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House of Cards - Season 2 Review - Above & Beyond

House of Cards
Season 2 Promotional Poster
On February 1, 2013, the first season of House of Cards was released, in its entirety, on Netflix. The series was groundbreaking in many ways, with praise in abundance for the way the season was released all at once so viewers had absolute control over when, where, and how they watched. In addition, the first season was very well received, with the incredibly high caliber of writing, directing, casting, and of course acting. House of Cards was the recipient of numerous awards and nominations, including the nomination for Outstanding Drama Series at the recent Emmy Awards, and wins for Outstanding Directing For A Drama Series, Outstanding Casting For A Drama Series, and Outstanding Cinematography For A Single-camera Series, and Robin Wright's Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Drama TV Series.

There is one downside in Netflix's unique delivery method - the enormous hiatus (if you can call it that) between seasons that come as a result of the inevitable binge-watching when all episodes are available to watch at once. With season 2 released on February 14, this makes for a 54 week break between seasons. This is pretty unique to Netflix and other online viewing platforms such as Amazon because traditional television networks don't have such long gaps between seasons. Instead they release each episode a week to a month apart, as I'm sure anyone who watches television is well aware.


Now that the formalities are out of the way, let's get down to business and look at season 2.


Being a serial drama, House of Cards kicks off right where the season 1 finale left off, with a long, 75 second opening scene showing Frank and Claire jogging together. In the final scene of the season 1 finale, the Underwoods had just left their home, with Stamper urgently trying to contact Frank, having found out that Christina Gallagher had been approached by Zoe Barnes in an attempt to extract information surrounding the suicide of her former boss and partner Peter Russo.



House Majority Whip Jacqueline Sharp
It's clear that the House of Cards creative team wanted to grow the number of storylines and diversify their characters, while increasing the intensity, stakes and tension too. The cast undergoes some major changes as a result, including the deaths of two of the main characters. In the season 2 premiere, Frank, now the incoming Vice President selects his replacement as House Majority Whip, in the form of Jacqueline Sharp. As always, Frank's moves must always benefit him in some form, and this comes to fruition when Frank needs leverage over Sharp further on in the season.

Other characters who was present in the first season but gained a much more significant role in the second season included industry giant and billionaire Raymond Tusk, who forms the trio of conspirators consisting of himself, President Garrett Walker, and Underwood. Former callgirl Rachel Posner, who was involved with Peter Russo in season 1, then hidden by Underwood's Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper, also underwent drastic changes to her circumstances, and Freddy Armstrong, Underwood's long time provider of scrumptious ribs, sold his business.



Zoe Barnes
The first death of a main character took me completely by surprise. There was absolutely nothing to suggest that Frank Underwood was planning on killing Zoe Barnes, given their previous affair, and their shared benefits from their professional relationship. This was a massive play by the creative team, because Barnes was used to promote the second season quite extensively, and she was set to have a significant role in providing a barrier between Underwood and his goal of becoming president.

Obviously the creative team wanted to demolish this storyline early on and bring in a higher level reporter who could focus on the major storyline featuring President Walker, Tusk, and Underwood. That higher level reporter was Ayla Sayyad. Using Barnes's death, the creative team was able to remove Janine Skorsky, who panicking and abandoned ship, and focus on Barnes's one time lover Lucas Goodwin, who was now the only one left who knew the truth, but appeared to everybody else to be grasping at straws. Goodwin tried to access phone records but got trapped in a honeypot set up by Gavin Orsay, a hacker under the thumb of the FBI, and a part of a completely new and somewhat mysterious storyline.



Doug Stamper lies dead
An equally shocking death of Underwood's Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper, occurred in the season finale, following an argument with his (some could say) mistress Rachel Posner, resulting in a brick to the head. Again this took me completely by surprise considering Stamper's physical advantage over Rachel - something that was demonstrated in season 1 and in a couple episodes in season 2. Again I take this as a signal from the creative team wanting to shake things up and create new story arcs, with this one, I would say, placing particular emphasis on how Frank will manage the presidency without his long-time right hand man. With no replacement in sight, early season 3 will be where we will learn Frank's next move.

The creative team were obviously determined to give even minor characters a more pronounced storyline in season 2, and none more so than Freddy. In season 1, his sole purpose was to provide a meal to Frank and a place for him to regularly address the audience. But in season 2, he decided to sell up thanks to significant promotion in the media. We even saw his son and grandson, and learned of his past which included a conviction for the killing of an elderly couple resulting from a high speed police pursuit. The number of television shows that take the time to create a back story and storyline for one dimensional characters could be counted on one hand, and this storyline further signals the intentions of the creative team to change things up. I'd be surprised at this point if we do see Freddy again in the series, which isn't something I expected to be thinking about at the conclusion of this season.



Remy Danton
Other minor arcs and character interactions grew into more complex beasts in season 2 as well. High profile lawyer and former Communications Director for Frank, Remy Danton had a busy time, notably his man in the middle act between Frank, Tusk, and even Jacqueline Sharp, with whom he had a brief romance. In the end the pressure mounted, and he had to surrender the control he thought he had over the three aforementioned acquaintances, and ensure his reputation wasn't destroyed.

In another example, Claire Underwood had to throw her long-time friend Adam Galloway under many buses in order to save her and her husband's reputation from being torn apart by a much more hungry media. Given their strength together in the first season, again, I didn't expect her to cast Galloway aside and let him suffer so much. Claire also gave up her position at her Clean Water Initiative charity in rather interesting circumstances. Her admission to being raped by an Army general rising through the ranks was also surprising, and the ensuing crusade involving the First Lady and another victim took up most of Claire's time in season 2.


