I had kind of equated House Of Cards to a child that a really popular couple I knew may have had, and every weekend after they had the child I was urged to "come see the baby!" So when I learned that I was getting the second season of the show to review, I did some work, specifically watching the first season before poring over the second. Now that I have some time in, let us jump in, shall we?
The show is based on the British show of the same name, the DVD/video streaming service Netflix decided to make the show in an attempt to produce their own content to help business. The show had some big names producing it in Eric Roth (Munich), David Fincher (Zodiac) and Kevin Spacey (L.A. Confidential), the latter of whom was the star, portraying South Carolina Democrat Francis "Frank" Underwood. After a rip-roaring first season, the gang returned for a second, and more shenanigans to follow.
Some spoilers may be touched upon, so try to avert your eyes if need be.
The main characters return for the season, with Underwood undergoing the transition from House Democratic Whip to Vice President in the first season. He finds himself with an ally in the President, three doors down from his office, but also with an occasional thorn in the side in Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney, Simon & Simon), a longtime friend of the president and multibillion dollar executive. Oh, and Frank is trying to get used to the office of Vice President and its burdens. Meanwhile, Frank's wife Claire (Gerald McRaney, Simon & Simon) not only deals with revelations about herself and her past indiscretions but has an adjustment of her own.
Now personally, not knowing if there was much of a furor around it when it happened, there were events surrounding Zoe Barnes the journalist (Kate Mara, 127 Hours) where the storytelling decisions seem questionable. Let us put aside the fact not only that Mara's character was somewhat integral to the first season, but also the reasons her character's story changed in the second season so others could step up to the stage. The decision to replace her storyline with one secondary to the point of annoyance is one that seems to have some question. There was a secondary storyline that emerged with Frank's Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly, Changeling) and Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan, Beautiful Creatures), the young woman he not only used for Frank's political gain, but is now trying to anonymously hide from political enemies and the media. When Doug is putting his loyalties solidly behind Frank and perhaps comprising himself in the process, around Rachel he is just…creepy. In addition, Rachel is trying to find some sort of personal footing for herself in the second season as well, and their penultimate scene is an interesting choice. For the potential both characters may have to show the impact politics may have on their lives (sometimes without them knowing it), that it ends on the note it does for the season is baffling.
There are other needless scenes that involve what turn out to be significant members of the season's stories, or ones that are even more prominent. I guess the implication is that everyone bangs everyone else in Washington, regardless of race, gender or income level. It cheapens some of the characters, like the increase in time to Representative Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker, The Road) or Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus, Turtles Forever) as Zoe's former boyfriend who seemingly turns into a conspiracy theorist as the season wears on.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of House Of Cards? The show is capable of producing extended, breathtaking moments for its characters and even demonstrates this. "Chapter 17" deals with a defining moment of sorts for Claire and "Chapter 18" finds Frank examining a moment within his family's past, to the point that it may become a future plot point. By no means are these individual moments things that are transcendent, but within the context of the episodes they are in make for compelling viewing, executed flawlessly by Spacey and Wright.
House Of Cards is a good show, looking at the cold, calculating nature of politics and how those who exploit seem to be willing to put themselves in exploitable situations at times. However, that said, the effusive, even hyperbolic praise which surrounds it is a bit much. Sure, folks love the politics and may even love the people-ruining, but from purely a telling stories perspective I find it to be haphazard at best, though I do admit I enjoy the fact that the Underwoods and most everyone around them tend to relish in a dark nihilism that in terms of their comfort level is assuring. However, let us pump the brakes people.
Thirteen episodes of Season Two spread over four Blu-ray discs, all are presented in 2.00:1 widescreen, all are in high-definition using the AVC codec. Generally, any Fincher-involved production is going to look good on Blu-ray, and boy, this one is the best I have seen in recent memory. Using the Red camera technology, black levels are inky and consistent through the show, and while the color palette is not broad compared to other productions but are reproduced accurately. When the show gets outdoors either in the last episode during the forest chase or earlier on when Frank visits the Civil War reenactment, image detail is sharp and exceptional. For that matter, image detail is abundant and consistent for the run of the show. Best television show I have seen on Blu-ray recently, and no complaints about it being demo material for sure.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround for all episodes, and they are all almost as impressive as the video. The dialogue is well balanced, and it (along with any other sound effects) pan from left to right or front to back in the theatre when called upon. Low-end fidelity is ample yet smartly used to prove effective and immersive, be it the roar of a car engine or gunfire in the woods. For a dialogue-driven show its lossless sound is up there with the best of them, and Sony does great justice to the show.
The extras are somewhat scant but they are decent. Disc One has "Politics For the Sake Of Politics" (3:54) which looks at the themes of the show in and out of the political arena. "Direct Address" (5:39) examines the tactic of Spacey breaking the fourth wall in the show and his thoughts on it, and the thoughts of his co-stars. Disc Two has "Two Houses" (10:45) looks at the comparisons between the American and British shows, and how Fincher and Roth came to it. Disc Three includes a table read (7:36) from one of the episodes and a disturbing hat Spacey wears during it. Disc Four completes things with "Line of Succession" (17:13), which examines the production schedule and decision to shoot two episodes at the same time, its benefits and challenges. These pieces includes loads of cast and crew participation and while I would normally assume these were Season One extras that they decided to slap on here, if that was the case I have no complaints. An Ultraviolet code for the season is included also.
I am perfectly willing to admit that I may be an outlier to House Of Cards, but that means I would be saying I just do not like the show, and that is not the case. I think the show is capable of good things but tends to distract itself with titillation and meandering, to both my consternation and everyone else's disagreement. Technically, the show is amazing, and though the extras are not abundant they are robust. If you really like the show you are buying it for said extras, but on an up or down thumb on the show itself? Leaning up, with the four other fingers going down.