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House of Cards – Episode 1.02 – "Chapter 2"

                                                                                          Patrick Harbron/Netflix

Though I very much enjoyed the Pilot episode of Netflix’s original series House of Cards, I wasn’t initially sure if it could reach the HBO-level of high-quality drama it was so clearly striving for.  Unfortunately, this second “Chapter” was on such a similar plane as the first that I’m still up in the air about it.  I’m beginning to realize that these episodes aren’t necessarily meant to be wholly satisfying as their own 50-minute stories; rather, they are genuinely intended for the ever-increasing trend of binge-viewing.  None of the thirteen episodes have unique names, they are simply assigned a “Chapter” number, which indicates that they are meant to be consumed like a novel.  And this is the beginning of the story.  Rarely do we find the first two chapters the most exciting ones; the author is busy setting up the rules of the world they’ve created.  Such is the case with these first two episodes, which find Frank Underwood masterfully manipulating his surroundings with remarkable ease.


     In “Chapter 2”, Frank (Kevin Spacey) continues his metaphorical chess match with the administration that wronged him by orchestrating the sacking of Michael Kern, the frontrunner for Secretary of State.  Using a tipoff from his henchman that Kern may have written a controversial editorial 30 years ago about the Israel/Palestine conflict for his college newspaper, Frank uses his key pawns to pull off a Machiavelli-style ousting.  He sends Senator Peter Russo to manipulate a deadbeat druggie that used to work with Kern on the newspaper into saying Kern had wrote the piece.  This is one of the best scenes in the episode, with director David Fincher’s panache for lighting and color palette accenting the scene with harsh mustard-yellows.  The plan goes off without a hitch and Kern becomes caught up in a media frenzy he cannot escape.  Frank tells Washington Herald contact Zoe Barnes to run a story about Catherine Durant, Frank’s ally, being the new frontrunner for Secretary of State.  After the administration gets wind of this, Frank once again uses his powers of manipulation to convince the President’s Chief of Staff that she really would be a good choice.  Remarkably, Frank comes up against no obstacles over the course of the episode (neither did he in the first episode) which really breaks the tension of every scene he’s in.  We know he’s going to mastermind every situation so there’s nothing unpredictable about his plotlines.  Frank is charming and witty and his nods to the camera are fun but we haven’t seen any weaknesses yet.  

     However, this is what leads me back to my first argument.  This is the beginning of Frank’s story.  Something I failed to mention in my review of the first episode is that House of Cards is based on a UK miniseries of the same name.  The miniseries creators said that they drew from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Richard III as inspirations for the main character, and we see similarities here as well.  Many of Frank’s speeches are verbose and poetic, with many lines sounding like they could have come straight out of Shakespeare’s writing.  Frank is in a state of relatively great fortune as the series begins; besides getting passed over for Secretary of State, everything he’s done thus far in the series has been rewarding for him.  He hasn’t taken any significant blows.  Yet, both Macbeth and Richard III end in tragedy for their titular characters as they fall from grace, seeing their once great empires crumble to the ground.  I hesitate to guess that over the course of these 13 episodes we’ll see Frank’s confidence gradually slip as he loses what he once had.  Perhaps Frank’s “house of cards” is what will inevitably collapse, rather than the political house of cards he’s attempting to disassemble.  

Grade: B+
MVP: Kevin Spacey

Stray thoughts: 
-Claire continues to be rather tangental to the main plot of the series but I’m sure she’ll eventually tie in with the rest.
-It’s unfortunate to see such an ugly stereotype play out in Janine assuming Zoe must be sleeping with someone in order for her to get such good information.  Apparently women aren’t allowed to like each other in TV drama.
-David Fincher did an excellent job directing these first two episodes, I hope we won’t see an inevitable step down when James Foley takes over for “Chapter 3” and “4”.

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