Review: House of Cards, Season 2 (Fincher, 2013)

Still from the TV show House of Cards, Season 2

I predicted that I would like House of Cards more in its second season than its first and I (mostly) did, though I missed the fun entanglements with Zoe Barnes and her journalist accomplices–or simply any viable opponent or threat to Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

This season’s nemesis (I won’t say villain because isn’t that what Frank is?) is undeniably Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney). While it’s entertaining to watch Underwood and Tusk spar, their battles lack any personal resonance and ultimately seem a little hollow and flat. It is Power vs. Money at its most basic and abstract.

In fact, my complaint with the second season, as with the first, is that it feels monotone. Frank is the same unconquerable psychopath in every episode, and the other characters are all so superficially drawn that it is no surprise they bend hither and thither at any breath or show of force from Underwood. It all begins to feel too easy, so easy that the result takes on the quality of the pre-ordained. Of course, the suspense of how it will play out keeps us going from one episode to the next, but the thrill is a cheap one. I find myself groaning and wishing it all to be over already. Then, when it is, I am suffused with dissatisfaction. The finale is like finally reaching the mouth of the vortex. It’s where you have been heading all along; the only surprise is that it is so patently inevitable.

But here’s another question to consider: Is House of Cards a credible show? Does it seem believable? In a way, the political mechinations mostly have a ring of truth. As a mere citizen-voter-observor, the insider deals, the manipulation of the press, the cozy relationship between lobbyist and politician, the hardness and softness of the individuals involved–well, they all seem plausible enough. What doesn’t seem plausible is the human component of the show. That is, though the game seems real enough, the players don’t. They are all puppets, first of Frank, then of the showrunner. As such, isn’t the whole orchestration, finally, a sham? Merely something to while away the hours? In the past, TV has never pretended to be much more than a diversion, but with the advent of HBO original programming, the landscape has shifted. We now expect more–or I do, at least.

Unfortunately, House of Cards just doesn’t live up to the “more” I’m looking for. In other words, don’t expect a review of season 3.