Before getting into reviewing each episode, or chapter in the second season of the Emmy winning, Fincher directing, Spacey scene-chewing Netflix series, there are few things I want to set up, like the titular construct, with painstaking care.
House of Cards is about Power, Pain and Above All, Love….just kidding, Revenge. It’s about Kevin Spacey’s Southern Democratic congressman Frank Underwood, the House Majority Whip in the first season about to be nominated Vice President gaining power and exacting pain upon those who betrayed him with help of his equally scheming, if tougher and maybe more emotional wife Claire, played by the impeccable Robin Wright. Recap of the first season makes clear that his impetus has always been about revenge against The President Garret Walker (Michael Gill) and his administration that dismissed Frank for the promised Secretary of State position. He is pissed and now he wants more. And he is not above murder and manipulation. (Remember Peter Russo?)
Now is the winter of our discontent bitches!
Yes, that’s Shakespearean paraphrasing and if the show’s British origin and all the fourth wall breaking, soul staring monologues have not hinted to you how theatrical this series is, I don’t know what to tell you. Season one we got to know Frank Underwood and his machinations but as you can see from the Season 2 poster, this season focuses more on the team Underwoods – Frank and Claire 4eva! They are the ultimate power couple, Richard III and Lady Macbeth of our hearts, and they are back together, stronger than ever. But that does not mean their past deeds will be gone and done and buried with. This series, as the title suggests, sets up a lot of cards to be pulled in the future. It’s a thing to remember as we get into it. One other thing to remind ourselves? The Season 2 tag line – There Are Two Kinds of Pain – “The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering.”
Speaking of which….
Review Format and Gimmicks
I will be frank with you. There will be spoilers. I do suggest you watching the episode before reading about it but do proceed at your own risk. Other than that…
At the end of each episode’s review, I will have the Voting Booth set up for you to guess which one of the below counted highest in each episode, defined as thus: Fourth Wall Breaking Moments (Whenever Frank looks or/and talks directly to us), Wine, Dine and Smoke Moments (Whenever anybody eats, drink alcoholic beverages or talk about some specific beverage, smokes or make food references), Teaching Moments (Whenever we learn about historical or White House related facts and historical figures are referenced or quoted). I might include religious figures too. And because a lot of this show is about Power and Pain, we will have Power and Pain Ranking after each episodes (and more, after the finale).
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s get right into it!
CHAPTER 14 – Hunt Or Be Hunted
Wow, now that’s how you open a season. If anything could convince anyone to start watching House of Cards, this episode is it. Damn.
We open Chapter 14, not Season 2 Chapter 1, but a continuation of Chapter 13, the last episode of Season 1, right where we left it with the Underwoods running in the dark park. They pause. Look around, to each other, then, nod. And on we go.
(By the way I just looove the opening credit of this series. Great music. Beautiful, stirring and heavy theme. Lives on the ground and the icons of power. Then the title, shimmering over the White House in the water. Upside down star-spangled. LOVE. IT.)
Back in Casa Underwood, the Chief of Staff Doug Stamper is frantically trying to get Frank on the phone, about Zoe Barnes and co. closing on Rachel Posner and the truth behind Peter Russo’s death, while Meechum – hi there! – utters the first line of the season. It’s Frank’s birthday and Meechum doesn’t know what to get him. Should he get anything in the first place – considering all of them get sorted and assigned and tossed cards (if at all) by Nancy before even getting to Frank.
Notice that Doug, Frank’s right hand man and closest confidante, already starts out the season in the hot water. Getting out of it and “dealing with the Rachel situation” will be his arc this season. While Frank goes to deal with the source of the stress, Zoe, Claire imposes the no cigarette rule, for health – and image – but mostly because Frank can’t die a Vice President I imagine. Don’t worry. This being House of Cards, they will find the ways.
We move onto Zoe asking her new boyfriend Lucas, “Can you finish?” He worries that she is still traumatized from Underwood (or Underwooding) but I am not sure if security is what she is seeking here. Zoe and her trio of journalists, including Janine, hunt for the truth behind Frank’s scheme but their leads are disappearing. Rachel is moved to Baltimore and they get little to no ground and whatever help they get – like Lucas’ police informant – is quickly dissecting them. That’s when Frank contacts Zoe to meet up. Despite Lucas’ concern Zoe claims she can handle him. This will turn out well.
