The Netflix Original crown jewel, House of Cards, saw the entirety of its second season released on Valentine’s Day. For those who had binged on the first season, this was a romantic gesture of the highest proportion.
The second took off where the first had left off. There was no mercy for those who had waited close to 12 months for the return of Beau Willimon’s adaptation of the 1990s BBC political drama. If you had forgotten what happened in the first 13 episodes, well, go back and watch them. That’s what Netflix was made for – your favourite TV and films on demand, whenever you want. And that’s the best thing about the second season too; you can binge on it for an entire weekend or take your time with it, savouring the exquisite acting, ingenious plot development and masterful camera work. No prizes for guessing which course of action this writer took…
This review contains spoilers from here onwards.
It’s hard not to binge on the second season after such a dramatic opening episode. The sudden death of young journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) leaves the audience in utter shock for the remainder of the episode; shock stemming from the realisation that Vice-President of the United States, Frank Underwood, portrayed so brilliantly by Kevin Spacey, will stop at nothing to get to the top of the political food chain. If anyone epitomises Machiavellianism, it’s Frank Underwood – ruthless and power hungry.
The complex character and plot development walk hand-in-hand throughout the series. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright, aka Jenny in Forrest Gump) takes no prisoners on accompanying her husband to the Oval Office. Pinning the reasons for her abortion on an army general that raped her in college allows House of Cards to follow in The Wire’s footsteps and touch upon pressing issues of the day. Where The Wire comments on the neo-conservatives combating terror over drugs, House of Cards highlights issues such as education and the law surrounding rape and sexual assault in the military.
Barnes and Claire’s attacker aren’t the only characters offered up by the Underwoods. The lovable Freddie (Reg E. Cathey) and calculated Doug (Michael Kelly) suffer their fate for being at the wrong end of the Underwood grand plan. Similarly, Rachael Posner (Rachel Brosnahan) sees her life tampered with in order to cover up the murder of congressman Peter Russo – an event that allowed Frank to be placed a heartbeat away from the title of President.
The plot is simply too complex and well thought out to map in a short review. The only way to appreciate it fully is to watch. House of Cards’ culmination, however, is ingenious. The downfall of the increasingly fragile President, Garret Walker (Michael Gill), reinforces the chilling fact that nobody is safe in the game of high Washington DC politics. Thirteen episodes see Walker nosedive from a position of power to potential Congressional impeachment. His resignation is the inevitable result of Underwood’s scheming, where he utilises Walker’s trusted adviser Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney) to his own ends.
The result? President Frank Underwood brings the second season of House of Cards to a close by staring right down the camera and informing the TV world that there is a new person that does the knocking.