Cast: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kristen Connolly, Michael Kelly, Michael Gill
Release Date: February 14th, 2014
“I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside of you if that is what it takes, online ” states the manipulative Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in the first of thirteen episodes of the second season of the Netflix drama, here House of Cards. Claire, of course, is one of the two members of the Underwood power couple that dominates this series that offers up an intoxicating mix of sex, intrigue and corruption in its depiction of bare-knuckle politics in our nation’s capital.
The other half of the show’s power couple is played by Kevin Spacey, the two-time Oscar winner, whose character Francis Underwood has quickly shed his morals for an opportunity for political advancement. During the first season, Francis had a love-hate relationship with the presidential administration of Garrett Walker (Michael Gill) after he was passed over for the Secretary of State position. By that season’s end, however, Walker’s running mate had opted to resign in hopes of becoming Governor and Francis, ever the politician, had appeared (unsurprisingly) as a viable vice presidential replacement.
In this second season, the Underwoods are moving forward in their careers leaving dozens of victims in their wake. Intrepid reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) is still chasing after Francis to determine his complicity his role in the death of former Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll). Her pursuits are quickly vanquished though as the show hits a reset button by the end of its first episode, minimizing the stories from its previous season and moving forward onto other matters.
This season, the presidential administration takes center stage as Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), a billionaire entrepreneur, and Frank battle one another over the weak president’s agenda. Claire’s character also becomes more fully-developed as she takes the reins on the hot-button issue of sexual abuse and seeks to pass a controversial bill that even Frank’s allies have doubts about. There are other major issues at stake here but the less the viewer knows about the plot, the better.
In an era where some shows get muddled in the midst of a strong season, it seems clear— after viewing all thirteen episodes of season two— that the show runners here had a plan they wanted to follow all along leading viewers down a clear and sturdy path. To its immense credit, it never seriously strays off that path.
That being said, the second season opener felt a bit over-dramatic and made the show seem like a caricature of its more realistic former self. The massive plothole of one particularly egregious (and shocking!) scene was large enough to drive a communications team through. But when the show settles into its more palatable pace in episode 2 and beyond, it picks up energy and sets all of the players (chess pieces more like it) in motion in an endlessly-watchable and provocative game of political war.
Spacey continues to do a superb job in the main role but it’s Golden Globe winner Robin Wright who stands out in this sophomore season. Despite her outrageous outbursts, she often provides the show’s political compass showing a person whose pursuit of power sometimes takes a back seat to her passion for doing something she believes is right. Even when she’s lying (as she often is), she’s a person who does— to an extent— feel the impact of her decisions.
None of the show’s flaws are impeachable offenses and despite some unbelievable situations, it’s still an energetic, politically-savvy and aggressively-watchable piece of fantastic fiction. I, for one, can’t wait for season 3.
Review by: John Hanlon