Meanwhile, Claire starts her own scheming against Gillian Cole, her former employee who turned against her, and few more characters from season one get reintroduced. White House Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez interviews Christina to work under her and with the President who with Terry Womak and Bob Birch discusses who should succeed Frank as the Whip, for which Frank already had tapped Congresswoman and ex-marine, Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) – who is introduced legs up. Frank has provided her with “ammunition” against her rivals on the race, Wes Buchwalter and Howard Webb. I love the way she unbuttons her jacket as she opens the file under her name. Frank acts quickly, knowing with his new position comes less freedom of action. He manages to delay the security to be assigned 24 hours until official nomination, Meechum to be trained into his details and to remain staying in his town house, but it is closing in.
There is a scene in which Claire says to Frank in bed “You haven’t said a word. Where does that leave us?” To which he answers that he is “Fully prepared.” At first I thought they were talking about the status of their relationship, but then I realized maybe they are talking about where they taking their plans. With what comes after, this scene becomes quite significant.
Now we come to the confrontation parts of the episode. Claire intimidates Gillian – sending the wife of her baby- daddy – then crosses to an actual bold threat by denying her medical insurance, effectively cutting off the drug she needs to keep the blood flowing to her placenta. She coldly threatens Gillian with a law suit, spelling out that she is “willing to let your child wither and die inside you”. She so scary from making an offer Gillian cannot refuse, to taking over Clear Water and all its wealth, no strings attached. Somehow I doubt that this will be the last we see of Gillian Cole.
Frank makes a visit to Freddy’s, who tells the tale of how to humanely kill pork – instead of slow bleeding, with all the screaming of terror, you offer feed and then BAM, in one hit. He is so scary.
Frank then invites Zoe to start over their relationship with a ‘clean slate” as he brushes her jaw. With her team meeting dead ends, she decides to take the offer and meet him alone, in a subway. The scene is a foreboding one with a crowd gathered around the drumming man in light and on the end of the platform, Frank, shadowed and covered in fedora, glasses and coat. It’s a definite “don’t go there, girl” moment. But she does. Deletes texts and Frank’s contact as asked. She starts asking questions only she is asking. Then…
AND NOT EVEN NEAR THE END OF THE EPISODE! They killed off one of the most popular characters of the show in first episode of the second season, 40 minutes into it. And he just walks away from the chaos and back to Claire waiting with a cake – what she promised will not be there – and blows the flame off the single candle, as easily as he blew off Zoe’s life onto the coming train. Happy Birthday, Francis. You put Vice in Vice President.
Later, as Claire prepares for the day, the news reports of the accident and Robin Wright’s face as she calmly applies makeup, knowing her husband was the culprit, the act she may have instigated even – it’s priceless. And when Frank is asked by Jackie Sharp if he has “ever killed anyone?” He calmly answers, ‘No.” They are just made for each other, y’all.
Back to that scene in Frank’s Office. Frank tells Jackie the reason he chose her. She is someone who made orders to shoot missile despite knowing there would be collateral damages. Someone who does what needs to be done. She is someone who shares the same “ruthless pragmatism” with him. Is she the female Underwood? That’s yet to be seen.
This is an amazing opening episode. What really marks this episode is that Frank’s signature fourth-wall-breaking-soliloquy is prominently absent, making us think maybe this is another change made for the second season – until the very end when, as Frank remarks on the day- late birthday gift from Meechum. He looks at his new cuffs, and then directly to us, through the reflection on the mirror. “Did you think I have forgotten you?” He placates us on mourning his little cat, telling us “For those of us climbing to the top of food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: Hunt or Be Hunted.”
Welcome back. And as the new cuffs left by the mirror and though the credits state: F U .
Fourth Wall Breaking Moments: 1
Wine, Dine and Smoke Moments: 6
Teaching Moments: 1
POWER TO PAIN RANKING (Top to Bottom):
President Garret Walker (King of Heart)
Vice President to be Frank Underwood (King of Spade)
Linda Vasquez (Jack of Heart)
Claire Underwood (Queen of Spade)
Jackie Sharpe (Queen of Clubs)
Doug Stamper (Jack of Spade)
Christina Gallagher (Eight of Heart)
Edward Meechum (Two of Spade)
Janine Skorsky (Two of Heart)
Rachel Posner (Three of Spade)
Gillian Cole (Six of Heart)
Lucas Goodwin (Ace of Heart)
Zoe Barnes (Joker)
is a writer/stand up comic originally from Japan, with 15 years experience of living Californian. He likes to write about cannibalism, loneliness, outcasts, sex and other cuddly things in life that gets you out of your comfort zones. You may find him on set of Comedy Store and Flappers, attempting to split your sides, not with scalpel but with jokes, mind. Contact Yo at : 213 446 3973
or [email protected]