Our coverage of House Of Cards‘ second season continues with episodes two and three. In these episodes: Claire (Robin Wright) makes a shocking confession, conflicts rise as the Whip race heats up, Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) enters the ‘Deep Net’ and Francis (Kevin Spacey) takes control of Congress.
Let’s bitch it out…2×02: ‘Chapter Fifteen’
The brakes come on fairly strongly in the follow-up to the season opener. This can only be expected – after all, how can the follow-up to a major character’s death be anything less than a breather? As it stands, the metaphorical re-building (ie: what will become of House Of Cards?) is nicely literalized as the Underwood townhouse undergoes major construction in time for Francis’ swearing in as VP. It’s clear that this new position will take some getting used to, so that even as Francis adjusts to filling in on events that the President (Michael Gill) can’t attend, Francis refuses to give up his behind the scenes power. That means going head to head for the first time this season with Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), who’s trying to manipulate the President to protect his interests in China. Naturally Francis can’t resist wading into the fray – using Secretary of State Durant (Jayne Atkinson) as his human shield – to stir up a maelstrom.
At this point I don’t care much about the cyber-attack issue. It feels more like an excuse to have Francis butt heads again with Tusk, as well as expose stupid Herald reporter Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) to the opportunities of the “Deep Net” to hack Francis’ phone. Had I known that Zoe’s murder last episode would mean more time for Lucas, I would have been much less excited by the idea of her death. At least with Zoe there was potential to tell interesting stories. With Lucas all I feel is dread – I don’t want to spend eleven more episodes with this guy.
Taking Zoe’s role as “ambitious female” on the series is Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) who gets a substantial bump in screentime as she battles to secure the position of Whip. The outcome is a little predictable (even Francis seems exasperated at how simple the solution is), but her ability to leak damaging info about her mentor Ted proves that Jackie isn’t afraid to draw blood. Welcome to the club, Francis-Junior!
That leaves Claire who gets a more personal than usual storyline. When Francis is required to attend a medal ceremony for two Generals, it’s revealed that Claire was raped by one of the recipients. I found this storyline tough to swallow because it’s so random. I can’t say that I’m surprised that there’s trauma in Claire’s past (without judgment: this feels like an explanation for her relationship issues). I just wish that this has of been introduced with a little more groundwork (should we assume that this was one of the three abortions she mentioned in ‘Chapter Fourteen’?). Critiques aside, Wright sells the material like nobody’s business, particularly her soliloquy to Francis about how she punishes the Claire in her memory as a self-preservation technique. It’s meaty, Emmy-nomination worthy material. I just hope that this builds to something because as a one-off it doesn’t really work for me.
- Francis (to us at the swearing-in ceremony): “One heartbeat away from the presidency and not a single vote cast in my name. Democracy is so overrated.”
- Claire (describing how she strangles the memory of her rape): “I have to. We have to. The alternative is unlivable.”
- Francis (urging the President to side with Cathy): “They respect you more when you show strength.”
2×03: ‘Chapter Sixteen’
After ceding the limelight last episode in order to allow some other storylines to develop, Francis takes full control of ‘Chapter Sixteen.’ I imagine that anyone who doesn’t enjoy House Of Cards‘ predilection to let Francis run ragged over his opponents had qualms about this episode, but I’ll confess that I enjoy seeing him take his opponents down. The opponents in this case are Republicans who flip-flop on an agreement to increase the retirement age, but in reality these guys are less sport than bowling pins once Francis starts maneuvering them. It’s amusing to watch him lead Congress like a conductor, using the Sergeant at Arms to round up absent Senators in order to reach a quorum and get the results he needs. As Francis reminds us during the President’s State of the Union address, however, the bill has a long to go before it passes through the House. Guess we know what this year’s “Education Bill” is…
- Claire spends the episode vetting a PR guy named Connor Ellis (Sam Page), who proves his moxie by tracking down old footage of the Underwood’s first interview (wish we could see it!). Not much to go on, but Connor has a similar vibe to Meechum – he’s someone who will get along well with the new VP and his wife so long as he minds his step.
- Fashion side note: Wright’s new haircut isn’t good. Hopefully it’ll grow in by next episode.
- Poor sad Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan) is befriended by Lisa (Kate Lyn Sheil), a member of Winter’s Run Fellowship. The question is whether the group is nefarious (as Michael Kelly’s Stamper infers all people who contact Rachel are), or does the group offer insight about Rachel’s isolation since she got involved with Russo last season?
- Can’t say I’m excited by Jackie’s development in this episode as she gets guilt-tripped by the nanny of Ted’s disabled daughter and then submits to a masochistic tattoo in penance. Does she fill in a rose each time she does something she regrets? If so, she might want to ensure her entire lower back is available – she might need it by the end of the season!
- Lucas continues to go down the rabbit hole. Now that he’s well and truly alone after being rebuffed by Janine (Constance Zimmer), he gets sucked into a “test your mettle” initiation by a mysterious figure (Jimmi Simpson). Problem is the guy seems like a conspiracy nut who has problems with authority.
- Finally, Claire notices that Kristina (Kristen Connolly) is getting close to the President and she plants an idea in Francis’ mind. Expect this seed to germinate into some kind of terrible plan later this season.
- Francis (when Trusk lies that he covered for Francis with the President): “I don’t blame you for being two-faced Raymond – it’s politics. As long as you don’t get caught at it.”
Your turn: what did you think of the way Claire’s rape was introduced? Are you surprised that Jackie is cold and ruthless? Are you excited to see more of Lucas now that he’s inherited Zoe’s intrepid reporter role? Do you enjoy watching Francis play people or do you want him to meet his match? Finally, should Kristina watch her back? Speculate away below.
- *Please Note: Since all of season two of House Of Cards is available on Netflix, please refrain from including spoilers from future episodes in your comments.
Our continuing coverage of House Of Cards continues Tuesday with episode four, ‘Chapter Seventeen’. See you in a few days.