“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
It’s an old saying that summarizes the banality of the vast majority of actual political maneuvering. As titillating as it may be to entertain the thought that a group of world leaders are carrying out sinister plots to enact evil undertakings, the probable explanation is that the failings of government are a result of ignorance, incompetence and dumb greed more often than one of conspiracy and menacing genius. That may be true about real life, but when it comes to TV, delving into hypothetical malice is far more entertaining.
House of Cards has never been interested in a realistic depiction of Washington politics, except for maybe in a vague representation of greed and corruption. The first season, a coming out party for Netflix and its entry into original programming last year, introduced us to Democratic Congressman Francis Underwood, whose mad plotting and calculated vengeance proved immensely popular, and resulted in numerous Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. It didn’t earn these accolades and this popularity because of some wonkish attention to political detail, but rather a combination of other factors—including an expertly-paced narrative, captivating lead and supporting characters, and magnificent aesthetics—all of which used its DC-specific setting to great effect.
Season 2 could have heeded the voices critiquing the show for being too over the top, and scaled back its embellished storylines and self-aggrandizing tone. Creator and showrunner Beau Willimon might have listened to folks who scoffed at Kevin Spacey’s direct-to-camera address of the audience and altered his show more to some people’s liking. Instead, House of Cards introduces its sophomore season by doubling down on the sheer madness of its initial vision. The first episode teases us into thinking it may have changed, and once we begin to let our guard down, it jolts us back to attention with a completely unexpected moment that reminds us that this is the same Frank we’ve come to know, except with even more unharnessed power.
Last season left us with Frank, having orchestrated the departure of the President Walker’s veep, being offered and accepting the position as the country’s new Vice-President. Of course, we know this role as second in command will not be ultimately satisfactory for Frank’s ambitions. An early scene in which he gets reamed out by the President reminds us how little Frank cares for having someone to answer to, or at least someone who thinks they run the show, not him. It’s a matter of if, not when, Frank will make his move at the presidency himself; what we’re waiting to see is how he’ll carry it out, what obstacles he’ll face, and whether his presumed plot will actually work. He’s good, but surely he can’t be unstoppable.