The best way to watch House of Cards, I think, is as a sort of pulpy, Brian DePalma sort of thriller that doesn’t have much meaning beyond its own plot twists and cliffhangers. If you try and read too much into the show, hoping it will tell you something interesting about gender or power, I think you’re expecting too much. It’s not that kind of television, and it shouldn’t have to be. Some television shows are Shakespearean; others more Gillian Flynn. We need both in the world!
To be fair, though: House of Cards‘ reliance only on the momentum of its own plot has an appeal all its own in these dog days of winter. It helps us forget the frozen daily commutes to work and the endless fighting on the internet. The show’s second season will appear on the internet, in its entirely, at midnight Pacific time, meaning 3AM tomorrow morning here on the East Coast. Here are three thorny plot questions we’re hoping they’ll resolve for us.
1. Is Zoe going to figure out that Peter Russo didn’t so much self-implode as get murdered?
In the last few episodes of season 1, Zoe was getting pretty close to figuring out that Underwood was behind Russo’s death. But she’s still in the realm of believing that Russo committed suicide and Frank just “drove” him to it. And you know, far be it from me to impose an intelligence level on a fictional character, but my sense is Zoe’s a little smarter and more curious than that. And also, cynical though she is, I think she’s ripe for disillusionment in this one area. My read on Zoe is that her toughness is both very genuine and a thing that a serious-enough discovery might eventually pierce. That’s what a smart writer would be going for, anyway.
2. Will being Vice President of the United States just free up Frank’s time for more scheming?
The last shots of Season 1 show Frank running off into the night with Claire, his Blackberry buzzing ominously in the background. Somehow, though, I don’t think Frank’s bid for the vice-presidency will actually be foiled. Because the only way it could be is by bringing him down altogether, with the whole house of cards (see what I did there?), and I don’t think they will do that and jeopardize future seasons. (Season 3 is already in the works.)
But look, I’ve seen The West Wing: the vice-presidency isn’t real power, in the Hollywood-depictions-of-Washington schematic. It’s a way station, and one that involves far more ceremonial duties than actual power. Frank knows that, too, of course.
3. Is Claire going to get pregnant? Is she going to tell Frank before she does so? And why?
Claire went to see that fertility specialist to obtain advice on getting pregnant, but then chickened out on telling Frank about it directly. I choose to believe that’s because she’s about to trick him into late fatherhood. It’s hard to see why she would really want to, though.
Claire is this show’s one attempt at psychological depth; it’s clear her environmental/development charity isn’t totally insincere. (The entire interlude with the artist was designed to show us this, I think.) It’s also clear that she knows she has to play realpolitik and doesn’t exactly mind it, always. So she must be thinking about having a kid in terms of how it might upset the power balance between herself and Frank.