Frankly, I was a little disappointed with season two overall. The first episode of the new season was pretty hardcore, and I won’t spill all the details of it, but be prepared to gasp when you do watch. It had a few good episodes, a few shockers and twists, but I didn’t feel the same level of manipulation as in season one, and so the twists didn’t land as hard as they could have.
Episode and storytelling structure
The structure of season two was different as well. It seemed that in the first season, the episodes managed to alternate between the narratives and subplots of the other characters much more smoothly and more frequently, so you were always aware of what was going on with Doug and Rachel, Peter’s alcoholism and campaign, as well as what Frank and Claire were plotting. In the second season, it seems like some of the subplots are almost forgotten, as Claire and Frank’s decisions and plans take over the episode, sometimes more than one at a span. This wasn’t necessarily a problem, but I did start to wonder about some of the characters, like Doug and Rachel, who weren’t given as much time to tell their story as they had previously.
**There may be some spoilers in the next section about some new characters and plot lines, if you want skip down past it.**
We get to know Remy Danton (I had thought his name was “Dent”, like Harvey, the entire first season because of the way Frank pronounces it!), Raymond Tusk, and the President and First Lady much better this season, as well as the new whip, Jackie, Seth, the new PR guy for Claire and Frank, and a hacker, Gavin, that Lucas was using to help uncover the truth about what happened to Zoe.
While Jackie is certainly an interesting character, she’s about the only one. Remy and Tusk both felt a little flat to me, and I just couldn’t sympathize with the President and First Lady, or even dislike them. They were just sort of there. The hacker’s role was a little confusing, because he continues his pursuit even after Lucas goes to prison.
Seth was a far more interesting character, because it seems he continues to play both sides, Tusk and Underwood, throughout the season, but he’s still on the outskirts because we don’t get to know him by himself that much.
There was also a piece where they brought Claire’s lover from season one back to stir the pot, but I didn’t feel like that added much to the story. The subplot with Freddy was stronger, but I didn’t like how Frank left it. VP or not, I didn’t feel the conflict in him as much as I expected to.
**Spoilers over. Start reading again here.**
Furthermore, I felt like some of the subplots were not tied up as neatly as they should have been, particularly the one relating to Janine and Lucas. It seemed that they were almost forgotten, and I wanted to see them fight harder and become more of an obstacle than they were. Tusk’s role, also. as Frank’s antagonist through most of the new season could have been better. You don’t get to where you really hate him. He’s a thorn in Underwood’s side, but he never really got developed to be able to fight back the way that someone like Zoe did.
Another change was in the narration. In season one, Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood does a lot of asides in which he speaks directly to the camera, explaining his motives, complaining about how stupid some people are, or hinting at something ahead. In season two, there is far less of this, which I found to be a little disappointing as well.
Part of what puts you on Frank’s side in season one is that those asides help you to see just dastardly and manipulative he really is, and it’s portrayed in such a clever and sarcastic way that even though he is a real villain, you can’t help liking him and rooting for him at least a little. In season two, he still gives a meaningful glance at the camera or makes a comment while waiting for a response from another character or narrating as he heads off down a hallway, but you don’t get that same feeling from this as in season one. Season one, you got to feel like you were in on it, his plot for gaining power, and he still managed to surprise me by the end, but in season two, I definitely felt more like a spectator than a participant, or co-conspirator, as it were, to his plans.
While Claire’s role was strong in season one, I felt like it became even stronger in season two, and I felt very much like she had more of a controlling interest and a vote, so to speak, in the overall Underwood plan. One of the things I found most compelling, and yet still less than perfectly executed, was her admission to having an abortion and her admission to being raped when she was younger. It was incredibly brave, and it was incredibly relevant in today’s political climate where real discussions about abortion are verboten and “rape culture” deniers are everywhere. However, while it started out to be a great twist and a good step toward legislation and conversation about these issues, I felt like they tapered off and became only a matter of politics toward the end, which was a little anticlimactic.
As to the conclusion, I still won’t give it away – I know not everyone has the time to binge-watch the entire season in two days like I did – but I was not as surprised by the conclusion and not as excited for the Underwoods as I was at the end of season one. I’m sure Frank has his work cut out for him in season three, but I think we’ll be needing some new villains and new obstacles beyond those of a political nature. The politics are interesting, but it’s the personal mistakes, indulgences, and pursuits that make this series and the Underwoods so interesting.
Just for fun:
Here’s Spacey’s interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart about season two! (If you have any trouble with the video, here’s the link to the interview on The Daily Show website.)
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