Binge on ‘House of Cards’ Season 2 or Don’t Watch at All

Binge on ‘House of Cards’ Season 2 or Don’t Watch at All

Count Kevin Spacey as one of those actors who makes everything around him better.

The double Oscar winner reigns over “House of Cards,” the Netflix-produced political series that launched its second season last month. Fans of the first season likely finished all 13 new episodes weeks ago, and binging on it multiple hours at a time plays to the show’s strengths.

Taken at a slower pace, however, and “House of Cards” tends to fall apart like a… please don’t make me use the obvious pun.

Spacey is still the reason to watch, playing the cunning and basically evil politician Francis Underwood, who opens the second season as vice-president of the United States. That lofty job title isn’t enough, of course, and Underwood begins a series of schemes, flim-flams and treasonous crimes to hoist himself into the Oval Office.

Taken in large, multiple episode chunks, “House of Cards” is addictive camp. Nobody will mistake this show with, say, “The West Wing,” because the political intrigue is secondary to the moral corruption of the main players. You want to see Underwood do bad, no matter the circumstances.

Watch a single episode at a time, however, and the story logic and character inconsistencies can be frustrating.

Part of the problem is how Spacey towers so easily over his adversaries. Michael Gill, who plays President Walker, struggles in his expanded role because Spacey steamrolls him in every scene, even when Walker is supposed to be demonstrating authority. It makes Underwood’s grand plot (which also relies heavily on convenience and blind luck) more of a means to an end instead of something worth dramatizing for 13 hours.

The show also buries lingering season one plotlines ridiculously, notably the investigation into Underwood’s misdeeds by reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara). Replacing the journalism material this season is a bizarre subplot involving Underwood’s Secret Service agent Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow). Even binge viewers will stop long enough to be baffled by where his story goes by season’s end.

“House of Cards” is still better in season two, thanks to a tighter focus and the emergence of two fascinating female characters. Molly Parker is a standout newcomer as Underwood’s replacement in Congress as House Majority Whip, and Robin Wright has much more to do this year as Claire Underwood, Francis’ seemingly icy wife and strongest (only?) political ally. Claire, who came off like a Bond villain in season one, shows signs of being a person with an actual conscience. That’s more than can be said of Underwood or most of the other characters on the show.

The last image of the season is a doozy; one that makes you desperate for more episodes… until, once again, you start thinking about how the show got from point A to B. It’s absolutely ludicrous, and something a show that airs week-to-week on a regular network could never execute.

 

Ultimately, that isn’t a criticism. “House of Cards” exists on Netflix to watch over a rainy weekend. I spent three weeks on it, and I feel like I missed out on part of the fun. Darn you, logic.

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