House of Cards Series 2 – Ruthless Pragmatism, Frank’s Back

“Did you think I had forgotten you, perhaps you wish that I had – welcome back” says Frank Underwood, Democrat, former House majority whip, US Congressman and now Vice President of the United States right at the end of Episode One of the television drama House of Cards Series Two reports our American correspondent, breathless to let us have all the news.

After all it is Frank’s birthday and although we discover he doesn’t like presents, perhaps he wants us all to celebrate his return?

There is no doubt having shows made exclusively for cable television is allowing for the expansion of the great drama series we have been witnessing over the past decade. Netflix successful take on the original highly successful British TV show sees our ruthless pragmatic protagonist and power broker Frank Underwood rising yet further while busily playing the game of U.S. politics in Washington. This is the town where the ‘road to power is paved with hypocrisy and casualties’, certainly not with good intentions.

Frank Underwood has risen to his illustrious position as Vice president in Series One where we discovered that harmony only lasts the length of a breath. After having an affair, which turned ugly, he was involved in a rape like incident, killed a congressman colleague making it seem like suicide, while discarding, promoting and overshadowing many more people along the way.

Frank (Kevin Spacey) and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) have a personal relationship that is the envy of many – they are always honest with each other. Both know that ‘when you’re fresh meat, you should kill and throw them something fresher’.

Watching Claire and Frank not only recover, but also gain the winning advantage after being dealt a rum hand in each episode is always captivating. If you haven’t seen Series Two yet, please don’t read any further if ‘confidentiality is a covenant’ for you.

Beau Willimon the creator of this amazing series loves to leave us in suspense.  He recently announced in America that the fans of this amazing cult hit can expect more nail-biting drama ahead, as the third series was being written as season two opened.

During series two Frank continues his challenging journey on the high road, while shuffling the deck in his House of Cards with even greater skill than we thought possible. Along the way he is kept busy ensuring that everything always works to his advantage. If it doesn’t he just changes the game to suit his purpose.

Spacey is truly mesmerising as Frank Underwood. His manipulative vengeful persona is set off by quoting ‘eloquent words of wisdom’, his pragmatism as his creator explains, ‘the vehicle of idealism’

Creator and sometime writer Beau Willimon believes Frank may be just the ‘most misunderstood man on television’.

He is both the king and queen, as well as the joker.

Spacey and Wright are both entirely awesome in these roles. Their alluring and compelling pairing keeps us all coming back for more.

It has to be said that a powerhouse of supporting ensemble actors who are equally convincing, as well as often surprising surrounds them.

Sometimes Frank has an ace up his sleeve and holds his audience completely enthralled.

Just when we all think we are starting to know him he makes himself completely unknowable again by committing either an act of unspeakable horror and evil, or alternatively and incomprehensibly, one of heartfelt kindness.

It was a wonderful ‘Willimon’ move in the truly ‘shocking’ first episode of Series two that Frank doesn’t acknowledge the audience at all until the very last minute when a personal dialogue begins as we were welcomed back.

No one can really identify with the person Frank Underwood is, begin to understand him or his sexuality or what really motivates him.

Each episode has a surprise and in this series they start at episode one and just keep rolling relentlessly forward.

No one is spared, except perhaps for Frank and Claire to a point, after all they are the glue that holds their particular House of Cards together.

Golden Globe winning Robin Wright as Claire Underwood is elevated in this from running the Clear Water initiative to her own office in the White House.

There she becomes embroiled in events leading from startling ‘rape’ revelations regarding her own life experiences exposed on a live television interview. Her cool elegant persona is as compelling to watch as her husband’s is captivating.

Often she seems so finely chiselled out of stone that you can only think that either Michelangelo or the Gods themselves must have made her.

In episode one Claire and Frank have workmen swarming all over the house to secure it now he is Vice President.

Frank has perhaps unsurprisingly refused to leave his own residence for that occupied by his predecessors.

After all bricks and mortar, and his wife Claire are the only solid forces Frank has to hold onto, despite his ability to adapt quickly to ever-changing circumstances.

Frank is a true snake charmer, a bully, manipulator, and double-crossing dealmaker without a moral compass.

He happily sits in a church and confesses he does not believe in anything at all.

“Shake with your right hand but hold a rock with your left” is one of his brilliant asides to the camera.

Brilliant in their concept, they ensure viewers stay in a state somewhere between complete awe and curiosity.

Frank has no patience for ‘useless things’.

In episode one of this second series Zoe (Kate Mara), such a vital character in Series 1 meets her maker in a sudden, swift untimely end that leaves the audience gasping for breath.

Wow!

She definitely rubbed Frank Underwood up the wrong way.

Trying to have someone investigate what he believes is her murder, her colleague and lover Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), after stirring up too much trouble and ruffling all the wrong feathers finds himself abandoned by all his friends and colleagues and rotting in gaol.

