Welcome to the second season of Netflix's House of Cards, everybody! Once again, the company has released all 13 episodes at once, and the TV.com community will be here to work through them with you. Whether you're a binge-watcher or a more methodical viewer, hit the bottom of this story to find bookmarkable links to past and future episode reviews. We've already set up a page for each one to give you a place to chat about each episode, and we'll fill them in as we go.
Hey, do you guys like parliamentary procedure? If so, then "Chapter 16" was the House of Cards episode for you! I'm not necessarily one of those people, and it's pretty easy for me to grow disinterested in the kind of political wheeling and dealing that was on display in this episode. It's not that House of Cards brings us an unrealistic portrayal of how things get done in Washington (though, I guess the fact that things do actually get done on this show makes it completely unrealistic); more often, it's that the series introduces us to random oppositional figures who we know little about, and then expects us to care about why they're an obstacle to whatever Frank is trying to accomplish that day.
"Chapter 16" did that with Benito Martinez's Republican leader and the sudden IMMEDIATE necessity to push through some entitlement reform that would raise the retirement age, with a larger goal of preventing a government freeze right around the State of the Union Address. It was a little frustrating to follow all of these things all at once, especially because they sort of came out of nowhere. In Episode 2's focus on the Chinese and cyber security, I don't recall a reference to entitlement reform. While the Chinese issues were mostly dropped here, this other stuff suddenly meant that everyone was losing their mind before the State of the Union. And because we weren't previously acquainted with Martinez's character and the orney member of the Tea Party who wasn't totally willing to budge on his position, the urgency—something that "Chapter 16" really tried to emphasize—didn't come through as well as it could have.
However, one thing that I've realized now, having returned to House of Cards after several months, is that I almost always think characters are underdeveloped, that the stories are kind of silly, but still, the show is just so inherently watchable. Though I wish it took itself less seriously, I've decided not to worry too much about those things because hey, Kevin Spacey makes the best of his material, and the political maneuvering works well enough—and those elements were absolutely on display in this episode. The big parliamentary procedure set piece here seemed pretty aware of its own silliness, and so the stampede of senators entering and exiting the senate floor, some of them eventually in handcuffs, was just pure fun. We need more of that kind of stuff in the real senate (or if it already happens, I need to pay better attention to it). And, the more lying and scheming between Frank and Gerald McRaney's Raymond Tusk, the better. The Cult of Tusk!
Moreover, though it came a bit out of left field, I appreciate how House of Cards appears to be pulling even more from some real-world issues to build out its storylines. I'm pretty sure this episode had already been filmed before the actual U.S. government shutdown that lasted for 17 days in October 2013, but some of the politicians' assertion here that the government should shut down to "prove" a "point," or so that the Republican party could "win one," is the kind of posturing and rhetoric that drives the American public insane. Maybe I'm paying more attention now, but it feels like House of Cards has made its politics more precise in Season 2, or at least shifted them closer to what I imagine actually happens in D.C. Although I guess it's easy to think that when Frank is actually working and not pushing people in front of subway trains, huh?
With the strong focus on the entitlement bill, most of the other characters only had a few moments here and there. Claire, seemingly recovered from her run-in with the man who raped her, hired Connor Ellis (Mad Men's Sam Page) to manage the Underwoods' media coverage. It's hard to not immediately hate Connor for the kind of stuff Page did as the awful Dr. Greg on Mad Men, but it'll be interesting to see how Frank and Claire do—or don't—work the media in their new roles.
Meanwhile, Doug struggled to keep Rachel under his nose now that she's working at a call center and talking to people on the bus. That's not going to end well, for multiple parties. Though it seems like Dougie might have a little thing for Rachel, no? And speaking of "things": The president is probably getting it in with Christina. Great decision by everyone involved there.
And Lucas, ohhhh Lucas. He's so deep in that deep web, yo. The "work" he did in the last episode got him a contact with a notable hacker, which led to some amusing scenes where he was forced to do various things to prove his interest in the Underwood case, and that he's not a cop. Thankfully, the notable hacker is played by Jimmi Simpson, who lightened the mood almost immediately when he appeared on screen. Lucas looked so strung-out, and his naivete about the internet was fun enough. Let's hope that partnership continues for a few more episodes.
This was probably a necessary episode, one that set some baselines for the political climate that Frank will face through the season. And though Frank did come out ahead at the end, it worked for me. Apparently I only enjoy the scramble for votes if it means politicians are dragged onto the floor in handcuffs. But the war over entitlement still has work to do in the House. Until Episode 4!
What'd you think of this one? How is your marathon proceeding?
Note: We've already set up a page for each review to give you a place to chat about each episode, and we'll fill them in as we go.
AIRED ON 2/14/2014
Season 2 : Episode 13