The Rundown: Season Two of the acclaimed Netflix series does not disappoint, ramping up on the betrayal, manipulation, and skulduggery that was already prevalent in the first season. Returning characters with new motivations, as well as new characters to put a fly in the ointment, turn up the heat as Frank Underwood continues putting his master plan into motion. If you were on the edge of your seat in the first season, this one will blow you completely out of it. Jeffrey Roth: Going into season 2 of House of Cards I was very curious how they were going to top the first season. I mean, it ended with Francis (a brilliant Kevin Spacey) becoming Vice President, which seemed to be his goal from the start. Yet, this did very little to attack the President, and I felt that at the end of Season One, while Frank had done a lot to build his own power base, he hadn’t really succeeded in making the President pay for his slighting. So I had a lot of questions going into Season Two; mainly, how was Frank’s plan to become Vice President helpful in his eventual goal of punishing the President of the United States, the most powerful person on the planet. I really shouldn’t have worried, since the season starts strong, picking up right where we left off, and doesn’t let up until it’s over. It’s like a vigorous sexual encounter, by the time it’s over you feel great, but exhausted, and wonder how something that amazing could be over so quickly. The season starts with the immediate aftermath of Frank Underwood becoming the Vice President. He is being constantly guarded and his home’s security is being upgraded, all while Frank tries to clean up the trail that might lead back to him and his manipulations. Zoe Barns returns, intrepid as ever, this time with a hard-nosed reporter team at her back with the intention of revealing Underwood’s devious plans. Paul Brian McCoy: Starting strong is almost an understatement. That first episode is a masterpiece of plotting, laying down nearly all the seeds for the rest of the 13-episode second season — right up to what is maybe the most startling and shocking moments I’ve seen on television in a long time. Then, when the episode is finally about to end and we can start to catch our breath, Frank’s eyes shift to us, the viewers, and he begins his first soliloquy with “Did you think I had forgotten you?” It’s pure sociopathy and gave me chills. And as he exits the scene, we zoom in on his cufflinks, his F U cufflinks (for Frank Underwood, obviously). At that moment, I knew this season was going to be just as dark, funny, and horrifying as Season 1. If not moreso. Jeff: Yeah, that first episode blew my mind! I was all like ‘How in holy hell is this going to play out?!’ he really ups the stakes from the get-go, and you really get the sense of them ramping up to endgame. This season also focuses more on the conflict between Frank and Tusk, each striving for more influence over the President. Paul: You’re right. Gerald McRaney plays a far more central role this season as billionaire Raymond Tusk, and is Frank’s most formidable adversary. He may be the only character in the show more evil than our hero, and Frank does everything in his power to try and sever Tusk’s connections to the President (Michael Gill). And once he and Frank decided to stop hiding their true feelings and go at each other toe-to-toe it was impressive. Jeff: Yeah, the interplay between the two characters was really fun to watch. It was like the political version of a mega-monster movie, Godzilla vs Mecha-Godzilla or something. I don’t know if I’d agree that Tusk was altogether evil, but he’s definitely just as self-interested as Underwood, and willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get what he wants. The one thing that sets Tusk apart though, is there are times where he seems to have genuine affection for the President, and seems genuinely hurt at each Underwood victory. As a contrast, Underwood gets close to him, but after each scene of closeness he turns to us with that glint in his eyes to let us know it’s all an act. This could simply be a reflection of our viewpoint, that we get to see more of Frank, but I think it could also be seen as the main struggle of the season. The President must choose between these two forces, each with their own designs on his power, and one is genuine, and one is waiting to stab him in the back. Paul: You know, I didn’t really think of it that way, but I think you’re right. McRaney does a really good job playing that sense of hurt and betrayal in a way that opens up interpretive possibilities. Nice catch! Jeff: And while this struggle between titans is going on, we get to see some of our bit players making huge impacts on Frank’s plans, forcing him, and his Chief of Staff, to make adjustments. Paul: A great example of that is where one of the characters from the first season who didn’t really get to do a whole lot last time, Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), steps up this season. Lucas begins digging deeper into Frank’s connections to the late Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), only to become so obsessed that he becomes easy prey for Frank’s Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). The final fate of Lucas was one of those moments that this show does so well. His overwhelming desire to see Frank’s true self revealed to the public forces him to compromise his integrity and eventually [REDACTED]. But he’s doing the right thing! In another show he would be the underdog hero risking everything, and Frank would be the mustache-twirling villain with unlimited power at his fingertips. We should be rooting for Lucas, but Frank is so seductive he draws us in until we’re rooting for the collapse of the Free Press. Jeff: Yeah, I really like that. In any other story, Lucas would be our unlikely hero. Losing everything in pursuit of his journalistic story, or, like Zoe Barns (Kate Mara), getting too close to the story and getting corrupted by it. In both cases, pursuing the story ends with a grand reveal, and perhaps a last-minute redemption; however, in the intense and conflict-ridden world of House of Cards these small heroes are easily crushed and manipulated by those with the real power. While we’re on the subject of Zoe, her