Note: This post is largely for people who made it to the end of Season Two of House of Cards over the weekend. Meaning: It is replete with spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk.
There are people who have a lot of self-discipline, personal drive, and restraint. And then there are those of us who spent the entire weekend on our couches walking the second season of House of Cards. Netflix got super-lucky this weekend — the weather in much of the Northeast was bad, giving people not just opportunity but motive to spend an entire weekend watching the slow rise to ultimate power of Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his scary, conniving but conflicted wife Claire (Robin Wright).
I’ve said this before, but I think one key to enjoying House of Cards is simply to accept that it has no deeper meaning or morality. That makes it an odd thing to analyze, because when someone tries to suggest that “American politics needs a Frank,” you are left wondering if they’re aware that they have just recommended a power-hungry sociopathic cartoon villain for public office. This is trash television, and that’s not an insult. I have great affection for good trash. And House of Cards, cynical though it is, is excellent trash much of the time. It keeps you on the edge of your seat with the suspicion that just about anything could happen. And this season they really went right for the insane, unbelievable drama that has become the Scandal stock-in-trade. Personally, I prefer this languid pace to Scandal‘s, though of course your mileage may vary on that.
Here are the things I longed to talk about on social media, but could not, because today people are so churlish about spoilers:
1. First things first: oh god, that moment late in Chapter 14 when Francis unceremoniously shoves Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) into the path of an oncoming train. Those of you, like me, who watched the British version years ago suspected this was coming; death came to the analogous character at the end of the first series. That said, I think the moment is still well-executed because you don’t quite see it coming. You think they’re just re-establishing some basis on which Zoe and Frank can work together for another season and then, bam. Off she goes. The slow-mo recreation a cop later shows Lucas, complete with blood spatters, is quite something.
2. Janine Skorsky backs down mighty quickly once Zoe bites it, gotta say. While it was certainly understandable that she’d find the murder unsettling, assuming she wasn’t herself planning to meet Underwood in some dark and dank area — the fatal flaw in Zoe’s own plan — there was little real risk here. I mean, Frank and company never manage to actually murder Lucas. Just, you know, throw him in jail. With Janine’s help, which also felt suspiciously timid coming from a woman who fought pretty hard to come back from the professional dead next season.
3. Doug Stamper’s strange obsession with Rachel was certainly compelling if also a bit dramatically vague. I mean sure, her haunted-eyeliner eyes had a certain depth to them, but she was so hostile to him from the beginning. Perhaps he just liked to be fought. And, uh, read to. Still, there was another death I never properly saw coming. Although one wonders how far Rachel could possibly get in that fancy-looking car.
4. Oh right, the whole Underwood-usurps-the-President thing. Well, here’s the thing: I actually think the Presidential set-up was a bit weak, in terms of dramatic construction. Garrett Walker was about the worst tactician I ever saw, gullible and credulous to the last. (Also his wife, the poor-woman’s-Mellie-Grant, is frankly unbelievably stupid and simpering.) And, yes, of course this whole show has to present Francis as a kind of strategic mastermind. But it would be better if the show gave him some opponents worthy of the name. Even Gerald McRaney’s Raymond Tusk has never seemed quite up to outwitting Francis. I have no idea who they’re going to find to do the good work in Season Three, but I’d really like to see someone up to tangoing with Francis, for a change.
5. Molly Parker! Molly Parker! Molly Parker! I love this actress so. I’m sad my hopes at the beginning, when I thought she might evolve into the opponent Underwood needs, were not realized. Although she did manage to do an end-run around Claire on the military sexual assault bill, she otherwise mostly submitted to the Underwoods in ways that didn’t always feel… as organic as they could have been. Even considering the trashy-John-Grisham-beach-read feel of this whole thing. I hope they let this character really grow into some ruthlessness. And have her forgive totally hot Rémy.
6. Claire was as wonderfully confused a character as ever. I think all credit goes to Robin Wright for knitting a credible character from this bizarrely written role. It requires her on the one hand to go moony-eyed at the sound of Adam Galloway’s voice on the phone, and then in the next moment completely screw him over by trapping him in a lie with the media. And even when she appears to be acting out of altruism, as in her support for the young assault victim who comes forward against that general, her unpredictability means you wonder what the second agenda is.
7. I really hope Freddy the ribs guy gets his own spinoff.