BY: EMILIO ALDEA
Television’s best show isn’t even on TV. The first online-only show to earn both an Emmy nomination and win was picked up for a third season before the second one even aired. The advent of the anti-hero as the central focus of a long-arc television season has changed television forever, and this is no more apparent than the most recent examples of TV’s most popular and critically acclaimed shows: Dexter, Breaking Bad and now, House of Cards.
Netflix took a risk when they decided to transition from a mostly subscription based movie rental service to a producer of premium original content, but given the results thus far, the risk is paying off. Casting Kevin Spacey to play the at times charming yet mostly duplicitous Francis Underwood provides both Netflix and show itself with a level of legitimacy it might not otherwise have achieved with anyone else.
The second season of House of Cards is much more conducive to the now popular practice of binge-watching than the first season was. Our first House of Cards experience was a season of slow-burning, heavily dramatic, dialogue driven television master work. Season Two was exactly like that, except completely different. So it wasn’t like that at all, really, but it was still great. Really. Frank’s nearly unabated rise to power allowed the show to move much more quickly than the first season, and the decision to kill off the super-popular Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) served us notice that no one was safe from Frank’s interminable wrath.
The show produces everything at premium level, but it’s really the cast of characters that shines in this show. Francis Underwood is the most dastardly man many of us have ever seen, and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright) is somehow even worse. In the very first episode Claire absolutely disregards the safety of her former associate, Gillian Cole, and her unborn baby when she revokes the health insurance that provides the medicine Gillian needs to keep her baby alive. Claire sends the wife of Gillian’s baby-daddy to harass her and introduces a new situation in Gillian’s life to make her extremely uncomfortable. Claire is willing to do anything to get her way, including allowing a baby to “wither and die” inside of its mother’s stomach.
Throughout the season, we see that various side characters were introduced in order to infuse some sort of extra drama and of course have some brief story time. The Raymond Tusk saga ultimately devolves into a sort of high-stakes he-said, he-said game including the President of the United States, which was a bit strange at times but it’s easy see past that given that Frank ultimately accomplished his goal of driving a wedge between Tusk and the POTUS. As Frank is won’t to do, he tries to get everyone who can hurt him this season, and he mostly takes care of it. His faithful assistant Doug Stamper purposefully moves Rachel around when he feels that Lucas is getting close to unraveling Frank’s intricate web of lies.
That brings us to Lucas. Lucas is an interesting character, in theory. He is the jilted lover, the man with the desire to bring justice and light to this present darkness, but even he is ultimately extinguished by Frank in a mostly awkward sequence of events. Lucas meets a random back-page IRC-lurking hacker who was appointed by the federal government to help deal with cyber-threats against national security. In his chapter, we get a somewhat clumsy telling of how Lucas is going to plant a mini-usb receiver in an ATT data server. After Lucas attempts this feat, he is sent to jail and is offered a plea bargain that is by most standards, is unfair. Knowing this, we really understand and observe the cunning and deceitful nature of the way that Francis Underwood conducts his business. Lucas is forced to take the plea deal because he knows that even if the public were to get wind of the story he was writing, hardly anyone would believe Lucas.
Francis is the kind of guy that leaves no trace. He doesn’t leave tracks, he doesn’t get caught. All he does is lie. Frank and Claire ultimately both get their way, no matter what. It’s almost impressive that these two characters can bulldoze and manipulate their way through so many people. Will Francis’ unquenchable thirst for power ultimately lead to his demise? Probably, but that’s for another season. We know for a fact that the third season is going to happen, and we’re just going to have to wait another year for the best show on TV to regale us with its tales of lies and deceit. I can’t wait.