in the new season and I think that it the series is slightly weaker for it. There weren’t a lot of sympathetic characters in House of Cards to start with, but by the end of the second season there are almost none. Without that contrast, all of the posturing and political masterminding feels a bit empty and repetitive.

Still, despite these limitations, House of Cards is immensely addictive. I felt compelled to continue watching episode after episode, only taking breaks when I felt that I was getting a little too drawn into this world. The Underwoods might be ambitious and terrible people, but they are absolutely fascinating to watch. Kevin Spacey seems to be having a grand time with this role and chews the scenery to his heart’s content. House of Cards has plenty of soapy elements, but it is executed in a more sophisticated way.  It may not have a lasting impact on the viewer, yet there is no denying that this is a show that is a hell of a lot of fun to consume. It’s like Lay’s potato chips – you can’t watch just one episode. Once you are down the House of Cards rabbit hole, kiss your free time goodbye. The only negative side effect is that spending too much time with these people may bring out your inner schemer; halfway through the series, I was ready to start plotting my own big moves and start taking some people down. That’s not good for anyone.

Some other thoughts:

  • You know that your show has made it when the President is tweeting about spoilers:
from @BarackObama

from @BarackObama

  • I’m not joking – I think the House of Cards Congress passed more legislation than our actual Congress.
  • If you want to relive some of Frank Underwood’s greatest hits, here’s a supercut from season one of the series:

 

  • This first season recap video came in handy in refreshing my memory on what had previously transpired before I started the new season:

 

  • I don’t know how anyone hasn’t opened a Freddy’s BBQ Joint in Baltimore. It’s a clear way to cash in on the popularity of the show.
  • SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! One of the more shocking moments of the second season has been turned into a GIF.Seen in slow motion, it is all sorts of ridiculous.
  • I may now have to double back and watch the British original that House of Cards was based on.
  • I can’t be specific without ruining yet another WTF moment, but I was glad that they didn’t forget about a detail from Frank’s backstory that was raised in season one.

I’m anxious to see the insanity continue in the third season; my problems with House of Cards don’t outweigh my overall enjoyment of the show and I’m dying to see how they outdo themselves. I really can’t think of any better way to spend a wintery weekend than binge watching such an addictive series. House of Cards plays into our worst thoughts about politicians, but that is what makes it so fascinating. It’s dirty business and you may feel like you need a shower after watching it (and not just because you’ve been sitting on the couch all day), but being a voyeur to such scheming and plotting is just too delicious to resist.

Season two of House of Cards is currently streaming on Netflix.

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