House of Cards- season 2: a personal response


The best thing about the release of Season 2 of Netflix’ House of Cards is that it made this interminable northern winter more bearable for two weeks. Yes, I rationed myself. The worst thing is that it led me to lower my estimate of my IQ.

I could follow the Zoe story, the Rachel story, the Freddy story, the Adam Galloway story, even the hacker story, but the Tusk/Walker/Underwood story not so much. More than once I said to myself, “Wait, what just happened there?” Nobody else was at the same episode as I was, so the only available answers were on-line. I got Donald Blyth, chief Underwood congressional hater, mixed up with Michael Kern, Senate Whip. I didn’t figure out where that damn bridge was/was not going to built until yesterday. Over Long Island Sound?! But mostly, I couldn’t believe that a sitting president could be impeached on such flimsy grounds.

I told myself to suspend my disbelief. Shakespeare played fast and loose after all – Birnam woods coming to Dunsinane! Perhaps I don’t understand the U.S. government. True, I studied it in my senior year in high school for a whole term, but as a Canadian, I find it easier to see how a British prime minister, in a parliamentary system, can be put out of office by a vote of non-confidence. (See U.K. House of Cards by Michael Dobbs, adapted by Andrew Davis) Really, I felt I needed a flow chart to figure out which side of Xander Feng Underwood was on this week. Tusk would automatically fall on the other side. In the end, of course, Xander, sexual proclivities and all, found himself on the altogether wrong side.

Still is it believable I kept asking myself that Walker can be impeached? He knows absolutely nothing about Feng’s money being laundered through the First Nation Casino into Democrat coffers. When Tusk breaks his silence at the congressional hearing, he lies. That Senator Kern would rather see the president impeached than face a Democratic minority, I couldn’t believe either. And Walker’s approval rate sinks to single digits, lower than Nixon’s. Whoa, those Americans can sure get riled up over a little incomprehensible financial hanky-panky. And possible Xanex!?

But, really, I didn’t care I was so sick of Garret Walker! He was so naive, such a git. How is that possible to rise to the highest office in the world and be so un-calculating? For a brief moment, he actually has Underwood’s measure and freezes him out, but then Frank “cuts out his heart and hands it to him” in a letter typed on an -wait for it- Underwood typewriter. At that point when Walker welcomed Frank back, I didn’t care that he was being railroaded He was in Kevin Yeoman’s words ( ) “the most feckless, susceptible individual on television today”. He needed to be put down.

I can see the illogic of this opinion. Shouldn’t I be blaming inept writing?

Some of the best writing was in Season 2, episode 1, which packed a real wallop. Even for me and I had been expecting it, having seen the U.K. version. It was brutal enough, but Francis Urquhart push for self-protection did not involve such sudden, noisy violence. And Mattie in the British show had a creepier relationship with Urquhart. Zoe was more likeable, more of a warrior, a worthier opponent. Indeed with her gone the game got less interesting. Lucas is less self-assured, more easily outwitted. (Lucas, don’t fall for random internet invitations!) As devious as Tusk can be and as powerful as he is -turning off the power and plunging Camden Yards into darkness just as Frank is about to throw out the first pitch – he doesn’t hold up.

Jackie Sharp, a military hero, whom Frank has chosen to take over his old position of Democratic Whip now that he is vice president, is a strong woman who makes up for the loss of Zoe. I predict that she will continue developing into worthy opponent for Frank, just as devious, but possibly slightly more principled.

Doug Stemper’s fate didn’t surprise me either, although it’s manner did. The U.K. version was filmed during the ongoing IRA crisis, so the odd, extra car explosion involving a Chief of Staff was taken as par for the course. As I remember it, I didn’t care much that such an evil manipulator had met his end, but this Doug Stemper had been turning into a human being, albeit, a creepy one. He had fallen in love with Rachel and loved to have her read to him. But you can only drive a person so far. Rachel leaps out at a stop light and flees into the woods where Doug, like Augustus Underwood in days of yore, finds himself a goner.

The British House of Cards dealt with political problems as they emerged, including the effects of Conservative politics, increasing marginalization of the working classes, homelessness, civil unrest. Indeed production came to a standstill when Margaret Thatcher resigned. Fiscal debate and uncompromising party lines bring Walker’s government to a standstill. White powder in the mail causes a lockdown, trapping Frank in the Capital. But these events don’t seem as raw as the U.K. version, perhaps because each of its seasons was shorter and real people, more clearly referenced.

The American series had good currency this week when a general faced charges of sexual abuse. Claire Underwood reveals in a television interview that she was raped by a man who is now a general. She works to pass a bill providing civilian oversight in such cases. It is possible that this is actually well-intended and not just another manuoevre. In the end, that turns sour and with a witness attempting suicide and Claire sitting at the bottom of the stairs, crying in genuine regret.

She doesn’t show much regret when she throws her former lover, Adam Galloway, under the bus. And talk about creepy – she has a thing for Meechum, the security guy. And not only that… Well, I wondered how the Underwoods were going to resolve their wandering ways, given the tight security around them now.

So what’s to come in Season 3? No more early morning ribs at Freddy’s. Freddy, like Galloway had to be sacrificed. Like Claire’s brief dream of a child. Like her brief excursion into humanity. All in the name of ambition. So Frank Underwood is president, what lies in wait for him? Or who?

Jackie Sharpe: Remy Danton; Rachel Posner who knows too much about Russo; Tom Hammerscmidt  and Ayla Sayyad, investigative reporters; Gavin Orsay, hacker; Linda Vasquez, former presidential chief of staff: Heather Dunbar, special prosecutor? All of the above? And what about Claire? is she actually the more villainous of the duo? To those wondering if there will be a season 4, I recommend season 3 of the U.K. series.

Macbeth and his lady wife rose to the top in their murderous ambition, but they were doomed to fail. Birnam Woods did come to Dunsinane.

3 thoughts on “House of Cards- season 2: a personal response

  1. Nice summation.

    Season Three? Any house of cards will ultimately fall. Isn’t that the universal expectation? My hope is that FU is taken down by Jackie Sharpe. I also wonder why Lucas has been allowed to live. He’s in prison yes. but that can’t mean he is silenced for all of time? He is also seriously discredited.

    Frank Underwood is The Prince of Darkness. Okay. But he has reached the pinnacle. There is no further upward mobility possible. Our only question is whether or not he can survive the carnage that awaits him.

    On a sie note: I am watching the Danish TV series called Borgen. I’ve dubbed it as the best of House of Cards, The West Wing and The Newsroom rolled into one. In this show, Birgitte Nyborg is Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. As Underwood advanced his career by his lies, deceits, and underhanded activities (including murder), Nyborg wants an open government, a transparent government. And yet is seems that the one political brush-fire a week that she must deal with has a far greater reality to it than does the machinations of Frank & Claire Underwood. But there’s a price she must pay for her power, and it is that her stable family life has become a rickety house of cards.. 3 Seasons 30 episodes.

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