role in the power struggle this season was extremely impactful. She sets the tone for the season, and her meeting with Underwood ups the ante in a way that I really could not have predicted. Paul: The women of this show are just as strongly written and performed as the men. Robin Wright‘s Claire Underwood is a phenomenal character who is nearly as sociopathic as her husband when it comes to dealing with adversaries and manipulating people into getting what she wants. Her dealings with Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt) are pretty much just straight-up evil as she sweeps her former employee off the playing field — tying up a carry-over narrative thread from Season 1 in a surgically efficient manner. For a minute there in that opening episode, I really thought that Claire was considering having a baby. Turns out she had ulterior motives for that trip to the fertility clinic. And the way she takes elements of the truth and reworks them into new stories that help to both support her political desires and destroy her enemies is very nicely done. The revelation (to the audience) that she had been raped in college occurs in a scene with minimal dialogue and allows both Wright and Spacey to slip out of their restraints and express real emotions for a change. But then it passes and Claire, almost accidentally, finds a way to get her own revenge on her rapist while also aiding Frank’s plans to undermine the President. Jeff: Yeah, Robin Wright really shines this season. One of the things about her character I find so intriguing, is that while she joins in on Frank’s plans, and seems to be just as committed to achieving the same goals, there are moments of sentimentality that show through as the season goes on that show that she has this much more emotional side to her. A side that actually really cares about people. I think that this is reflected in her choice of business, helping get water to impoverished countries. Yes, it looks good, and helps further their political ambitions, but sometimes it seems that she chose that profession because she honestly does care. This could also explain why she helps Frank in his dealings so wholeheartedly. It’s possible one of her motivations is that, the more power they accrue, the more actual influence she herself will have to change the world. Add this to her photographer lover from Season One, who makes another tension-fraught appearance, who also seemed to bring out a much more contemplative side to her, and I think the depth of her character really outshines Frank in some respects. Paul: This season really does a good job of emphasizing that. If she doesn’t take home some trophies this awards season, it’ll be a crime. Claire’s intrigues also causes some collateral damage along the way, but also allows a new character, Jacqueline Sharp (Molly Parker) to stretch and define herself as independent to the Underwoods. Sharp is chosen by Frank to replace him as the House Majority Whip — well, not chosen outright, but she is his anointed one and Frank gets what Frank wants — and Molly Parker is amazingly multifaceted as this war veteran Congresswoman who is able to make the hard decisions to get what she wants. She practically understudies with Frank and finds that she has a cold side that she’d not quite acknowledged up to this point. I’ve been a fan of Parker’s since Deadwood and it’s nice to see her get a really meaty role that she can run with. It wasn’t all perfection though. I’m still not sure what to make of Rachel Posner’s (Rachel Brosnahan) storyline. It was interesting to see a character on this show try to find happiness and make her life better without using and abusing others, but most of the season is spent kind of spinning her wheels. Jeff: Yeah, as much as I like the tension she added to Doug’s character, I really was a bit confused as to the point. I mean, even with Doug’s obvious infatuation with her, he always seems to have the situation well in hand, and it’s a lot of scenes of him just being plain creepy. Paul: At least up until that finale!! When she [REDACTED] after freaking out in [REDACTED] I thought the show might end with her in the wind, but I was not expecting her to [REDACTED] beforehand. And casting Jimmi Simpson as the computer hacker Gavin Orsay might not have been the best idea. Especially when you’re gonna then costume him in what are essentially upscale McPoyles outfits. Whenever he walked into the room wearing a silk robe I thought he was going to pour himself a tall glass of milk and head down to Paddy’s Pub and mess with Dennis, Dee, Mac, and Charlie. Jeff: I don’t know, I like him. I only really know him from Psych, and some bit roles here and there. He brought enough empathy to the role that you can really find in him a more underground hero. He’s self-motivated, sure, but he seems only willing to throw already-corrupt people under the bus to achieve his goals. It helps that he’s been crossed and double-crossed by them, but still. He’s the hero that would fit in this world, where only power talks, whereas Lucas was well-meaning, but didn’t really have the chops to make the kind of impact the story needed. Still, I’m really excited to see both him and Lucas and what they bring to the table. Paul: By the end of this season, to get back to your opening metaphor, Jeff, I was exhausted — both physically and emotionally. That final shot of Frank [REDACTED] was extremely powerful, especially the way that he slams his fists down on [REDACTED] and glares out at us. That boom literally made me jump. They just announced that Season 3 would be coming, and I can’t wait to see what Frank has to deal with next time around. War? Chaos? Economic collapse? As dark as this season turned out to be, next time around may just be apocalyptic. Jeff: I’m ready, I could watch Spacey as Underwood all day, and this show has really given him a stage to shine on. If season three is anything like season two, we’re in for one hell of a ride. So if you, dear readers, have liked what you’ve seen of season one, season two delivers more of the same, and will have you squirming in your seat in anticipation of what is sure to be an exciting third season. House of Cards Season 2Jeffrey RothPaul Brian McCoy4.8Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.