By Lane Roberts
When Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) taught us about the two kinds of pain, “the sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain … that is only suffering,” I’d like to think he’d include waiting an entire year for the second season of House of Cards in the latter category.
Like Francis, I have no patience and, considering its 25 award nominations (seven of which were for “Best Drama Series”), I imagine the rest of the world doesn’t either. But before you exact your revenge on Netflix, à la Congressman Underwood, be patient. All of season two will be available for streaming this Valentine’s Day.
Netflix’s first attempt at original programming was a huge success last February, winning over viewers and critics with its sharp writing and deliciously conniving cast of characters. It also introduced an audience with a pre-established need for instant gratification to a new outlet for their compulsions. Indeed, the first season is almost 13 hours of perfect binge-watching material and, though finals are quickly approaching, I would gladly encourage anyone looking to procrastinate to indulge in the twisted and compelling world co-creater and writer Beau Willimon (The Ides of March) has constructed.
Season one introduces us to the high-stakes world of politics in Washington, D.C., and the news outlets that report on it. The two worlds are intertwined when the congressman forms an alliance with Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), a rookie news reporter for the Washington Herald who is desperate to cover politics despite her editors’ desire to put her through the paces at the newspaper before trusting her with any hard-hitting journalism.
The first season focuses on the political power plays of House Majority Whip Francis Underwood, who was essential in getting President Garret Walker (Michael Gill) elected and landing Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) the Chief of Staff job. For his efforts, Francis is promised access and the policy changes he wants as he reaches for his ultimate goal, Secretary of State.
However, after the inauguration, the new administration reneges on its promises, leaving Frank bitterly disappointed and seeking retribution. Frank’s revenge unfolds over the rest of the season as he gleefully manipulates everyone around him, proving that he is not one to be messed with. By his side is his equally conniving wife, Claire (Robin Wright), who is part ice-queen, part loyal partner and who, if only for her own benefit, keeps Frank focused on his goals. Together, they make a power-hungry, fearsome team, the likes of which can, and very may well, take over Washington.
One of the more risky aspects of the show is Willimon’s decision to break the fourth wall, having Frank speak directly into the camera to the audience. What could have been a stylistic disaster ends up being one of the best features of the show. The end result is almost an uncomfortable familiarity with Frank, like we are secretly in on and supportive of Frank’s often cold-blooded schemes. Frank frequently uses these moments to express disgust or disdain about the gullibility or predictability of those around him. Like a master puppeteer, he is five moves ahead of everyone else, controlling them with a flick of his wrist.
Add in Frank’s drawling, seductive Southern accent (perfected by Spacey), and you have some of the most well-written and funny moments of the show.
With House of Cards, Netflix has truly made the consumer king. Watch at whatever pace you’d like, but do so immediately. You won’t want to miss Frank’s next move.