Massive Spoilers Ahead!
If the first season of House of Cards was a slow burn, this season is a rocket blasting off into the atmosphere almost immediately. House of Cards wastes no time catapulting us into high drama, completely redefining the rules of television. Of course, this isn’t truly television in the strictest sense. We call it a TV show because it follows the episodic and seasonal format to which we’re accustomed, but it’s really a wholly new experience that’s already starting to change the way we see “television.” Even the naming convention for the episodes, referring to them as “chapters” is a clear indication that each installment is part of a greater story, and that story is headed towards a definitive ending.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some massive plot holes (cyberterrorism, anyone?), but the overall arc of this season is an incredibly well-crafted story that will leave you breathless up until the last few seconds. House of Cards completely changes the rules on us. If we thought before that Frank Underwood was willing to go to extreme lengths to get what he wants, then “Chapter 14” not only reinforces that, but also makes us realize that anything can happen in this show. The words, “No one is safe,” have never rung so true. Although Frank might argue that he’s one person who’s truly safe, season two as a whole shows us that he’s not. Frank may be a master manipulator, but he can’t always predict the actions of every single pawn; and it would really only take one mistake to bring the whole thing crashing down around him.
A Marriage of Convenience
It’s clear from the very beginning of the series that Claire and Frank’s relationship is one of mutual benefit. Yes, they do love each other, but the foundation of their marriage is based upon what they can do together to accomplish their goals. It’s implied in the first season that Frank might be gay (or at least bisexual), and this season that suggestion is made more explicitly. Moreover, it’s revealed that Claire’s family invested a great deal of money into Frank’s first political campaign. He needed her money and the illusion of a stable, heterosexual marriage, and Claire needed him to help catapult her into the halls of power. Let’s face it—this is a man’s world, and as cutthroat as Claire is, she would never get as far as she wanted to go on her own.
Claire’s affair with Adam last season seemed to put the strength of her marriage to Frank in jeopardy, but she only turned to Adam because she thought that Frank was cutting her out when they were supposed to be a team. How does the marriage look when they’re a solid and united front? Like a train barreling down the tracks to smash you into pieces. Over and over, outside forces attempt to drive a wedge between the two (or at least damage them enough to ruin Frank’s political future), but the attacks only make Claire and Frank stronger. Seeing these two act in tandem as an indivisible team is chilling; they don’t keep any secrets from each other anymore, and they’re both fully complicit in what the other is doing. When Claire actually breaks at one point, it’s an incredibly powerful and saddening moment because we know she’ll just push it back down beneath the ice.
Evolution of a Henchman
Of all the characters in the show, Doug Stamper undergoes the most change. He’s no longer the silent fixer, wordlessly executing Frank’s will with little more than a “Yes, sir.” Doug has cracks in his armor, and we start to see them more and more throughout the season. Namely, those cracks involve Rachel. We saw a little bit last season that he cares about her and wants to help her build a better life for herself, but Zoe Barnes’ contact with Rachel forces him to become the bad guy again. However, Rachel’s his blind spot. Doug wants to protect her just as much as he wants to keep her quiet, so using actual force against her is a last resort for him.
Of everyone involved in Frank’s shady dealings, Rachel is the most likely to tear it all down, and I suspect that next season will continue to focus on her in a big way. As the only person directly involved in Peter Russo’s death besides Frank and Doug, she’s the wildcard because she has nothing to gain from keeping quiet. Of course, Rachel’s life is at stake since Doug could make her disappear quite easily, but fear of him is the only thing keeping her in line—nothing else. Eventually, he pushes her too far with his demands, and it was interesting to see how Rachel actually saw Doug. Up until that point, we really only saw things from his point of view: the beleaguered protector who cares about her more than he knows he should. From her perspective, however, he’s a terrifying and sinister force that “creeps” her out, not the knight in shining armor he no doubt believes himself to be. Now that she’s snapped, Frank and Co. are going to have an incredibly difficult time keeping her contained.
Redefining the Story
Zoe’s affair with Frank was key to the events of last season, but this season the focus shifts away from her towards Lucas and what he’s willing to do to expose Frank. There’s not much to say about Zoe, Lucas, and Janine, or their attempts to prove that Frank orchestrated Peter Russo’s death, without completely spoiling the season. Suffice to say that all three have a part to play, if not in a way that’s at all expected. In fact, their storyline paints the media as merely a tool in Frank Underwood’s hand, and tools don’t have any power beyond what their wielders lend to them.
Instead of pointless struggle with Zoe, season two is more about Frank’s stand-off with Raymond Tusk—President Walker’s mentor and personal advisor. The two men jockey for position over the strings that control the President, and Garret Walker is the perfect patsy. People don’t really want to see the truth, and he’s a quintessential example of that. Surrounded on both sides by sharks, he alternately trusts one or both of them as Frank and Tusk lie and lie to his face. Neither cares about Walker, and yet both manage to convince him they do. While making him such a weak character seems necessary for the plot, it also bothered me that he was so easily manipulated. I guess all the more to make us root for his eventual fall from the Oval Office.
Where To Go From Here?
As far as we can tell, Frank Underwood has completely annihilated any and all opposition. If anything, that says to me that the final act is coming, and it will involve Frank losing everything that he fought so hard to attain. His political rivals are apparently no match for him, so I imagine that it will be the small bits of collateral damage (like Rachel) that will lead to his ultimate undoing.
There’s a great deal that happened which I didn’t even begin to discuss here (such as Jackie Sharp, who’s probably my favorite new character because she seems like an up-and-coming, more naive version of Frank), so if you have a favorite moment from the season, or you just want to hash out some of the stuff that happened, start talking in the comments!
All episodes of House of Cards are currently available to stream online via Netflix Instant Watch.