Season 1 of House of Cards was fantastic. The delivery method certainly drew attention for being ground breaking, but what rapidly became the headline was just how good this show was! It was exquisitely crafted with a dedication to the story and characters and a respect for the intelligence of the audience that is pretty rare these days. It never shied away from conflict or complexity, there was no happy ending and no purely good or bad characters. It’s the kind of show that warrants and rewards thought, analysis and discussion.
Season 2 is almost exactly as you’d anticipate season 2 being after watching season1. It moves the story and the characters onwards, but is consistent in tone and quality. The new characters and actors that come in join the team flawlessly, so you barely notice and miss the people that have departed. Almost everything that was good about season 1 was good in season 2, so I’d recommend reading my review of the first season for the full on gushing.
The awake amongst you may have noticed the qualifier “almost” appeared a couple of times in that previous paragraph, it’s “almost exactly as you’d anticipate”. There were two elements which I felt sadly let season 2 down a bit.
The first problem was that characters became a little more one dimensional. In my review of season 1 I said:
“No one in this is really a good guy or a bad guy, it’s not possible to really like anyone, but neither is it possible to really hate them. Their individual actions may draw understanding or disbelief, but they all combine to make such complexity that reactions and judgements such as like/dislike or good/bad are far too simplistic.”
Well, in season 2 that’s not true. Some of the characters (new and old) lack that complexity and come across as very simplistic in feeling if not in action. Raymond Tusk is a Bad Guy – he kills birds and manipulates for power and there is never even a hint that he’s doing that for the betterment of anything but his own bank balance. The President on the other hand comes across almost exclusively as a Good Guy, he’s self-sacrificing, honourable and driven to do good for his country – very admirable things in a President, but somewhat at odds with the other complex characters.
Frank himself seems to lose some of the nuance from the first season and move firmly into the ‘bad guy’ court. Maybe I’m putting rose tinted glasses on it, but I thought he was manipulating and grabbing power because he wanted to be able to deliver his political policies. But this season it felt purely like he was trying to get power because he wanted the power. He compromised on policies and sold out his friends just to move up the ladder, never even seeming to assess whether it was worth the cost.
That leads to the second problem with the season – the Underwoods’ actions felt rushed, reactive, poorly thought out and too dangerous. This did not feel like the couple from season 1 who were completely in control of everything and everyone. Their greed and desperation led to carelessness and mistakes and that just didn’t feel right. They’ve been plotting for decades and yet they come close to throwing it all away because they didn’t leave things to rest in between actions. In turn that means that I think the series is rushed, I won’t spoil it obviously, but where they end up at the end of the season, felt too far. It’s too much, too big and too fast. Even if they’d just put some off-camera time jumps in it would have felt more controlled.
The amount of type I’ve spent on the complaints is rather disproportionate to their actual importance. House of Cards is still absolutely superb and one of the most interesting and original shows out there at the moment. I rather think season 3 is likely to be the show’s last (forming a neat and well balanced arc of rise, adversity and fall I would guess), but whether it is or not, I’m sure it will be fascinating.