Our marathon coverage of House Of Cards begins with the second season premiere. In this episode: the Underwoods clean up their S1 messes as the series returns to increased stakes.
Let’s bitch it out…With the Olympic coverage dominating the TV schedule, let’s do a week long sprint and indulge in some scenery chewing, some high end backstabbing and some fashion policing of Robyn Wright’s fantastic wardrobe.
It took me a lot of time to make my way through S1 of House Of Cards because I have a deep affectionate for the British original. As I was catching up in anticipation of the new season, it occurred to me that the US version has taken a much more slow-paced route to reach many of the same conclusions as the UK original. In some cases this has provided much needed back story and a more even pace, but more often than not, stretching content out over 13 episodes has not necessarily been for the better. There’s a lot of juicy stuff in the first season, but at times there’s a lot of filler, too.
It’s good then, that this second season is off to a more energetic start as both Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) clear away some of the dirty laundry they accrued last year. First on the chopping block: Claire gets rid of her boring not-for-profit as well as Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt) in one move. Francis, meanwhile, secures his VP nomination and takes homicidal care of Zoe (Kate Mara).
Zoe’s death is apt to be another major talking point for the series. When Francis killed Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) last season, it was a make or break moment for a number of viewers. Before that moment, it was easy to root for Francis as he crushed idiots and egomaniacs executing his plan to gain the Vice-Presidential nomination. In killing Peter, Francis not only became a cold-blooded killer, he exposed a significant weakness in the narrative: the failure of Russo’s campaign was suddenly ret-conned as the intended outcome of the plan. In truth the plotting is there, but it’s not very clear or overt, which makes Francis’ happiness over Russo’s flame-out feel like it has come out of left field. Plus Stoll was the most empathetic character, so his sudden death left a void in a series filled with snakes and rats.
I predict Zoe’s death will be less contentious because it feels more inevitable. Peter could have faded into the background following his failed redemption arc, but Zoe was never going to go away quietly. Her discussion with Francis in the subway immediately before her death makes this clear: despite deleting his contacts, it’s obvious that she’ll never stop digging into Peter’s murder. Plus at this point the groundwork for her death has already been laid: when Francis goes to Freddy’s (Reg E. Cathey) their entire conversation about killing pigs is barely concealed foreshadowing. The only reason Zoe’s fatal plunge carries any weight is because Mara was such a prominent figure in the first season.
Having done away with her House Of Cards is more or less on pace with its British predecessor. By the end of the first series UK Francis (Ian Richardson) had killed his lover and assumed power and our Frank has now done the same. Where he and Netflix’s House Of Cards go next remains to be seen…
- I admit that I laughed at the conspiracy thriller-esque staging and costuming when Zoe and Francis have their clandestine meeting at Cathedral Heights. I’m unsure if we’re meant to be lulled into a false sense of security in order to maximize the impact of her death, but it struck me as a little comical.
- Side Note: Anyone else expect the episode to end with Zoe’s death? It feels like a climax, which left the remaining time a little deflated.
- Best shot of the episode: the film noir lighting when Stamper (Michael Kelly) tells Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan) to pack her bags. She’s framed in slivers of light from the kitchen while he remains completely engulfed in darkness – a looming threat. I’m quite intrigued by Stamper’s relationship with the former prostitute. With Zoe gone, the threat of exposure is greatly reduced, so it will be interesting to see how much Rachel figures in the second season. Are we meant to infer a possible romantic relationship between these two? The chemistry was certainly there in S1.
- New character introductions: Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) is Francis’ pick for Whip, as he’s back to manipulating things behind the scenes to get her nominated. I like that he selects her because of her “ruthless pragmatism”, which is his version of a compliment.
- Claire’s best outfit: The white number when she tells her lawyer she’s meeting Gillian in court. The bitch wears white well.
- Finally, Linda (Sakina Jaffrey) and President Walker (Michael Gill) sure are bland, aren’t they?
- Claire (when Francis discovers the cigarettes are gone): “I threw them out. You’re one year older on Tuesday and we can’t have a Vice-President who smokes.”
- Francis (to Zoe): “Don’t step out of the sunlight for no reason.” She should have seen the writing on the wall during this earlier conversation.
- Curtis Cook’s Terry (to Francis): “You’re never on the sidelines, Frank” I like it when others take note of Francis’ ambition. It reinforces that not everyone is blind to his ambition.
- Claire (to Gillian): “I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that’s what it takes.” Umm…wow.
That’s it for the premiere. What are your thoughts on Zoe’s death? Is Francis completely irredeemable? Is Claire going to pursue a pregnancy via that weird drug? What do you make of Jackie – is she a mini-Francis in the making? Could Linda and the President be more dish-water bland? Sound off below
- *Please Note: Since all episodes are now available on Netflix, please refrain from spoilers in the comments.
Our coverage of House Of Cards continues Sunday with episodes 2-3.