HOUSE OF CARDS - SEASON TWO REVIEW - includes some spoilers
So the juggernaut Netflix original series returns with more fanfare and media attention than the first, but can it live up to the hype? Turns out it can and then some.
Frank Underwood is now Vice- President of the United States, but his ambitions to not end there, following his ascension to that office he must compete with industrialist Raymond Tusk for President Garrett Walker’s ear and also deal with an assortment of journalists intent on exposing his villainy particularly his murder of Peter Russo, including his ex-lover Zoe Barnes. Kevin Spacey is once again delicious as the lead character, with snark and humour but perhaps this season more of a hint at vulnerability than ever before. His monologues remain his high point, in particular the catty and unexpected one at the end of the premiere.
The series quickly jumps right back into the action and within the first few episodes ties up last season’s cliffhangers and brings about huge changes. Frank quickly assumes his new position as VP, Claire defeats Gillian rather quickly and also quits her position at her charity and drops any hint of wanting a child, the journalists are also dealt with in several episodes, with Janine left in hiding, Lucas left imprisoned and most importantly Zoe is murdered swiftly and shockingly within the first episode. The absence of the journalists particularly Zoe is felt throughout the whole season, especially since Lucas’s quest after her death ends abruptly without resolution but I guess they would never have been successful this early but their absence is certainly felt. Kate Mara is a presence that is missed in the show.
Robin Wright back in her Golden Globe winning role as Claire Underwood is on fire. Quickly falling into the role of Second lady she is a force to be reckoned with, and her arc this season is all about the past coming back to haunt her, including a sexual assault, abortions and infertility which brings about a new mission for her on the political stage. Claire is once again faced with the cost of Frank and her ambitions and the human cost it takes as she helps manipulate the marriage of the President and First Lady and also a rape victim. Claire may crumble briefly but will not let it stop her, as she aids Frank in the mission to the top.
The supporting players of last season are less lucky in their screen time. Christina Gallagher seemed to find new prominence in the White House only to be swiftly dismissed off screen and vanish. Linda Vasquez, the chief of staff, is also quickly defeated and only returns briefly for a last ditch attempt for the President. Adam, Claire’s former lover, returns for a storyline later in the season but only briefly. However, president Walker gets an increase in screen time, as does his family, and Remy Danton, Frank’s former protégée who remains a thorn in Frank’s side as he battles Raymond Tusk perhaps the closest to a nemesis Frank will see all season.
A number of new players are also introduced including Molly Parker as Congresswoman Jackie Sharp, another lion of a politician who will not stop in getting what she wants but we are still left undecided on whether she is an ally or foe by seasons end. The arrival and swift departure of one aided is rather random as he is replaced by the more duplicitous Seth who is a welcome addition.
One storyline which ended rather satisfyingly but still uncertain of her overall importance is Rachel Posner, the witness in hiding who finally breaks free of controlling aide Doug Stamper who feels his role on Frank’s team challenged until his story ends in bloodshed. The journey of Rachel is tragic and bloody but ultimately feels inconsequential, but maybe that is the point, how an ordinary person is the victim of Frank’s evil machinations.
Frank and Claire feel like more of a power couple than ever before this season but her guilt and the added issue of threesomes with Agent Meechum and Frank’s ambiguous sexuality, is the end in sight for their marriage? Claire’s list of sacrifices are mounting, as Frank completes his journey to the top. Her decision to leave him to enter the Oval Office alone feels ambiguous, does she just want him to enjoy his moment of triumph alone or is it masking hidden resentment? Either way the season ends on a brilliantly triumphant and instantly iconic note as Frank hits his ring on the desk of the Oval Office, now the long wait begins for season three where hopefully a stronger antagonist is waiting in the wings.