There are few series out there that almost demand one watch as many episodes in a row as possible. Netflix’s political drama, House of Cards, is one of them. Like other programs produced by web-based services (Netflix, Amazon) these series do not release episodes on a weekly schedule, but all at once as an entire season. And when they are as compelling as season two of House of Cards, its damned hard to turn your eyes away and look at something else until you’re done.
House of Cards follows the personal and political machinations of Washington, DC power couple Frank and Claire Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. At the start of the series Frank is an ambitious Congressman from South Carolina. Although he holds a very powerful position in the House Leadership as Majority Whip, he feels slighted by the new President’s failure to appoint him as Secretary of State, a position that would have served both his and his wife’s ambitions. Franks spends the remainder of Season One manipulating his way into the vice-presidency.
Although not every episode of the first season was as compelling as the overall series, episode one of season two hits the ground running. I spent half the episode convinced that Claire was the more ruthless half of the Underwood couple; until Frank did something so shocking and unexpected that I thought at first it must be a dream sequence. Sure it was an inevitable action, considering everything Frank had done in the past, but was so unexpected in time and manner as to be truly shocking, something rare in television.
For the remainder of the season Frank and Claire continue their manipulations of people and events, advancing their own ambitions and dealing with the setbacks and obstacles that continue to get in their way. Frank’s efforts to undermine Raymond Tusk’s (Gerald McRaney) influence over President Walker (Michel Gill) results in a trade war with China and an energy crisis, both events that ultimately benefit Frank’s pursuit of power.
A strong cast portrays the supporting characters, some of who fall victim to the Underwood’s ambitions and others who benefit from them. I’m not sure if the Rachel Posner subplot (the call girl who was involved with Rep. Peter Russo in season one) was more than just pointless filler, although the resolution of that story involved Frank’s Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) in a way that will definitely have an impact on season three. And given where this season ended, there has to be a season three. House of Cards is possibly the best TV show not on television.