TV Review: ‘House of Cards’ – Season Two

House of Cards Season 2

Netflix drama begins second term holding a winning hand

The first season of “House of Cards” achieved the dual feat of instantly emerging as a first-rate drama while simultaneously being seriously overrated – riding the “Netflix reinvents TV” angle and juicy inside-the-Beltway bits to front-page coverage. No fools they, season two generally proceeds with more of the same, exhibiting a show with abundant strengths – foremost among them Kevin Spacey’s showy performance as an unscrupulous politician – but also underplayed weaknesses, including a continuing failure to present its scheming protagonist with equally matched foes. Dense and smart, “Cards” is still partially skating by on reputation – and for Netflix’s purposes, that’s good enough.

Netflix is understandably concerned about early reviews spoiling the fun (the show won’t premiere until Valentine’s Day), slapping a high-handed embargo and nondisclosure agreement on the first four episodes. Yet except for a few twists the series seamlessly picks up where it left off, so those gaga about Spacey’s Francis Underwood – the congressman who has wheedled his way to within a heartbeat of the presidency – will have every reason to feel that way again.

As usual, Underwood goes about the business of charming, cajoling and coercing those he must bend to his will, while this season’s cast includes a young congresswoman (Molly Parker) who’s no slouch in that department either. Meanwhile, Underwood’s efforts on issues like negotiating a sweeping budget deal – in the process bargaining over entitlement benefits – will certainly resonate among those with a taste for seeing Washington issues dramatized, albeit with much better-looking players.

Still, as shrewd and ruthless as Underwood is, it remains something of a drawback that almost nobody else in a town built on power seems particularly adept at recognizing this or combating him – including, it should be noted, the sitting president (Michael Gill), who also has a billionaire confidant (Gerald McRaney, reprising his first-season role) planting bugs in his ear. When McRaney’s character complains that the Commander in Chief is “easily manipulated” in a later episode, that almost doesn’t do his malleability justice.

Like the finest premium cable dramas, “House of Cards” does proceed along multiple tracks, with an interesting subplot (if not wholly convincing as it progresses) for Robin Wright as Underwood’s equally steely wife. There are also plenty of cameos by D.C. journalists, adding not just a patina of authenticity but also incentive for those outlets – no strangers to self-promotion – to provide the series exposure in venues beyond just the entertainment press.

Ultimately, though, as noted in the season one review, the notion of Washington being venal and corrupt doesn’t feel as edgy as “House of Cards” positions itself to be. Moreover, a cynic could question whether even a wheeler-dealer of Underwood’s stature could actually make headway in the current polarized political climate.

Stylistically, the early episodes (the first two are written by showrunner Beau Willimon and directed by Carl Franklin) play a bit with the show’s fourth-wall-breaking direct-to-camera device, which was one of those tics inherited from the original U.K. series that worked fitfully at best – and wound up being used with less frequency as season one went on.

In short, the show remains an intriguing mixed bag – albeit one that has already yielded ample dividends to its distributor in terms of publicity and, when paired with subsequent offerings like “Orange in the New Black,” establishing Netflix’s credibility as another premium TV service.

Like its fictional pol, Netflix also managed to achieve all that while largely keeping its cards close to the vest in regard to the show’s popular vote count. In D.C. or TV terms, that’s what you call a winning ticket.

TV Review: 'House of Cards' - Season Two

(Series; Netflix, Fri. Feb. 14)

Production

Filmed in Baltimore by Triggerstreet Prods. and Wade/Davis Prods. in association with Media Rights Capital.

Crew

Executive producers, Beau Willimon, Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, David Fincher, Josh Donen, Eric Roth, Andrew Davies, Michael Dobbs, David Manson; co-executive producer, John Mankiewicz; producer, Iain Paterson; director, Carl Franklin; writer, Willimon; based on the novel by Dobbs and the miniseries by Davies; camera, Igor Martinovic; production designer, Steve Arnold; editor, Byron Smith; music, Jeff Beal; casting, Laray Mayfield, Julie Schubert. 60 MIN.

Cast

Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Michael Kelly, Sakina Jaffrey, Kristen Connolly, Sebastian Arcelus, Michael Gill, Molly Parker, Nathan Darrow

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  1. In Season 2 of House of Cards, the sudden murder of Zoe Barnes provides shock-value but is so poorly executed it undermines the believablity of the murder and, coming so early in Episode I, does not bode well for what Season 2 will looklike. Both the staging of the murder and the shooting of it are poorly thought out. Somebody was in a hurry or forgot to put his thinking cap on. Maybe the creators of House of Cards don’t ride the subway, where the scene takes place. That is the first error. Zoe had the option to choose her meeting place with Underwood. Why a subway platform? She finds him hiding behid a propped up barrier at the end of the platform; they talk and lock horns. He pretends to start walking away, behind the barrier and she takes the bait and trots after him, slipping out of sight. She doesn’t mererly take a few, tentative steps, she follows his stride five to ten feet at a quick pace as he babbles away. The camera angle reverses and, without even backing up to charge, Underwood flings Zoe ine “one fell swoop” 15 feet in front of the face of a train. Sure it’s a shock, but not so shocking that it disguises the basic lack of plausibility in staging. With just one push of his hands this pot-bellied, middle aged man flings a girl in a straight arrow through the air without help? What is he, a human wind machine or a trained assassine? No. He’s a strategist, schemer and clever manipulator. This scene must have been written when damage control was being performed on another part of Series 2. Nothing was put into it. Zoe deserved a more well orchestrated demise, something beautifully carried out like the murder of Peter Russo in Season I. A delightfully confusing mix of basic goodness, mischief, ambition and great looks, Zoe and Claire Underwood were placed in juxtaposition in Season I to great affect that made you think about the similarities and difference of each type of woman’s life. Zoe deserved to exit the show after putting up a real struggle and shaking Underwood to the roots of his toes in spite of his superior capabilities–the voice of misguided youth vs. the voice of experience. Having her crushed like an ant–and in a scene so poorly staged and executed did not do Ms. Barnes justice. She will not be forgotten. One when one gets tired of looking at a statuesque blond one misses her tiny, nervous, genuine beautiful counterpart. Here’s to you, Zoe, oh mischief maker!

    • Jay says:

      Janet, I agree with your comments about this poor execution. Also think about a police investigation in a suicide like this. They will check the victims cell phone records to better understand the situation. Erasing a text or call log doesn’t mean that the record it’s erase from the wireless carrier network. In a real investigation, the detectives in the case would have taken a look at the call and text logs. I still enjoy the series, but this poorly executed situations devalue the series as a whole.

  2. I can’t wait for the new season to start!!!

  3. FrankyU says:

    I can’t wait for the new season

  4. Mark says:

    What kind of review is this? There’s literally no criticism, positive or negative, to it. Did this person actually see the new season?

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