Recurring Cast: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Michael Kelly, Molly Parker, Michael Gill, Gerald McRaney, Mahershala Ali, Rachel Brosnahan
The road to power is paved with hyprocrisy.
When we last left off with Frank Underwood, he had managed to claw the position he had been denied in Season One, the Vice-Presidency. However, there is still a lot of work to do, as he finds himself in direct competition with President Walker’s other aide, Raymond Tusk, the ruthless businessman who has guided the President throughout every step of his career. As conflicts in China arise, both Underwood and Tusk begin manipulating the political climate to fire shots at each other in their battle. However, Underwood could be losing his main weapon. As he deals with disgruntled politicians he ridiculed in his climb to the VP position and newcomers fully aware of Underwood’s deceptive nature, perhaps the White House has wisened up to his tricks. Underwood finds himself needing to find new and more cunning ways to get what he wants. And it’s more than Raymond Tusk that needs handling. Zoey Barnes and her new lover, Lucas, are still chasing him, tabloid articles damaging Underwood’s personal appearance. Stamper, his Chief of Staff, continues to hide the prostitute they used to take care of Russo, which becomes harder when he starts to develop feelings for her. Meanwhile Claire Underwood finds herself in the centre of a controversial revelation, which she needs to control, despite death threats and rage in the media and military.
The interesting thing about Season Two is the poison that lies in the political game that Frank Underwood plays. While the main plot in Season Two gets underway with Frank carrying out his devious manipulation game, the show still takes time to reflect on the victims of the last season, people still reeling from the devastation caused by Frank Underwood’s unstoppable reign. Rachel Posner is one of the more interesting characters here, mainly because her character arc has nothing to do with Underwood’s. She was one of the puppets used in the Russo case and as a result, the Chief of Staff, Stamper is forced to hide her away from a prying Zoey Barnes. However, as she tries to live a normal life, Stamper demands she doesn’t make any close relationships in fear that she could slip information to an undercover journalist. Rachel is a woman who accidentally got wrapped up in this world and Season Two sees her living a miserable existence, every time she finds a light at the end of the tunnel, being thrown back into the darkness. Other victims are added to the mix. Freddy, the owner of the ribs restaurant that Frank secretly frequents, is thrown into the media’s path, which at first, gives him nothing but business opportunities, but as with everything involved with politics, especially involving Underwood, it soon sours and causes nothing but misery. Perhaps the biggest victim is actually in Claire Underwood’s claws though. As Claire begins shining a spotlight on to rape in the military, a raped female soldier offers her voice to help pass along a promising bill that could save dozens of women in the military. However, in doing something pure and honest, she gets too close to the Underwoods and opens herself up to the media, a move that we could argue changes her for good. It is devastating to watch the consequences of the Underwoods’ actions, the power couple causing it all not even being aware of the chaos they are causing. It also makes you look at the other cast members and wonder how long they have before they find the same fate. It cannot end well for poor Meechum, the loyal security guard, quite possibly the one honest person in the entire show.
The direction is the main star here, as it always has been. House of Cards will be the kind of show that is hard to review, because it does exactly the same thing it does in Season One. It trusts its formula and repeats it, with outstanding results. The direction has no flashy tricks, merely relying on some superb cinematography that elicits power so intense that it crackles on-screen, and letting the characters, dialogue and story do the rest of the work. Perhaps if I was to compliment this Season, it feels surer about itself this time around. Season One was confident in its minimalist way of going about the action, but there was always a sense that it didn’t trust itself 100%. There were one too many side stories getting in the way of the meaty political stuff, as we kept breaking away to Zoey Barnes’ romantic life or Russo’s collapsing family. Here, the show is more than willing to spend as much time with the two stars, Spacey and Wright, for as long as it can. The show also reshuffles its cast list. Kristen Connolly is still a feature here, but she is moved to a bit part, which actually opens up a new interesting angle for the character, much better than trying to make her a principal role now that Russo is out of the picture. New better characters are introduced, like Molly Parker’s new Whip, Underwood’s replacement, as she tries her find her own voice in Congress. Other characters are promoted to top bill, like Remy Danton or Raymond Tusk. It proves that House of Cards is ready to evolve with the times. The one dull note is that the ending involves a lengthy trial formula which stifles the action slightly. The ending is a nice one, but it reveals its hand too soon, so the suspense is stripped away.
But the performances catch the tail end of the season as it starts to crumble. Kevin Spacey is, without a doubt, superb, attacking the camera with a hunger and passion of a veteran actor, finally being given the role of a lifetime. His dialogue and delivery is second to none, shivers going down your spine, whenever his eyes meet yours, during one of his off-the-cuff monologues directly to the audience. The closing frame is nothing short of brilliant, as well as his blunt eulogy of a beloved character that is suddenly killed off. But we begin to see the wheels fall off the train, as Underwood’s latest enemy, Tusk, comes close to derailing him. There is a softness to him now, as he feels the strain of his political hunger. While it momentarily takes away from his ruthlessness, it does give us a way in to empathise with the character. His war wounds are getting to him and he needs to play the game even better if he is to get out of this one intact. Robin Wright is just as powerful, as his beloved wife. Their relationship is unique and great to pick apart. There is no one else like them on television, as they bond together to take out their enemies. When someone threatens Claire, rage flashes on Frank’s face with unimaginable intensity. You just sit there, hooked, wondering what their next moves are going to be.
Final Verdict: House of Cards confidently tells its story, well aware that you are hooked on the corruption, power and betrayal. In many ways, we are just another trapped victim of Underwood. And we love it!