House Of Cards: Season Two - Online Review

'Within the first episode of Season Two, all of the shows apparent desire to keep Underwood believable seems to have gone out of the window.'

It's difficult to remember a more obvious change in approach during a series than the switch that happens somewhere between House Of Cards Season One and House Of Cards Season Two. Whilst the first series of one of Netflix's flagship shows felt as though it was constantly managing to reign in renegade politician Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) just enough, the second series appears to have absolutely no intention of doing so. The first might not have been steeped in realism, but you could at least just about buy most of Underwood's political manipulations, supplemented with extra marital activity and occasional endeavours that had even more significant consequences.

Within the first episode of Season Two, all of that desire to keep Underwood believable seems to have gone out of the window. The much-discussed event that happens within the opening episode is followed quickly by an ever-more unpredictable sex life and an increasing level of conspiracy that, at times, involves the press, the FBI, the president (Michael Gill) and others. Perhaps the change from Season One to Season Two can be summed up most accurately in one character: Michael Kelly's everyman chief of staff, Doug Stamper. In this series, Stamper is a far cry from he of old, increasingly, bizarrely attached and attracted to Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), in a story that frequently induces cringes and that culminates during the final episode.

That final episode is a big part of the reason why House Of Cards' difficult second outing wins out. Tense, fast and focused, it's no coincidence that its the episode during which Frank has the most time for us. Having opened the series with Frank letting us know that he's still going to be taking us through the action (the near-iconic 'you thought I forgot you?' line is a startling wake-up call to audiences and screenwriters everywhere) showrunner Beau Willimon then does rather let our relationship with the Vice President go a touch cold. The finale picks this up, putting us uncomfortably into Frank's lap as the series' grander machinations come to fruition and close. It's satisfying, horrifying and compelling in equal measure: everything this series should have been and that the first one was.

The problem with the rest of this version of the show is that it attempts to juggle too many balls, many of which feel vaguely unplanned and inconsequential and are thus justly picked up and dropped with a dishevelling frequency. The opening returns us frequently to the upwardly-mobile Freddy (Reg E. Cathey), going as far as to introduce his errant son and grandson. It feels like the story might go somewhere but the way it is dropped hints at the conclusion that Freddy has exited this narrative for good. Claire (Robin Wright) gets significant screentime on some important and emotive causes but do any of them get the conclusions they deserve? Perhaps that is part of the Underwood story, as both partners pursue one ultimate goal, but it frequently feels clunky narratively.

Perhaps the most egregious example is that of Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus), bizarrely suggested as a major character early on where he didn't seem to have the importance or the acting chops to be so, before Willimon decides that that is actually entirely correct and drops him for the rest of the season. A narrative with Christina (Kristen Connolly) gets the same treatment. Jimmi Simpson's character is from a different series all together: more The Matrix than a political drama. It just doesn't feel as structurally well managed and there's a frequent feeling that time is being wasted, backed up by the tremendously tight final episode, which relies on none of the above threads.

Even when this series is treading water it is watchable (it has Spacey, after all), but under the auspices of a lead character like Underwood, you would have thought House Of Cards would have recognised that treading water isn't enough. This is a show with ambition but in its second season it appears to have started applying that ambition in all of the wrong places. Even the best shows cannot afford two consecutive seasons that are this sloppy and, suddenly, House Of Cards third outing becomes make or break, in an arc surely made for a four or five season run.

House Of Cards was playing on Netflix.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.


  1. Great review and this closely mirrors my feelings about it. A lot of stuff felt inconsequential and the whole Chinese trade thing was boring. First season was a lot better

    1. Good point. The Chinese trade thing could have been a lot better if it had had the focus that was diluted by the other threads. It was, in the end, the main hook of the story but it often didn't feel like it. Another failure for a very middling season.