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House of Cards “Chapter 14” Review (2×01)

14 Feb

kate-mara-house-of-cards-season-2Well, we’re back for another season of political intrigue and backstabbing. It’s House of Cards season 2.

I’ll be honest: I’d be the first person to express my dislike for much of season 1, as I thought it was tedious, a bit pretentious, and full of extraneous characters and plots I just had no interest in. “Chapter 14”, though, seems to hit the ground (literally) running, delivering a more tightly-plotted episode that, even considering the show still has its problems, is genuinely entertaining.

Let’s take the first scene, for example, which is one of those cases where the show succeeds with its nuance and its symbolic gestures; Claire and Frank seem to be predators in the dark, calmly slinking through the night like the leeches they are. What’s essential about this scene is the contrast with our introduction to the series’ first season, a sequence that delineated who Frank was. Here, though, Claire is just as much in it as her husband is.

That’s one of the things about last season that bothered me, actually. Robin Wright is a fantastic actress, but she seemed to serve an extraneous purpose, sucked into a plot that had no basis being handled the way it was. Here, we see her steely, expedient nature brought to the forefront, as she essentially manhandles Gillian and, after taking notice of Zoe’s death, calmly applies her own makeup. As is the case in this world, when one person is eliminated, another gains power. Another person looks even better than she did before, as implied by the makeup.

Here’s where the show falters. It seems merely intent on portraying the manipulative ways of our characters, the parasitic relationships that develop amongst people vying for power. Yet, it does so with such little nuance, an element severely lacking in a show that has the look and feel of a Mad Men or The Sopranos. Peter Russo was that nuance, that human element back in season 1 that balanced things out a bit; now, though, watching Spacey and Wright chew the scenery is only interesting for a certain amount of time.

Take our main character, Frank Underwood. He’s now willing to push people in front of trains to further his career, and at a point, what he does just feels shocking for the sake of being shocking. What this show needs is a worthy opponent for Underwood, someone who can match him intellectually, someone who can add something to the show by bringing out a different side to our characters. We can watch Frank slip and slide and push his way through the masses, but that doesn’t mean the masses aren’t important.

GRADE: B

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-Yeah, I still maintain that Corey Stoll out-acted everyone here.

-This show never was and never will be the Next Great Drama. I hope the writers have realized that, and can now get down to delivering the fun.

-I’m really disappointed with how the show handled Zoe throughout the character’s run. Her relationship with Frank could’ve been great, but it was executed clumsily.

-Molly Parker shows up as Jackie Sharp. Hopefully we see a lot of her in the future.

-Now we’re left with Doug (eh), Lucas (eh), and Gillian (eh).

-This show gets way too on the nose at times. Exhibit A: Freddy’s BBQ story. Exhibit B: The last shot of the episode. Jeez, show, we get it. It’s the Frank Underwood show and the letters spell FU! Themes! Symbolism! Oh goodness, my heart! (Throw me in front of a train now, please).

-Wow. Didn’t know you could commit a murder in a subway station with a bunch of onlookers nearby, then stroll away in a stupid disguise.

-I’ll admit that the Zoe murder is a pretty shocking moment.

-Welcome to the reviews. I’ll go two episodes at a time from now on, aside from the more important episodes (the finale will get its own post, most likely).

Photo credit: Netflix, House of Cards

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4 Responses to “House of Cards “Chapter 14” Review (2×01)”

  1. JustMeMike February 14, 2014 at 11:53 pm #

    Hey PB = Freddy’s tale of porcine demises flew by without me grasping the significance as I was listening to Freddy as he told the tale to Frank. Even after the sudden end of Zoe’s career and everything else, I still didn’t bring Freddy into my head.

    It was only after someone else wrote that they didn’t see it coming that got me to thinking. Zoe was either going to bring Frank down later on, or Frank was going to kill her. Simply it was an either/or, and there didn’t seem to be a plausible plan C. If you believed in Plan B, then it became a question of when.

    But when I watched the episode a second time – the foreshadowing seemed all too obvious.

    Then there was Frank asking Doug if he had picked up a burner (disposable prepaid phone) which Doug provided. At that moment, it wasn’t obvious either.

    But since you wrote that the line: This show gets way too on the nose at times. Exhibit A: Freddy’s BBQ story. And following that, you then wrote: I’ll admit that the Zoe murder is a pretty shocking moment.

    There’s a bit of a disconnect there. If you grasped the meaning of Freddy’s parable as he told it – then the blood on the tracks which came later should not have been so surprising.

    ???

    • polarbears16 February 15, 2014 at 2:00 am #

      Hmm, very interesting, Mike. Thanks for this.

      I think a lot of people knew Zoe was going to end up dead at some point this season; that was pretty much inevitable when she started asking questions. I’m not sure it was so much me not grasping the foreshadowing as it was me not expecting the act of throwing someone in front of a train. There was a ton of foreshadowing in this episode, but the shock element was there because of 1) how quick the show, and therefore Frank, acted on it all, and 2) the show’s track record; you wouldn’t expect this to take place here, especially in the premiere and even after Freddy’s parable. Even the Russo situation was a few notches below this one on the Underwood Scale of Bad Behavior (I made that up).

      To be honest, it’s a fairly ludicrous scene–not from a character perspective, though, of course–and I should’ve been clearer; the shock element came from a more visceral standpoint for me. Anyway, thanks for pointing all this out.

  2. ironhawk22 February 15, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Nice review, I too was quite skeptical of the first season(especially the middle part which was, to put it quite, excuse the pun, frankly horrible) but around episode Eight when he returned to the University was when I got hooked. I definitely agree with you on the side characters though, Constance Zimmer’s my favorite non main character(though prostitute girl and Christina are up there for *ahem* other reasons). I’m seven episodes into S2 right now, and it’s a lot more focused and a hell of a lot more fun than the majority of Season One.

    • polarbears16 February 15, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

      That’s good to hear! I’ve finished the first two episodes, and I’ll try to get half the season done by the end of the three day weekend.

      Yes! The eighth episode of season 1 was really great.

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