THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!
House of Cards has been back on Showtime for the past three weeks now. It isn’t surprising that House of Cards Season 2 has returned to match the same drama and suspense as the previous season. What is surprising is the turn of events so far.
For those who haven’t had a chance yet, and need a refresher course, the summary is deadly simple. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) remains to be a not very nice guy. In the last season he kills Peter Russo and makes it look like a suicide, all to get one step closer to the White House. Meanwhile, his wife Claire, played by the stoic but elegant Robin Wright, is having her own problems trying to line up all her pieces at her environmental company. Besides the affair with her photographer ex-lover she continues to gain complexities in Season 2. It’s Zoe Barnes, the political journalist and latest little meal for Frank Underwood who drives the plot. Underwood, in Season 2, describes her as a kitten that has grown up and shown her claws.
“Chapter 14” sets the scene for this season but otherwise doesn’t progress much further than a set-up. It’s Frank Underwood’s birthday, which means “no gifts, no celebrations”. Russo’s “suicide” is still a hot topic on everyone’s mind at the moment. Russo’s ex, Christina, has made herself a neat nest very close to the president. Zoe Barnes, the little journalist who lost her way, continues to work hard and is involved with her once colleague/now chief editor Lucas. Doug Stamper, who can only be best described, as Frank Underwood’s henchman is haunting when he has to remove Rachel, the call girl who knows about Russo’s death. When she refuses to leave, his silhouette in the hallway makes him appear as an anonymous black shadow. And that is exactly what he needs to and always will be as long as Frank can have his way.
When I said this first chapter for Season 2 does nothing more than set up the season, I lied. Zoe Barnes, played by Kate Mara, is getting closer to the truth. In a park side meeting Underwood tells her “Let’s start this new chapter with a clean slate, now you sleep on that.” It feels as if he is referring to us, the viewers. He touches her chin tenderly and what we don’t realise at the time is what exactly passes over his eyes.
The next time they meet, Zoe continues to press for the truth. The police report of Russo’s death acknowledges he was in the passenger side. Before Zoe can get any closer Underwood pushes her under a train. That’s right, our main character gets axed in the first episode. Frank Underwood throws a woman under a train and then he goes to his birthday dinner. In an almost holy-like moment Claire presents a small cake with a single candle, no other light illuminates the room. Frank snuffs the single flame out with his fingertips and before going to bed breaks the fourth wall for the first time in this season. “Hunt or be hunted,” he says as if justifying snuffing another life.
In “Chapter 15” Frank Underwood is sworn in as Vice President and smiles at his plan coming together. The death of Zoe Barnes has scared some and shattered others. Lucas Goodwin, played by Sebastian Arcelus, will not rest until he can uncover the truth. This takes him down the virtual rabbit hole into the “deep web”. Though the deep web does exist it’s interesting how House of Cards explores this concept, but more on that later. Claire Underwood experiences her own kind of anguish when Frank Underwood has his first public event as Vice President. At a medal ceremony Claire confesses one of the soldiers raped her during her college years. It is startling to see Frank react with such upsetting and violent anger as opposed to his often composed and internalised emotions. Claire never uses the word “rape”. In fact, she uses very few words. It is Frank who does most of the talking. It isn’t until they are home, in bed, frustrated by the lack of solitude due to the security renovations going on at their home that Claire details a very startling but strangely peaceful retelling of what could only be her worst memory. This is, aforementioned, one of the examples of Claire Underwood’s stoic but intricately delicate character sharing more complexities. We can look forward to more of this in Season 2.
Despite this secret for Claire, Frank continues to maneuver his way through the dealings of the white house. He continues to secretly back a woman, Jacqueline Sharp, to replace him as House Majority Whip. Frank tells her he chose her because of her ruthless pragmatism. She proves that she has this when she needs to make a tough decision to axe a long time friend and his illegitimate daughter who suffers from cerebral palsy, all in order to get ahead. It will be interesting to see what she does in episodes to come.
In “Chapter 16” Lucas is continuing his search for the truth in deeper places. What he doesn’t know is that the government are tipped of his search. This episode is fast-paced like a Jason Bourne movie. Lucas is contacted by an anonymous source on the Deep Web. Shortly after, he is sent an iPad and given instructions by a strange, talking animation for what he must do to access phone records – the key to uncovering Zoe’s murder. Everything is arranged and he meets with a strange man who makes him swear his identity on videotape. Whether he is really a lone hacker who will help Lucas or a government-affiliated agent setting up Lucas is still yet to be determined.
Together they watch the live coverage of Underwood at a presidential event. The focus shifts and we hear from Frank Underwood once more. He makes an interesting parallel when he breaks the fourth wall and observes he used to be on the edge of the television screen, and now he is in the main frame. Viewers might recall in the very first pilot for this series, Underwood in a voice over says, “there’s me” just on the edge in amongst the crowd. It reminds the viewers of what he has done to successfully get where he is now.
House of Cards screens on Showtime in Australia.