From the moment Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) first turned to look down the barrel of the camera, we knew that we were onto something special with Netflix’s House of Cards. It exploded onto the Internet last year in a binge-viewer’s fantasy with all thirteen episodes available to watch whenever we liked but after such a cracking first series, its second season sure had a lot to live up to.
Having clawed his way to the Vice Presidency, season two found Frank within reach of the top job but getting to the Oval Office would mean not only taking out the President himself, but also his billionaire advisor, Raymond Tusk. All in a season’s work for Frank. And therein lies the show’s biggest problem; Frank Underwood is so smart and devious that it’s going to take an equal political juggernaut to bring him down, a person which (so far) House of Cards is lacking. Of course there are potential contenders waiting in the wings – Jackie Sharp and Remy Danton would make a formidable tag team, but this season mostly saw Frank playing in a completely different league to everyone else.
With no one really posing a serious threat, it was sometimes hard to feel the tension and made Garrett Walker (Michael Gill) in particular feel like an inadequate President. Surely the most powerful man in the world would be a bit more resistant to manipulation? Seeing Frank so easily oust him from office made me wonder how he ever managed to get elected in the first place.
The only character operating on the same level as Frank is his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), in what has been a masterful performance this series. Her and Frank’s relationship has been a treat to watch, both utterly committed to each other and hell-bent on the same objective (again, so far). Though she may yet have a part to play in Frank’s downfall, especially following her encounter with Megan Hennessey (Libby Woodbridge), the marine whom Claire persuaded into speaking up about her sexual assault, and has now become the embodiment of the wreckage the Underwood’s scheming leaves behind. It would be fascinating to see the Underwoods turn on each other at some point and as to who would emerge victorious, well, all bets are off there.
Whilst the characters are the show’s strong point, some of the plotting this season has felt a little off. Not only did the action sag a little in the middle (Freddy’s gangbanger history, anyone?) but the main arc involving trade negotiations with China was complicated at best. All the back-channelling and secret lobbying felt rather incomprehensible at times and made me wish for the days of Peter Russo.
Despite the odd wobble, House of Cards remains great television. Sure Frank may be completely in a league of his own, but it’s still a delight to watch him run rings around everyone else in Washington. I can only hope that he comes up against a worthy adversary in season three because his inevitable downfall is sure to be epic.
One thing’s for certain – Frank isn’t going down without a fight. Bring it on.