If there are any questions left as to whether Netflix’s new business model focused on creating its own exclusive content is working, those doubts were probably cast aside last week when the leader of the free world took to Twitter to ask binge-watchers not to spoil his show. Yes, House of Cards returned on Valentine’s Day with the simultaneous release of all of Season 2’s 13 episodes. When we last left Frank Underwood, he was about to set out on a run with his wife Claire to clear his head from all of Season 1’s twists and turns, a journey that resulted in his ascension to the Vice Presidency.
House of Cards Season 2 picks up in the same spot and the shot of the power couple running towards the camera together instantly stands out to me as perhaps a reminder of the fact that this is Claire’s story too. Frank may do most of the dirty work on their way to the top, but Claire has surely proven to be unafraid of twisting the knife when necessary. My thoughts on this bit of foreshadowing are quickly validated via the first episode’s scenes between Claire and Gillian. Gillian wants Claire to reinstate her health coverage so she can get the meds she needs for her pregnancy, never mind the fact that she still intends to take Claire to court. “I’m willing to let your child whiter and die inside you if that’s what’s required.” Yep, this is definitely Frank Underwood’s better half.
Frank spends the better part of the episode cleaning up a few remaining strings from the last season, like hand-picking photogenic war veteran Jackie Sharp as his replacement in the House and of course, dealing with that pesky reporter. I never watched the original BBC trilogy, but I still had a feeling something was afoot with reporter Zoe Barnes when I read a couple of interviews Kate Mara did in the weeks leading up to the release in which she said that she had already seen all of season 1 prior to its release but would be binging through the episodes in season 2 with the rest of us. Hmm. In hindsight, I suppose we all should have seen it coming and maybe some of you did. Frank Underwood had already done the unthinkable by taking out Congressman Russo towards the end of Season 1, so I suppose Zoe’s much more violent death was the predictable up of the ante that the series needed to start season 2 with a bang.
Zoe’s comments to Frank before her demise about her decision to overstep ethical lines summed up her character perfectly. Zoe was a smart girl. Too smart for her own good. She was too naïve to understand the depths that some in Washington’s power circle are willing to go. And Underwood’s chilling monologue at the end of episode 1 was the perfect reminder that he doesn’t share any of Zoe’s shortcomings. You thought that perhaps Underwood would settle down and be complacent within his new role as VP? Well…
After the epic opener, the next two episodes pull back on the throttle just a bit, a necessity in order to lay the ground work for some of season 2’s new plot points.
We’re reminded of Rachel’s presence, although it seems clear that her and Stamper’s story is going to play out on the sidelines for now. Jackie Sharp shows off a bit of that ruthless pragmatism that has made her so popular with Underwood. One wonders if Frank will one day regret setting Jackie on her current path to the top. If she’s willing to throw a longtime personal friend under the bus for her career ambitions, it’s clear that that no one may be safe, not even Frank.
We heard words like “China” and “entitlements” and “quorum” but as with everything else in House of Cards, these are just plot devices for the tense back and forth between the characters that makes the show so riveting. As much as I enjoyed Season 1, I did get a bit tired of the fact that Frank Underwood always came out on top. In most episodes, the question wasn’t whether or not Frank would win, it was simply a question of what he would have to do to ensure the victory. It’s for this reason that I’m thrilled by the emergence of Raymond Tusk. We were given just a taste of what was to come at the end of season 1, but now it is clear that Underwood finally has a worthy adversary for this season. Frank’s march to victory is no longer ensured and the show is better for it.
As a former newspaper reporter, I enjoyed watching Zoe and Lucas on the trail last season, but there was something about it that was a little clichéd. The secret meetings in the shadowy areas of Washington and the female reporter giving it up to the powerful politician in exchange for a career edge caused me to roll my eyes at times. This season’s first episode cleaned up those problems nicely, and the scene where Janine skips town was powerful. I’m now rooting for Lucas to get the job done, but I can’t help but chuckle at some of the new clichés being introduced. Lucas descending into the “deep web” with an Anonymous-like hacker as his sidekick had me rolling my eyes again.
Viewers were kept in the dark most of last season as to the ultimate destination that Underwood was striving for. We watched him pull his strings from the first episode on, but the vice presidency wasn’t the obvious end result. As we watch the President give the State of the Union at the end of the third episode, this season’s objective is officially confirmed.
“I used to be on the edge of the frame,” Underwood says. “Now, I’m only three feet away.”
Considering the path to his current position involved two murders and countless other heinous acts, it’s a bit frightening to think what Underwood might have to do over these remaining 10 episodes in order to move up that final peg.