House of Cards Season Two

The strangest thing about House of Cards is how it is even considered television. A more apt name would be: “A 14-hour cinematic drama delivered via a web-based platform”. There is nothing remotely “episodic” about it, especially when compared to the equally enthralling, long-form BBC original. Netflix’s House of Cards laughs at the entire concept of televised episodes, begging its audience to watch the whole series in a single binge (pizza delivery on speed-dial recommended). With this in mind, as well as the nature of Netflix itself – a service that gets live data of a user’s tastes every time they log on – it’s hard not to be cynical about Frank and Claire Underwood’s rise to power.

Season Two (titled Chapters 14 to 26) picks up right where we left off: Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey, whose devilish Southern drawl remains the shows highlight) is now Vice President, journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) has information that could get him arrested, and there is a whole realm of people either playing or being played. This season sees the new Vice President move towards gaining control of the presidency, currently occupied by Garrett Walker (Michael Gill).

To get there means not only keeping past skeletons well hidden – a subplot revolving around the lewd past of Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) develops – but also means destroying Walker’s closest ally, philanthropist Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney). McRaney’s Tusk is the closest the series has ever got to a true antagonist to Underwood; equal parts Clive Palmer and Rupert Murdoch, you hate him nigh-immediately. It’s to McRaney’s credit that we actually begin to cheer on Underwood’s political games, instead of merely looking on in curious disgust.

It’s this curious disgust, though, that continues to drive House of Cards. Without giving too much away, several major players are written out with such efficiency that it makes acting in Game of Thrones look like a secure job. One pivotal exchange in the last chapter, however, between Claire and a former marine proves to be the crux of not only the series, but the whole show itself: After all these murders, backstabbings and political games, what do we make of the real people who are affected? When did a system designed to serve the people become so evil?

House of Cards is – at face value – one of the best TV shows around and definitely worth watching. But on a meta-level, it may well be one of the worst. It’s at once exploiting our established attachment with a medium it doesn’t use – for us to watch a show it developed through methodical equation; everyone loves political dramas like The West Wing and Scandal, so this will be good. It establishes cynicism in government, but doesn’t acknowledge the cynicism it develops towards itself. It proves that codifying mainstream artistic taste has become so efficient that it can get critical acclaim, win awards and develop cult status – and get away with it.

In all fairness, it’s a move that’d even make Frank proud.

Albert Santos [twitname]albertinho[/twitname]