Having obtained the Vice-Presidency of the United States, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) faces challenges from similarly ambitious businessmen, the Chinese government and Congress itself as he keeps climbing the greasy pole of politics. His wife Claire (Robin Wright) is similarly threatened by old and new enemies alike.
The first season of House of Cards was dark, but this one is darker. Impossibly, the creators have travelled to even deeper depths of human depravity as they chart the grim inner workings of the American government. It makes for excellent viewing. The show’s theatrical and operatic qualities remain engaging as ever; based upon Richard III, the characters are made to grapple with timelessly pertinent concepts. Despite its contemporary setting (used to great effect with twitter and texting playing important roles) the show deals with ambition, morality and sexuality almost as deftly as the Bard himself.
The characters, and how they’re written, highlight this strength of the show. Spacey and Wright are absolutely fantastic as the two leads, a power couple to end all power couples. Frank frequently speaks to the camera in a form of soliloquy, drawing the audience into this world, and addresses all his peers in a delightful Southern drawl. Claire is arguably even more credible as she quietly but brutally dispatches her foes. The pair is surrounded by near faultless performances from an ensemble cast of unknowns, all with an axe to grind, a chip on their shoulder or some other ulterior motive.
The story is as political drama should be: heavy on morally grey bureaucratic actions which are accessible for the audience, light on actual violence. Most episodes revolve around trade disputes and legislative debates which are made astoundingly clear to the layman audience and are as captivating (if not more so) than humdrum action sequences. An added bonus is that when blood is shed, one can’t help but wince.
The show is not without its faults. Spacey’s excessively eloquent dialogue is occasionally over the top, as are some actions taken by the character which seem quite ridiculous. Moreover, the lead couple may well be accused of sometimes lacking a second dimension. Whilst Claire does eventually reveal some humanity, Frank is borderline supervillain on a number of occasions.
Minor missteps rarely get in the way of this otherwise stellar political drama, which paints a deliciously sour picture of Washington.