A House recalled

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Series two of House of Cards is set to be released on Netfilx tomorrow (14th February), and there is no doubt in my mind that rather than a romantic evening this Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend and I will be settling down for a night of betrayal, infidelity and heartbreak; I’ll be disappointed if we lack the stamina to watch the entire series in one night.

I stumbled upon the first series on a sleepless flight home, so I’d like to thank Virgin Atlantic for their frustratingly uncomfortable seats, without which the marvelously Machiavellian character of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) would never have forced himself into my consciousness.

I’ll try not to give much away for those readers (like myself) coming to the series late, but if the program achieves anything it is to completely undermine the theory of a democratic society. Through the perspective of Underwood, Majority Whip, we see corruption deeply ingrained in the fabric of the American political system.

Indeed, it is difficult to remember that this is fictitious. Underwood’s strategy and accomplishment in his quest for power are so masterfully achieved that this could almost be history. In fact, the original 1980s series was co-written by Michael Dobbs, a conservative politician in office under John Major and Margaret Thatcher, so perhaps there is more truth than you’d initially imagine. To adopt the phrase used across both shows: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.”

The first series sees Underwood pursuing the Vice-Presidency, and the natural assumption would be that from here he would covet the President’s title. But I have a feeling that this season will allow Underwood’s skeletons to emerge from their various closets of lies, adultery and murder, threatening his security in office. As much as you might have been indoctrinated into rooting for and admiring Underwood, it is undeniable that were he an authentic political figure, you would hope that eventually he would be held accountable for his sins (of which there are many).

Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) is the ambitious journalist soon to know all the answers, or, in other words, to be holding all the cards. Although previously at times it seemed that she was allowing Underwood to use her, she is exposed as a similarly bloodthirsty, power-hungry predator – qualities also shared by Underwood’s wife, Claire (Robin Wright). Undoubtedly, not all of them can get everything they want, and given that the two women were both made to feel secondary to Underwood in the first series, I imagine that the balance will be redressed in the next series.

I also expect more focus on the Underwood marriage, an openly non-monogamous relationship, where other sexual partners are permitted provided that they demonstrate some potential power to be harnessed. In the first series we rarely saw Frank and Claire together for more than a few moments onscreen, and even then it was usually in a public or professional capacity. However it was clear that there was a great deal of their relationship unexposed to the viewer, and only glimpsed fleetingly by the disclosure of a shared secret or common goal. The couple’s private life is destined to come under scrutiny with the unfolding of the rest of the plot, and it will be interesting to see if their relationship cracks under the strain.

If the first season felt dangerous, it was because it teetered on the tip of an iceberg, which I anticipate will emerge as the series continues. For Underwood as Vice-President there is more at stake, further to fall, deeper to sink into muddy waters. Retaining his power at this stage will require him to get his hands bloodier still, and if I’m still backing him at the end of this second series, it will only be in the hope of a third installment!

Photograph courtesy of Netflix

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