(There are no spoilers here, but this post assumes you have seen season one of the U.S. version of House of Cards.)
I woke up this morning expecting headlines about Amazon servers crashing as everyone rushed to watch the new season of Netflix’s mega-hit House of Cards. Since the first episode cut out on me once while trying to watch last night, I feared it would for others as well.
Luckily, things seem to be chugging along.
Which is about the only positive thing I can say about the opening episode.
Why season one worked
Season one had great moments of characters struggling with their weakness while aiming for power:
- Peter Russo balancing his family, alcoholism and quest to be governor
- Frank’s role in Peter’s death
- Claire’s infidelity
- Zoe’s confusion over if she has feelings for Frank or is using him like he’s using her
Granted, things seemed to fall off the rails in the second half of the season. (Frank playing “the alphabet game” on CNN? Come on, that was weak.) Still, there was a lot of story there to deal with.
Season two is a soap opera
Season two seems to have dropped that subtlety in favour of awful people doing awful things to each other. Frank, Claire and Doug Stamper are evil, cruel, unrepentant sociopaths. (Tiny spoiler: has Stamper trained in Krav Maga?) Meanwhile, the journalist trifecta of Zoe, Lucas and Janine spend the episode biting their nails and then screaming at each other over how powerful Frank has become. As a story outline, there is room for great drama. Instead, we got soap opera melodramatics. I didn’t care what happened to any of them. I hope there’s a 24 cross-over where the whole lot of them gets nuked, leaving only Christina (Russo’s assistant/girlfriend) for Jack Bauer to lead out of the rubble.
True, having a sociopath in the mix adds drama. Even an unrepentant asshole like Walter White (or Jack Bauer) amps up the tension. But the sociopath must be among characters we care about. And Walter White’s loyalty to Jesse and love for his family, twisted as it all became, made him sympathetic. There was none of that here. It almost seemed like the writers sat around thinking “No, we need to make ________ even more evil. We need to shock the audience! Character development and consistency? Nope. Shock the audience.”
Yeah, about “the twist”
It’s not a spoiler to say the episode has a “shocking” moment/twist/game changer. The Web is no doubt buzzing about it already.
So I’ll call it a shameless attempt to generate buzz. No spoilers here, but man is it a cheap, weak cop-out. If you watch the episode, ask yourself if that character would really take such a reckless risk. It makes no sense unless it’s an easy way for the writers to generate tension. It is as contradictory as Lori on The Walking Dead telling Rick he needs to do something about Shane because Shane is putting everyone at risk, then being horrified when Rick tells her he killed Shane in self-defense.
That’s not to say I don’t think the character is capable of the motivation, but the execution is not in keeping with what we have seen so far. Unless the second episode spends time deconstructing it from a character perspective, it spells bad news for the direction of the series. No doubt, it will affect plot but not character leaving us to think __________ is just a shell of a person who takes actions that are convenient to move the plot from A to B.
Where is Fincher?
What scares me the most is (according to Wikipedia) it looks like David Fincher is not involved this season. He remains in the credits as Executive Producer, but that’s it. Like Frank Darabont on The Walking Dead and Dan Harmon on Community, my fear is without a talented guiding hand this show will drift into the great sea of TV mediocrity.
Judging by season one’s uneven quality, House of Cards might becoming Washinton D.C.: 20510.