February 20, 2014

House of Cards: Season 2 Review

          Despite many of the show’s viewers being oblivious to the fact, Netflix’s flagship series, House of Cards, is a remake.  The original British series was a fantastic piece of television, and despite the first season of the Netflix version trying as hard as it could to get out of the original’s shadow it ultimately couldn’t.  Sure, David Fincher’s style added something unique to the American remake, but the plot ultimately didn’t have much to offer that the original already hadn’t given us.  Other than a premiere that tidied up plotlines that limped to a halt last season, season two of House of Cards finally got out of the shadow of its predecessor.  What we as viewers ultimately get is an entertaining series that gets so close to greatness that its problems become all the more apparent.

            The second season of House of Cards picks up with Frank (Kevin Spacey) entering his role as Vice-President.  With a higher position in the government comes much more enemies including the journalist trio of Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), Janine (Constance Zimmer) and Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) and businessman Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney).  Beau Willimon continues as showrunner while James Foley leads the directing team.

            The first season of House of Cards ran into trouble when it slowly became a much safer version of the original House of Cards until it realized the political system in the United States wouldn’t allow for a plausible conclusion in the same vein of the original.  It still went ahead with that conclusion anyway.  In season two, however, House of Cards gets into uncharted territory due to the same real life constraints that hindered the show in the first season.  Due to this, the second season feels a lot fresher.  That being said this season wasn’t without its problems.  Plotlines such as one dealing with China go on for too long, scenes such as a ménage a trios sequence are extremely cheesy, and the handling of characters such as Kristen Connolly’s Christina Gallagher is piss-poor at best.

            The series’ cast is still as strong as ever.  At this point Kevin Spacey is delivering an iconic performance as Frank Underwood.  Some may complain about this performance being a bit too hammy, but this is a role that requires the actor to take complete control of the screen.  Spacey does just that with incredible efficiency.  Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood finally becomes interesting as Wright finally gets material to chew on in the form of a sexual assault in the military storyline.  Returning cast members that also give good performances include Michael Kelly (with a more concentrated storyline as Frank’s Chief of Staff), Gerald McRaney (a perfect nemesis), Rachel Brosnahan (who almost steals the season as a former prostitute being controlled by Underwood’s staff), and Kate Mara (who becomes much more impactful with a reduced role).  Meanwhile, the highlight of the new cast is undoubtedly Molly Parker as the new House Whip.  Parker finally gets a role worthy of her talents and she delivers.

            House of Cards can get dangerously close to being a subpar soap opera at times, but it stays afloat with a standout cast and solid directing.


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