Perhaps the only predictable outcome is that the White House Chief of Staff Linda, who having served Frank’s purpose long enough, is finally is forced out of the White House as the result of one of his calculated acts of ‘revenge’. At least she can be thankful she hasn’t really incurred his wrath.

We also find out there will be no more delicious ribs from Freddy as Frank sacrifices his only ‘true friend’ to new and important rising forces. And, then when you are recovering from all the other landmark events throughout the series, right near the end an unlikely threesome Frank, Claire and one of their Secret Service agents become embroiled in a night of hanky panky together.

And, what’s with that new majority whip Jacqueline Sharp (Molly Parker)?

She’s busy getting her own dragon tattoo, while learning well from her former colleague’s role model arch manipulating ways.

She exhibits the same ‘ruthless pragmatism’ as Frank but just maybe she might have a bit of a conscience, which is the one thing we know Frank doesn’t’ have.

Jacqueline is operating in her own ‘poisonous universe’ and kept very busy bedding Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) lobbyist for a natural Gas company owned by Raymond Tusk (Gerald Carney); both of whom become her boss Frank Underwood’s newest and most ruthless enemies.

Is she fashioning the senate to suit her new boss’s purpose, or is it her own?

And are they all underestimating Tusk? Will he continue to punish the country with power outages and soaring energy costs to just get his own way? Is he that big a narcissist?

Well yes, is probably the right answer.

Finally there is the President Garret Walker (Michael Gill), who cheated Frank out of being White House Chief of Staff in series one?

In series two he and his first lady wife are targeted and turned into Frank and Claire’s greatest allies and friends, which is often disturbing to watch. But as Frank tells us ‘”ethics is a form of cowardice … and an impediment to any sort of forward progress”.

Frank is busily engaged in delicate negotiations with Dander Feng (Terry Chen) from China, whom we first meet in the middle of a moment of erotic asphyxiation.

Is he being tortured we first ask ourselves? His head is in a plastic bag where he’s gasping for breathe. Then we realise as the camera pans back that his life force is quite literally being sucked from out of his body.

This is both a surprising and bizarre sex scene for us to witness, because the incident doesn’t seemingly relate to anything else that episode, except perhaps to let us know what Feng’s vulnerability point for future reference!

Fang currently has a secret business relationship with the wealthy behind the scenes high flyer Raymond Tusk, who has been busy manipulating the President since he was a young man.

Frank early on in the series realizes that Tusk is the real power behind the throne. He is kept busy not only surmounting all the challenges he faces, but also those posed by Tusk, his own agenda and his goons.

The ever loyal Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) is still carrying out his boss’s orders, although Frank has brought a new boy onto the block as well, which causes more than a few rocky moments for Doug.

He should have taken a lead from that metaphor, because in the last episode of the season his days are cut short by being bashed to death with a rock over the head by former prostitute Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan).

Doug had been keeping her in a safe house after she became embroiled in their power game and with a social worker Lisa Williams (Kate Lyn Sheil) who became her lesbian lover.

There is so many twists and turns you have to keep your wits about you when watching Frank progressing ever forward, gaining more power and stacking the deck so both the cards and the chips will fall his way.

It’s hard not to admire the courage of his and Claire’s conviction that Frank Underwood is his own God on earth.

The President and First Lady are merely pawns in his power game and putty in his hands.

As informed voyeurs we all know now that Frank intends to succeed; by any means.

So, it is no surprise to us really when the President, who has been threatened with impeachment, is put into an impossible position and forced to step down.

Frank has, by the last episode, carefully and cleverly manoeuvred himself all the way to the top job.

In the words of the former President Walker as he resigns ‘Frank Underwood will bring virtue, experience and courage to the oval office’. He also expresses how ‘blessed’ he feels to not only have him as his friend but also having him as his Vice President.

In the meantime we have all learned the lesson at the hands of a true ‘maestro’, that if you do ‘throw out all the rules anything is possible’!

In a recent interview in America Kevin Spacey, who truly revels in this role, revealed the show could run for many seasons. It’s now become like a new version of the ‘West Wing’, the television show that first set the bar high and a high standard of excellence for television drama.

This US version of House of Cards lives up to that tradition well.

The original brilliant decision to release all the episodes of each series of this amazing drama all at once will help ensure its continuing success.

The episodes of each series fit well into a ‘lost weekend’, which works well if the weather outside or other chores aren’t calling. You can chill out and watch the story unfold without interruption, ensuring the drama is heightened and the climax builds with unbearable intensity.

The reward is there; at the beginning of Series Three we will now all be able to hail President Francis Underwood and his ever cool, First Lady. In the meantime we will all be left with a whole year to muse on what might happen next?

Our American correspondent, via Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

Netflix

House of Cards

Created by Beau Willimon

Based on  House of Cards by Michael Dobbs and House of Cards by Andrew Davies
Starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright

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