House of Cards Season 2 Review: A Second Take

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Ok look, all of us here at The Filtered Lens were so excited for House of Cards so we’re just going to have two reviews. But be warned, this review contains spoilers for the entire season.

Netflix has outdone themselves with another spectacular season of Shakespearean Washington DC politics. After a rip-roaring way to kick off Netflix’s original series in 2013, House of Cards continued Frank and Claire Underwood’s back alley journey to the White House.

Season one brought Frank from the House Majority Whip to the Vice President of the United States. The first hour of season two picks up right where we left off. Zoe, Lucas, and Janine appear to be close to uncovering the truth behind Pete Russo’s death. But just when they get close, Cards delivered one hell of a shock in episode one: Frank throws Zoe in front of a moving train.

It was a big move to kill the third biggest player in the series, behind Frank and Claire, but I do see the point. Knowing where season two takes us, Zoe really didn’t have much of a role to play. Sure, the writers could have kept her around just to keep Kate Mara on the series, but you have to respect a show that knows when it has no use for a character.

However, this did lead to a season that felt a bit disjointed. The first half of the season sees Lucas on a manic mission to uncover the truth. But then, around the halfway point, he’s thrown in jail and not heard from again for the rest of the season. Once Lucas was gone, Janine disappeared pretty quickly as well.

Christina, Pete Russo’s former girlfriend, suffered a similar fate. Again, I’m not sure her character would have had much to do with this season’s story, but she was a major player last season that saw a significant decrease in screentime.

But the show couldn’t just be about Frank and Claire, so a few characters’ roles were heavily expanded and we got a few new ones as well. Frank’s Chief of Staff Doug, Pete Russo’s hooker Rachel, President Garrett Walker, and his long-time friend Raymond Tusk all got significantly more to do this year.

Doug spent the season pining after Rachel, who became romantically involved with a woman at her church while hiding from the public eye. While this storyline felt disconnected for most the season, it lead to some big developments in the last three episodes. Doug became a respectable human toward the end, allowing Rachel to live her life and becoming more willing to share the spotlight as Frank’s right-hand man. But then came his downfall. After a skirmish in the woods in the finale, Rachel killed Doug. Could this be how the true nature of Pete Russo’s death comes to light? I’m sure Doug’s death will have a significant impact on season three, but if the show is to maintain its realism, perhaps it should refrain from killing major characters next season. Three series regulars were offed in the first two seasons of a show about American politics. This isn’t Game of Thrones.

Meanwhile, the political love-triangle between Frank, Tusk, and the president was a highlight of the season. Michael Gill did remarkable work as President Walker, making him the most redeemable character of the bunch, besides maybe his wife. Tusk served as the villain of the season (well, besides Frank), almost outdoing the Vice President every step of the way.

Then there was Jackie, Frank’s pawn and successor as House Majority Whip. She starts off naive and innocent, but slowly becomes corrupted by the people around her. By the end of the season she has various politicians warning her not to become Frank Underwood. It’ll be great to see where she lands with the new administration in season three.

The major shift in the cast is really what separates season one from two of House of Cards. Aside from the Underwoods, we essentially got an overhaul of who is and is no longer important. Quite a difficult task to pull off in a single season. The show hit a few bumps along the way, with certain characters just disappearing never to be seen again (until next year?), but for the most part, the new faces were a success.

But what kept the season consistently entertaining was Frank and Claire Underwood. It was hard to go most of this review without talking about them, but when discussing this season from a critical standpoint, there is no way they could be the focus.

However, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright continued their outstanding portrayals of these characters, with the latter giving us some of the best work of her career. Frank and Claire were consistently a joy to watch all thirteen episodes as they clawed for more power as carefully and as elegantly as they could.

The best scene of the season came when Claire went on CNN alone and unveiled her sexual assault to the public. A lesser show would have Frank argue with his wife about her public image, but the show was also consistent with the healthy relationship these two have, possibly the healthiest of any married couple on television. Always by each others’ side but not afraid to be their own individuals, it’s frightening to see such terrible people navigate an unconventional relationship, such as theirs, so flawlessly. It’s what makes them endearing; Frank and Claire are as kind to each other as all couples wish they could be. Their honesty with each other gives them freedom, trust, and, therefore, love.

Now they are Mr. and Mrs. President. President Walker’s impeachment gave way for Frank to have everything he’s ever wanted, but was it too soon? After just two seasons our main character has reached his goal. While it certainly led to a rollercoaster of a sophomore year, is the future of House of Cards a bright one? Only time will tell. But as good as this season was, the show could have ended here, which worries me for future season. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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