One of the best shows on TV isn’t really on TV…
| Jay Benedict reporter |
“House of Cards” is a Netflix original series, meaning it’s only available via the streaming service. This also means Netflix dropped all 13 episodes of the second season simultaneously on Feb. 14. For those of you who haven’t binge-watched the entire season, I’ll do my best to keep spoilers out.
The first season was released to little fanfare, partly because it was one of Netflix’s first original series, and partly because another of their series, “Arrested Development,” was stealing most of the hype. “House of Cards” picked up over the next year, and this season is one of the most anticipated TV premieres of the year,
The plot follows Kevin Spacey’s Rep. Frank Underwood (D – SC) and his wife Claire’s (Robin Wright) ambitious rise from House whip to the executive branch. What that entails is a mix of “The West Wing” and “Game of Thrones:” part political drama and part cutthroat power struggle.
As season two begins, it picks up right where the previous left off.
When we first met Frank, literally in the first seconds of season one, he was strangling a dog that had been hit by a car and saying that sometimes you just have to do what has to be done, even if it does seem callous. He stuck with this through most of that season. He was a very good antihero. Frank values pragmatism, but as we learn more about him, we see that he only values it as long as it serves his end goal.
His actions at the end of season one transform him from anti hero to full-on villain, but we still root for him. That’s what makes this series different. We root for antiheroes because they have the same flaws that many of us do. Their motivations might be suspect, but they tend to do the right thing. That’s not Frank Underwood.
Season two starts with a shocker, keeps up the pace and ends with another one. We lose two main characters throughout the season, and have several more who leave the picture, but might not be truly gone. All the while, Frank makes his moves, sacrificing where he needs to. Everyone but Claire is fair game.
The fact that we root for Frank isn’t necessarily the problem. He’s a villain who’s also the protagonist. People root for protagonists, especially if they’re smart, charismatic and have an endearing Southern drawl; it’s just what we’re used to.
Claire fights for more virtuous causes, but ultimately follows Frank’s lead. In season two, she spins her own abortion story and a story about her sexual assault to take down a high-ranking military figure and draft anti-sexual assault legislation, but it’s really for her to save face.
The problem with “House of Cards” is that it really doesn’t give us a choice. Claire’s fortunes are tied to her husband’s, especially now, so she’s no threat. We’re introduced to Rep. Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker). She seems like she might have some teeth, but falls in line. It’s the same with Lucas Goodwin, Remy Danton, Raymond Tusk, Linda Vasquez and President Walker. Everyone who poses a threat is quickly undone by Frank’s web of lies, charisma and his ability to intimidate or call in favors.
The perception of Washington might not be great, but there are some smart people there. The fact that Frank is never confronted with a lasting adversary is a real detriment. He puts himself in the line of fire as his plans unfold and no one pulls the trigger on him.
Maybe it’s because, in spite of all his flaws and evil machinations, Frank still is likable, both by other characters and the audience. That’s why other characters help him and why the audience can’t help but root for him.
Season two of “House of Cards” gives us no other option than to root for the worst guy on the hill. It’s far-fetched at times, but it sure is fun to watch everything fall into place. Add this show to your instant queue or start your free trial. It’s definitely worth a watch.