Posted by: markfender | February 18, 2014

House of Cards Season 2

Netflix released the next season of House of Cards on Valentine’s Day. And since there is nothing I love more than power suits and smoldering Southern accents, I had to watch the whole thing.

Netflix-House-of-Cards-Season-2Since Netflix decided to drop the whole thing on Valentine’s Day, I decided to treat every actor I mention as if they were my valentine. And, there’s probably spoilers for season one.

Episode One (or “Chapter 14” in the show’s parlance) was a very strong episode. It cleared up a few loose ends from the previous season, including some harsh harshness from Robin Wright’s character (As You Wish!) and some, uh, clean-up from Spacey’s Underwood (Y U No Txt Me?). They also saved the fourth-wall breaking for a key moment which helped resell the whole concept (although I still find it a little weird).

With Frank now Vice President, the show followed one major plot through thirteen episodes, which was a bit of a stronger showing than last season. Last season had weird side-bits and a few plots that seemed to fizzle out after a few episodes. This second season stayed with one central storyline throughout the whole season. It diverged a few times, and would often drop plot threads for four episodes at a time, but it eventually all reconnected and related to the central story. It also felt like there was always forward momentum happening, unlike the previous season where I felt like I spent a majority of my time watching Russo (QT!) set himself to fail over and over.

Not to say that every episode was that grand. There were a few that stretched credulity a little far. The one in which an anthrax scare kept everyone locked in their office felt pretty hokey (and how long does it take to test anthrax? You can’t tell me the government is THAT unprepared to deal with that eventuality). And a weird three-way emerged at one point, which was, needless to say, odd.

Due to, uh, “events,” the cast of characters this time around is slightly different. Jacqueline Sharp is the new Majority Whip (Be Mine) and she plays it well, bringing a different form of government to Frank’s old position. Gill’s President (Silver Fox!) features a lot more often as well, which makes sense considering Frank’s elevated position this go around (I also learned that he was the Democratic governor from Colorado. That’s where I live!) However, there are still some weird political moments that don’t totally jibe. We never see the the President’s Cabinet, which feels weird. Whenever there are briefings that involve a lot of people, you sort of assume that those people are his Cabinet, until you start recognizing a lot of Senators in attendance. Later in this season, the most important position in the President’s office becomes empty and it is never refilled. That stretched credulity as well since it would be pretty much impossible for a modern President to be an effective leader without someone in that position. Another odd note was made by an interview comment (on the show) that it is rare for a childless family like the Underwoods’ to reach the heights of political power that they’ve reached. Except that the President doesn’t seem to have any children either (They might have “been off at college” or something, but there is at least one speech he gives this season where his children would have been there for). So, it’s not exactly realpolitik.

But then, this show has never been about real politics. The administration is Democrat, and makes some vague talk about about liberal ideals and banging around on Democratic message points, but everyone is more than willing to compromise to push whatever needs pushing through. There’s some political grandstanding, of course, but it never amounts to more than simple soapboxing – we’re not dealing with Sorkin here. The show tries to incorporate real world political issues – Tea Party, Snowden, even bridges – but it’s surface-level. The real point is to watch the players manipulate each other.

Ultimately, the main thrust of the show is the really weird relationship between the Underwoods. Claire’s plot was much better this time around as I actually understood why she cared (First seasons’ charity never really coalesced for me). Frank’s rise to power happens super-quickly but it’s still fascinating to watch him manipulate people. And he actually had a worthy adversary this season who kept him on his toes the entire season. Dear Lord, to people really love their jobs on this show. I mean they will sacrifice everything to be loyal to their employers – it’s weird.

I think this season was stronger than the first one. I felt like the producers realized more of the format they were working in and used the “binge watching” to their advantage. I also found the adult situations more deftly handled this time around. HBO, in particular, treats sex and nudity like the musical numbers in a non-musical – never apropos and always disconcerting. This show, however, actually attempts to build intimacy before getting to the boning. So that’s new. So, get on that watching of House of Cards. It’s good.

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