House of Cards – Season 2
**** stars (of 4)
By Christopher Pickhardt
Having just finished House of Cards season two a couple nights ago I felt it was necessary to express how much I admire this show. From the very first episode of season one I was hooked – enthralled is more like it. And season two is even better…SO much better. I didn’t think that was possible.
I love political movies; the ins and outs of Washington, the corruption, the intrigue – it is all so captivating. Here in House of Cards, we are given an ever broader view of just how dirty that town is. I will concede that this is a fictional depiction of how American politics works and there are surely some extremes and liberties displayed, which serve the drama and tension of the story-line. However I am certain that a good amount of what we see here actually does go on.
Politics is just a dirty, power-hungry enterprise which is ripe with favors, alignments and concessions on all sides. In many ways Washington is a circus populated with puppets, puppeteers and figure-heads that fight in public and shake hands over laughs and bourbon in private. In effect, the joke is on us – the PEOPLE who buy into the farce that is American politics.
Our vessel for this look into the political matrix is the diabolical and determined Frank Underwood, played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey. This is his world and anyone who gets in his way is toast. Spacey is pitch-perfect in this role and he commands every scene with vigor and a steadfast determination which he shares with his audience when he often breaks the fourth wall to verbalize his inner monologue. He is the most charming, intelligent monster we have seen on screen in recent memory. It is rare that you find yourself both rooting for and against the show’s protagonist – who in turn also serves as the antagonist to other characters. That is a very interesting dichotomy and probably why the show is so intriguing.
Spacey’s supporting cast is also magnificent – lead by the always wonderful Robin Wright – who is doing her best work here as his equally-calculating wife Claire. Together they plow through Washington, doing anything and everything necessary to accomplish their goals and often stepping on people to get there. Casualties are all over the House of Cards canvas, with some truly shocking moments and unexpected twists and deaths. Michael Kelly is excellent also as Underwood’s right hand man Doug Stamper who exemplifies a mix of creepiness, servitude and blind allegiance; vowing to do whatever his master commands. Is season two, he is given a lot more time to flesh out this character and man, does he have problems to sort out. Raymond Tusk (played by Gerald McRaney) is given a lot more to do this season as well; his role serving as a fantastic manifestation of the supreme capitalist – a billionaire corporate tycoon maddened by power and hungry for the ear of President Walker. Michael Gill who we see a lot more of this season (as said President Walker) does a terrific job of showing us a man who is being played on all sides and at every turn by his supposed allies. At times he is almost paralyzed and it is not until he learns to show some strength, that he begins to regain his footing as the Commander in Chief.
I imagine many, if not all presidents in real life are in similar situations as Walker finds himself here – caught in the middle of dire national issues, foreign scandals and inter-office politics all the while hoping to do what he feels is right and possibly trusting the advice of people who may or may not have his best interests at heart.
This is an amazingly compelling show on all levels and I hate that I must now wait a year for season three. The perils of binge-watching are truly a double-edged sword. I can’t wait for that theme song, that incredible score, to kick in once again; which precedes a whole new chapter in Frank Underwood’s journey to the top. This is one of the few shows that I sit through the opening credits for EVERY time. I just love the score that much and adore all that GREAT time-lapse footage of the streets of Washington. It is such a cool introduction montage and I am thankful to David Fincher for creating that for us (not to mention, overseeing the show itself).
I know this program is based on a popular BBC series (and novel) of the same name, which I am very interested in becoming familiar with. I imagine the inner-working of the British Parliament must be just as intriguing, if not more, than the inner bowels of Washington, but I hesitate to venture into that material in fear of potential spoilers for the American House of Cards I have become so enchanted by. I am sure this version deviates from the British source material, but I am sure there are enough similarities that could possibly ruin certain big revelations down the road. So, I guess I will wait for the American run of House of Cards to play out then maybe I will visit the BBC version. Alas, the waiting is indeed the hardest part.