NOTE: Consider this a General spoiler warning for everything in House of Cards Season 1 and the episodes 1-3 of Season 2. Considering the instant nature of viewing it is best to set some ground rules. My recaps will be considered a spoiler zone for everything up to the episode in question! However, please don’t be a jerk (some Dave Snider guy said that) and post spoilers for stuff that happens after the episode in the comments.
Last year I watched through the first 5 hours of House of Cards in a single sitting, finishing up the first season over the following weekend. Once I’d collected my thoughts, the Netflix original series wasn’t suddenly atop of the Mt. Rushmore of great television; it wasn’t the game changer either. It was ephemeral to my conscious. This isn’t to take away from the fact that it is still a well polished series that wouldn’t look out of place on HBO. Which is exactly what Netflix wanted when it out bid HBO for the series. As with its manipulative lead, House of Cards continues to feel far too calculated not to entertain most and appear great while doing it. The surface level sheen reveals the hollowness of the series.
Having watched the first 3 episodes of House of Cards season 2, the still isn’t the giant media leech other series are. These three episode has shed some fat as the series recommits itself to the mantras of “No Mercy” and “Power above all else”. Those mantras are the necessary fuel for Frank to pull off his Machiavellian plans to eventually assume the office of President of the United States of America. As he is sworn in as Vice President, Frank breaks the fourth wall, which seems to happen less this time around, and wax about how overrated democracy is. Here he is a heartbeat away from the Presidency and no one even voted for him; he just took it.
That kind of thinking right there that makes House of Cards a smaller leech. The series has no heart, style and soul for certain but no heart. When I say heart, I mean a character that embodies at least a little bit of hope that everything isn’t utterly calculated and manipulated by those in power. With Peter Russo out of the picture, for now the show has no one for you to be emotionally invested with. No one to melodramatically yell “No!” at as Frank Underwood seduces and spurs their ambitions. This isn’t the kind of resonance series writer Beau Willimon was going for in the first place; House of Cards is the Frank Underwood show through and through. But as viewer it has me rather distanced. The morality play before me isn’t that interesting when the lead and everyone around him is so utterly morally compromised.
Distanced as I may feel something about House of Cards is still a compelling watch. It isn’t the want to see Frank finally fail, inevitable as that is. It’s actually a little fun to watch him make political theater and weasel his way out of every situation. Such complications however appear to be straw men targets at best thanks to how his show has reinforced how next level and omniscient Frank Underwood is. The first three episodes of season 2 see Frank deal with entitlement reform and threats of a government shutdown, diplomatic issues with China, and the selection of his replacement as Majority Whip (I will miss hearing Spacey chew the word “whip” constantly). Willimon dose a much better job structuring the series plots and episodes so that even if something isn’t really moving along, there is always action. With the intense focus on Frank and Zoe Barnes gone, several slower burn subplots are beginning to take form.
This season doesn’t have a Peter Russo, yet. By appearances, his replacement would be the newly introduced Jacqueline Sharp (Molly Parker), a congresswoman from California whom Frank taps as his replacement as Majority Whip. In their first scene together Frank goes over how pragmatic and machine like she was in the execution of her duties in the military, ordering missile strikes on targets that included women and children. Pragmatism isn’t bad but it is the kind of efficient thinking Frank has, Sharp just has the remains of a heart at this point. So far seeing her seduction to the dark side isn’t the most compelling.
Cards has expressed love and admiration for those with ambition and power. Not the kind that just blindly lust after it but the ones like Frank who have their mind set upon a goal and reach it. Sharp wants power, seeing herself in party leadership within 10 years, but instead takes the chance Frank offers to jump ahead in line and throw her close allies under the bus. The ones who just blindly lust for it with no sense of tact are mocked, like the Representative who is backed by the Tea Party. House of Cards is largely ideologically secular with only two types of politicians. There are the kind like Frank who only worship power and those who want power and their ideology, honorable but mistaken in this world. Reinforcing the unlikeable aspects of just about everyone involved.
There is Rachel Posner(Rachel Brosnahan), the prostitute who helped kick Russo of the wagon. She appears to be getting her own redemption arc of sorts. Finding Christianity though is just trite and it isn’t like the prior season engendered any sort of connection with the character who was more of a plot device back then.
This is where you’d normally find a comment about how the series doesn’t know how to use Robin Wright and that continues to be true. Her attempts at motherhood are dropped suddenly and peace is made between her and Gillian Cole just as quickly. The character has gone from vague illusions of a life outside of Frank to having none at all.
OK here’s another spoiler warning because there is no other way to really continue without talking about that thing that happens at the end of episode 1 season 2. Skip to the final paragraphs if you don’t want to read it.
So, Zoe Barnes is murdered by Frank. A shocking act that is never the less ultra calculated and premeditated on the side of Frank. Zoe knew too much and was never going to let it go. She had to go. Her murder mirrors the fate of the original character, an actually shocking moment. Even if they had the Barnes character follow the genre path by sleeping with Frank, things seemed to be turning around for her and she’d redeem herself. Now, not so much.
Her death has placed Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) in the role of intrepid journalist seeking truth to the conspiracy. I hate to constantly refrain to this but; I don’t really care about him or anyone else. This series has done a poor job of developing a supporting cast when Season 1 was the Frank Underwood show. Now that they are branching out a bit it’s going to take some time to come around. It isn’t that I just don’t care it just isn’t enough at this point. This plot however dose have some interesting uses of technology and might touch on some in the news privacy concerns.
END OF SPOILERS
House of Cards is an oddly compelling watch. The character of Frank Underwood isn’t an anti-hero lead who is honorable, the man is a villain. The amount of polish to everything smooths over the majority of the series rough edges and Kevin Spacey continues to be just fun to watch. Even with this show continuing to be ice cold.
So am I alone on a ledge in feeling that way?
The plan going forward is to do a weekly recap of TWO episodes that will likely be posted on Thursdays.