(Warning: this review is very spoiler-filled)
Season 2 of Netflix's House of Cards is essentially more of the same. If you loved the first season I'm sure you'll love this one as well, and if like me, you had reservations about it, those reservations are more or less still there, although I did look at the series from a slightly differently angle this time around.
Kevin Spacey is once again Frank Underwood, the former House majority whip now turned Vice-President of the United States, thanks to his scheming and maneuvering his way into power last year. Of course, as you'll remember his evil deeds last season eventually amounted to the murder of the show's most sympathetic character, and while I think you were supposed to feel the drama of that moment as if it was something he'd never submitted to before- this season Frank's just murdering people left and right, as the shocking moment in the first episode shows us. To be honest, I actually kind of like that better, as I now see the show as a trashy, political soap opera and I'm able to enjoy it more on that level. This is basically Scandal with bigger names and a bigger budget.
The show still takes itself too seriously though, as there is so much time spent in the weeds of political machinations, getting bills through Congress and an awful lot of talk about Chinese politics and foreign affairs that amounts to nothing really- it just seems like a way for Beau Willimon to show off how much he knows about the details of how Washington supposedly works (they also purposely tie in timely topics like rape in the military and continue to use real life cable hosts for numerous cameos). But that pretense of realism clashes with the fact that our main character is a vice-president who personally murders people on a whim, has threeways with his bodyguard, and sabotages the president of the United States, forcing him out of office so that he can take his place less than a year after he's been sworn in himself. I mean, come on- the actual events on this show are ludicrous and would be better served by a trashier, less self-serious tone, since the actors remain pretty great overall.
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright remain the Clinton-esque, devious power couple who destroys everything in their way, but even though Spacey is entertaining as always, I find myself rooting against them through virtually every scheme they concoct, hoping the people who suspect them of evil might actually come through for once. Frank and Claire Underwood are not antiheroes, they're more like straight villains, given even less dimension this time around as they manipulate their path to even more power and crush plenty of innocents along the way. The difference between an antihero and a villain is that the viewer kind of wants the antihero to succeed in the bad things they do- but me, I just can't wait to see the Underwoods taken down in each and every episode. Unfortunately that never happens and there's not even a hint that it might, as anyone who dares to threaten them is quickly crushed like a bug- that may be a problem in the future as far as creating tension, but if the show's following the British version, then this all has to lead to Frank's downfall eventually, so I can wait.
Despite some of my issues with the show it does remain eminently watchable. The cast is uniformly great, and the additions this year of Molly Parker as the new majority whip and now regular Michel Gill as Garrett Walker, the weakest, most pathetic fictional president in U.S. history, fit smoothly into the ensemble. I also enjoyed the increased presence of Mahershala Ali as Frank's former ally Remy Danton, and Reg E. Cathey as Freddie, the owner of the BBQ joint and maybe the one guy with the hint of a soul on this show. I will say that no one quite replaces Corey Stoll's role last year as the one genuinely good person in the series, and that does leave a hole, because it so hard to root for any of these people, seeing as they're all so despicable. But House of Cards remains intriguing, and I'm still hooked to see where Frank's antics end up taking him in seasons to come.