Review: The Underwoods Continue Their Rise to Power in Season 2 of ‘House of Cards’

By February 28, 2014
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You know that old cliché about how “power corrupts?” It’s widely accepted that it’s only after someone, perhaps once virtuous, obtains that power that they finally start to be corrupted by its influence. Nobody seemed to have told Vice President Frank Underwood, since his corruption and lust for even greater power is the very thing that got him to a position that is, as he put it, “one heartbeat away from the presidency and not a single vote cast in my name. Democracy is so overrated.”

After realizing what position Frank is in, and the kinds of plots he’ll get up to hatching over the course of the second season of this stellar series, we’re barely used to the new status quo before the first episode fundamentally changes it even more.

That’s a hell of a “welcome back,” Frank.

“House of Cards” season 2 picks up immediately after the end of the first season, and is all about Frank Underwood’s rise to the vice presidency, and how he exerts himself in his new position. Of course, anyone who’s at least a little bit familiar with the character should realize that his aspirations don’t end at his new position. No, he’s got his eyes on a bigger prize, and with some of the things he’s gotten up to in both the first season and in this new one, the ability of this driven man to get the kind of power he wants most should be downright unsettling.

Beyond Frank’s own story and his desire to play fellow politicians like puppets toward his larger goal, season 2 seems to have an even greater emphasis on certain subplots. Frank’s chief of staff, Doug Stamper (played by Michael Kelly), has his hands immensely full this season with making sure that the one loose end of his and his employer’s plot against Peter Russo – former prostitute Rachel Posner (played by Rachel Brosnahan) – is kept quiet and at least somewhat content. This is complicated by Doug’s burgeoning feelings for her that he strongly tries to bury. The act of hiding those feelings often causes him to hurt Rachel emotionally, which tends to drive her further away from him until things culminate…messily.

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Frank’s perhaps more calculating other half — I can’t say better half because she might, in fact, be worse than her husband — Claire (played by Robin Wright) has a lot to do in the second season given her new position as Second Lady of the United States, and in some ways is even more active than Frank himself in forwarding his own goals. I’d say that the most severely bone-chilling moments this season come from Claire, which mostly stems from her unflinching resolve and willingness to do things that most people would absolutely find reprehensible.

By virtue of Frank’s new job, we get to learn more about President Garrett Walker (played by Michael Gill), and his wife Patricia (played by Joanna Going). The Walkers largely seem like good people, and while there are moments where you can easily see why Garrett ascended to the presidency in this version of Washington, D.C., most of his character moments revolve around him doing his best to make the most out of difficult situations and circumstances. A fatal mistake that the president makes is, unsurprisingly, placing any trust in Frank – a mistake that he comes to realize, at least partially, in the latter half of the season.

I would love nothing more than to divulge more about the intrigue and mystery surrounding the players in the press, particularly Lucas Goodwin (played by Sebastian Arcelus), Janine Skorsky (played by Constance Zimmer), and of course, Zoe Barnes (played by Kate Mara). I think going into too much detail would be a spoilerific mistake that I don’t want to ruin the experience for people that haven’t yet had a chance to watch the season, but suffice it to say that there is a lot there, and powerful people have a distinct interest in making sure that the things they know don’t get out.

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New characters are, of course, a part of the series, as are new revelations about the characters we already know about. Gavin Orsay (played by Jimmi Simpson), a former computer hacker who seems to be very interested in the press crew’s theories surrounding the death of Peter Russo, enters the fray and quickly becomes an important player in the overall plot, even though Frank has never seen nor heard of him. Jackie Sharp (played by Molly Walker) is a congressional representative tapped by Frank to succeed him as the Majority Whip in Congress, and quickly makes a splash as one of the more cunning allies and opponents of “Team Underwood.”

From a creative perspective, the plot for the second season of this show is very ambitious, and just as layered and complex as you have come to expect. Some severe stunts done for shock value never manage to derail the overall narrative aim for the season, which is a testament to the strength of the writing. Showrunner Beau Willimon seems to have the events of the series impeccably planned, and the true beneficiary of that is the audience.

If you found yourself disliking season 1 of the show, I don’t really think that you’ll find anything to like in season 2. Many of the same character focuses and somewhat cynical political bent still manage to permeate the feel of the new season. If you found yourself enthralled by that first season’s plot and characters, though, than season 2 is definitely worth your time, and will likely give you something to think a lot about as we wait another year for season 3.

“House of Cards” season 2 is all-at-once enthralling, thrilling, frightening, and cautionary. While most people will never have the opportunities to grab power quite like Mr. Underwood, we can see that such attitudes are potentially rewarding, but also horribly dehumanizing. It’s a story that needs to be seen to be believed, and you may even find yourself hating the fact that the man you’ll likely be rooting for, as much as you may despise his actions, is still a man who unquestionably gets things done, unlike a lot of real politicians.

The entire tenor of season 2 is brilliantly summed up by Frank himself, as he leaves us during this season’s premiere: “There is but one rule: hunt, or be hunted.”

“Welcome back.”

4.5/5

Both seasons of “House of Cards” are available on Netflix Watch Instantly right now.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.
  • This show is so good. Afraid to even watch the British version cuz I dont wanna be bored.