We saw a lot more of Linda Vasquez and a lot less of Christina Gallagher than I expected this season. With Frank's rise to Vice President, Linda had a much tougher time standing her ground, and her resignation late in season 2 wasn't entirely unexpected, but along with Stamper's death, this could be to pave the way for Christina Gallagher to rise up the ranks and become Frank's new Chief of Staff.


The primary story arc of the season, involving Frank working to expose Raymond Tusk and his associates for siphoning money for political campaigns around was pretty complex and hard to understand at times. Coupled with the rapid development of other characters and storylines left me struggling to keep up at times. I'll no doubt have a better grasp of events and how they fit together when I watch the second season again in the coming week or so. However the investigation into the dodgy dealings between Tusk, Fang and Lennigan definitely had Frank very worried. But through taking a simple approach and targeting the weakest link - President Garrett Walker, he was able to win over the man who mattered most, and gently push him aside to ascend to the presidency.


Moving away from the characters and storylines, I want to mention the other important aspects of the second season.


I think a good place to begin is with the acting, and what I believe is the world's best television series cast.


With the increased workload on some of the minor characters, those actors had to step up. Rachel Brosnahan (Rachel Posner), Sebastian Arcelus (Lucas Goodwin), Nathan Darrow (Edward Meechum), Mahershala Ali (Remy Danton), Michael Gill (President Garrett Walker) and Gerald McRaney (Raymond Tusk) all did a fantastic job right throughout the season. For mostly supporting characters, it was great to see that none of them had a bad episode or were at any point unconvincing.


The lead cast, led by the incredible Kevin Spacey (Frank Underwood), Robin Wright (Claire Underwood) and Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper) all put in performances that I thought were better than the first season. The increased number of storylines and the intensity they brought allowed the main cast as well as the minors, to display a wider range of emotions. Frank Underwood was under threat of going to prison as well as battling a powerful conspiracy, Claire Underwood was worried about this, and had to stand up and fight for victims of rape, and Doug Stamper had to stay strong and focused, while mulling over his feelings for Rachel Posner. These types of storylines weren't present to the same degree in the first season.



Frank is interrogated by the Special Prosecutor

Also worthy of significant praise is the technical team, including camera, lighting, sound and editing. Numerous blockbuster movies simply aren't anywhere near the same caliber when it comes to these four aspects and how they are executed in House of Cards. Each and every camera angle is thoroughly thought out, and executed with perfect precision from the very beginning to the very end. This precision makes the series much easier on the eyes, because you know that what you need to see will be shown clearly and precisely. The emotions and expressions of the actors are expressed just as clearly. The camera is almost always moving, and many of these shots would have required hours of planning, setup, and execution. Most standard television shows simply don't have the time to go to such detail, but when a series such as House of Cards does, it really is something to admire, and it adds another dimension to the series. The way Frank Underwood addresses the audience through the fourth wall is not done regularly on any other television series, and along with the brilliance of Kevin Spacey, it is what I love and enjoy about the show the most.



Underwood walks down a Guard of Honor, where
an opera singer can be heard in the score
The musical score for House of Cards is also simply superb. Composer Jeff Beal has used many of the same techniques and types of soundtrack in the second season that he used in the first. The title sequence soundtrack has been refined to make it smoother and more sophisticated, and the soundtrack as a whole works to showcase power and intensity. The inclusion of an opera singer in the background of some of the score is a good example of this. The soundtrack for season 1 was released online for purchase, and I'm hoping the season 2 soundtrack is also released.

As with season 1, the writing and directing of the second season of House of Cards is the best in its class. Like the camera work, the thought that goes into the character dialog, and the minor details adds another dimension to the series. From the rowing machine and the window where Frank and Claire smoke, to the miniature Lincoln Memorial Statues that Frank unpacks when moving into his new office (which is how Frank is depicted in a lot of promotional posters), the details are all there. The marvelous one-liners Frank comes up with on many occasions(too many to name, I'm sure you're aware of a few) are often a good laugh, and well placed to shed a different angle on a situation.


In the powerful conclusion to the second season, like the beginning of the season, we have a long 70 second scene, this time featuring only Frank. He slowly moves behind the desk shortly after walking into his new office, and thrusts the chair aside, demonstrating to the viewer that standing up makes you taller and more powerful than anyone else, and that he means business, period. As the camera cuts to black, Frank does his classic double tap on the desk, as we've seen him do on several other occasions. We are then left to count down to season 3.



Underwood stands at his new desk in the Oval Office

The second season of House of Cards has proven to me that it is the best television series in the world. It is masterfully crafted, and targets an intelligent and thoughtful audience who want something that will keep them invested, entertained, and guessing. The pioneering delivery method with all 13 episodes released at once, with no ads, no recaps, and no schedules, is only a few years away from changing the world of television, right from how it is produced, to how it is consumed. And what better way to begin a revolution than with a series of the caliber of House of Cards.


House of Cards season 2 is definitely above, and beyond.

Thanks a lot for reading my review. I know I've only scratched the surface with this incredible season, so be sure to share your thoughts with us here at SpoilerTV, and other House of Cards fans in the comments below

If you are in a compatible country, you can watch both seasons of House of Cards, exclusively on Netflix by clicking here. You can view the 2 minute season 2 trailer by clicking here.

Jimmy

About the Author - Jimmy Ryan
Jimmy Ryan lives in New Zealand. He is an avid follower of drama television and has a keen interest for television ratings and statistics. Some of his favorite shows right now are Person of Interest, Scandal, House of Cards, Orphan Black, The Blacklist, and Castle. You can visit his television ratings website, www.seriesmonitor.com or follow him on Twitter, @SeriesMonitor.


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