DANIEL WILKINS ’15
“He’s in the darkness now, and I’m the only beacon of light,” says Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey). “Now we gently guide him toward the rocks.” In the second season of the popular Netflix original series, “House of Cards,” Spacey delivers another chilling performance of the manipulative politician, Frank Underwood.
This past week on Feb. 14, the Golden Globe-nominated drama series “House of Cards” had its second season released on Netflix. Procera Networks estimates that 2% of Netflix subscribers, or around 668,000 people, finished the entire season in the first weekend. Considering its beautiful character development and suspense, it is easy to understand why “House of Cards” has quickly become one of the most popular shows currently airing.
While season one seems to lose its tension by the end, season two maintains its suspenseful drama throughout. Season two brings much more of a focus on a larger political sphere, as the show now closely follows a member of the executive branch, Underwood as Vice President, as well as Jaclyn Sharp (Molly Parker), a member of Congress. While the first season split its time almost evenly between investigative journalism and political dealings, this season is much more focused on the politics and closely tied billionaires. While Frank’s crimes continue to be investigated through this season, they hold much less importance to the season and instead seem to serve more as a build up for the third season.
The new season also sees a very interesting relationship develop between Underwood and President Walker (Michael Gill) whose character finally takes off. The second season shows Walker to be one of the few likeable and honest characters. However, in the true nature of the show, Walker’s honesty makes him weak and vulnerable. The political and financial world in “House of Cards” has no room for sympathy, and only those that remain cold and ruthless thrive.
Vice President Frank Underwood exemplifies this premise, as he never breaks from his pragmatic, yet shady, politics. Always sure to leave no weaknesses exposed, Frank’s schemes are brilliantly intricate and are slowly revealed throughout the course of the show. Frank’s character is, however, entirely predictable. Frank rarely reveals any empathy and is willing to use any leverage he can to gain more power. The desire for power drives all of “House of Cards”’ characters, but Frank is the only one who loses his humanity to it. On his rise to power he regrets none of the decisions he made which hurt his colleagues, and it is this relentless cold-blooded calculation which makes it possible for him to continuously succeed.
While Spacey’s performance as Frank Underwood serves as the catalyst for the series’ dark world, it is the real depth of troubled characters that makes the show so effective. One of this season’s newest characters, Jaclyn Sharp, begins the season with Frank, discussing the primary candidates to replace his old position as majority whip in the House. Jaclyn proves her own ruthlessness, capitalizing on every opportunity she has to gain that position and maintain as much power as she can. Where she differs from Frank, however, is the empathy her character delivers in multiple occasions. As she defames and destroys a close friend’s career, she displays great remorse, yet follows through anyways. This conflict follows Jaclyn throughout the season, as she eventually becomes close with a powerful man of opposing interests, the clash between her career and her personal life is one that constantly troubles her.
Jaclyn’s character is a refreshing change of pace from Frank, as despite the self-serving and cut-throat political maneuvers she makes, she clearly shows deep emotional distress and a troubled character.
Similarly, Frank’s wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), is a character that is described as “loyal to no one,” and backs this up by betraying anyone who stands between her and power. This part of her character was well developed and perhaps best demonstrated as she fires the entire staff, including one woman she had grown close to, of her non-profit organization so she could expand the company. Claire continues her path of betrayal throughout season two, until finally her emotions catch up to her. In perhaps the most powerful moment of the season, Claire breaks down in hysterics and it appears her manipulation has finally left her isolated and empty.
Other characters from the first season, including Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali), Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), are far more dynamic in this new season. Lobbyist Remy Danton, who has always diligently worked for the highest bidder, finally reaches a point where emotion challenges his business interests.
Meanwhile, Rachel remains trapped by her actions from season one, while Doug, the recovering alcoholic finds himself infatuated with her. Behind the consistent and predictable dealings of Frank, the show’s many supporting characters demonstrate a deeply troubled inner conflict between their lust for power and their morals. In many circumstances, power is the stronger desire.
The only new character of season two who fails to greatly enrich the show is Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil). Seth enters the show as the press manager for the Underwoods and his character remains mysterious from the moment he enters the series. Even the characters within the show often question his integrity, yet the audience never learns the true essence of his character. Judging by the way the series ends, it seems that perhaps his character will have a much larger role and be of greater significance in the third season, yet in this season his character felt uncomfortably distant and ominous.
The second season of “House of Cards” did not disappoint, as it took an already fascinating group of characters and developed them ever further. While the first season was a success, this season far surpasses it in drama and character development.
“House of Cards” plays on a somewhat sadistic desire from its audience, as the viewer finds himself rooting for Frank Underwood to succeed and get away with his crimes, despite how despicable and unlikable of a person he truly is. This accomplishment—to make the audience appreciate a character with few redeeming qualities—is proof in itself of the show’s brilliance.