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‘House of Cards’ continues to prove addicting

By Jason Kasman

Section: Arts

February 28, 2014

It’s nearly impossible to review the second season of “House of Cards” without spoilers, and if you’ve made it this long without being spoiled, I am thoroughly impressed. Nevertheless, I find it necessary to say that beyond this point, I will not withhold any information about the plot of “House of Cards.”

When the writers chose to eliminate Zoe (Kate Mara) from the equation, they certainly started the season with a shock. I found my pulse racing as my brain caught up to what I had just witnessed: The heroine from season one pushed in front of a train at the start of season two.

My heart ached for the loss of one of my favorite characters, but my gut told me this could be a great thing for the plot. While in season one, the trio of Zoe, Janine (Constance Zimmer) and Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) were investigating Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) solely due to journalistic merit, Zoe’s untimely death gave them powerful emotion to run with. Now they could pursue Underwood for his murder of Peter (Corey Stoll) and Zoe, and put Frank where he belongs. This added pressure would act as a serious obstacle for Frank’s political actions in pursuit of the Oval Office.

But all too quickly, the characters flaked. Janine was quickly scared away to her mother’s up north, and in just a few episodes and mere minutes of on-screen investigation by Lucas, he is imprisoned and quietly taken out of the picture. And then there is nothing. Zoe is never mentioned again in any capacity.

There is the possibility and, in my case, the hope that Frank’s crimes will come back to bite him in the following season. Janine could become a stronger character and avenge the murder and imprisonment of her colleagues. Part of the beauty of this show is the way it makes you simultaneously root for and against Frank Underwood. You want to see his manipulations get him to the top, and at the same time, you want to see him pay for what he’s done. I hope the writers will have the good sense to not leave these crimes in the dust in the upcoming season.

After Lucas gets thrown behind bars, nothing really happens. In any given episode there were things that shocked and surprised, but often it felt like it was building to nothing. This was, in part, due to the fact that you just knew that Frank would get to be President. So they had to fill time.

Some of these time filling exercises were better than others. A shining sequence of episodes follows Claire (Robin Wright) through the creation of an anti-sexual assault bill. Wright delivers some gut-wrenching scenes as she battles her demons in the public eye. Her handling of accusations of infidelity with Adam (Ben Daniels) is strong and decisive. Her delivery is a perfect balance of cold and emotional. Wright brings Claire’s character to the surface in a way that few others in the series could match.

Another fun aside is the extra attention given to Freddy (Reg E. Cathey) and his BBQ business as he worked to capitalize on his newfound success after being associated with the Vice President. He decides to sell the business for a large sum of money to help his family. Cathey makes Freddy one of the most relatable characters in the show. He is the only character in the series who consistently has a heart. His stories offer sound, feel-good comic relief, and the relationship he shares with Frank unveils a softer side to the villain. This season’s plotline gives Freddy even more room to grow.

But then, like many other plots of “House of Cards,” Freddy is tossed aside. Season two’s biggest failure is in the way it branches out and leaves plot lines unfinished. Perhaps this is an artistic choice: Things that no longer matter to Frank Underwood are no longer portrayed as important to the audience. But so far, it seems as if every time characters are built up, they are cut down. Zoe, Lucas, Freddy, Doug (Michael Stamper) … it seems unending.

Overall, I’d say season two was a disappointment, but not disappointing. I had exceptionally high expectations and no, they weren’t completely met. That being said, Wright and Spacey deliver breathtaking performances. Supporting characters including Freddy, Doug and Rachel are given the opportunity to shine. The story is still compelling and still comes at an edge-of-the-seat, heart racing pace. This is television as it should be in the 21st century: made-to-binge.

The biggest mistake would be to go to a season four. Too often a good show will overstay its welcome. If we’re really in a “golden age of television” and if “House Of Cards” is going to earn its place in the TV hall of fame, the writers need to finish what they’ve started. This season left many holes, and next season there are opportunities to fill them.

Now that Doug is out of the picture, there is nothing holding Rachel back from taking over the charge for Zoe. Rachel could be the one who topples the Underwood tower. I’m looking for her to take a much bigger role in the third season. (I say this fully aware that last season I had hoped for the same thing from Zoe.)

I’m also hoping for some more exploration of the complicated Underwood/Meachum relationship. That sort of just happened and was dropped. We can see more of it.

Finally, I’m hoping that Claire is given the opportunity for happiness. If season three pans out as it should, and Frank falls from his seat of power, Claire deserves something for herself. If I were writing the season, she’d get a child, either her own child or someone she can be motherly to.

There’s plenty of time before the next season will be available on Netflix. Here’s to hoping for a solid conclusion to what has been a hell of a ride.

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