I have been waiting for over a year for Netflix to premiere the second season of House of Cards--and last month when they announced that on February 14th the wait would be over, I knew that today would be the best day ever. I am going to be slowly breaking down the entire season on this blog--so I will be updating and editing as I go. It is in the nature of the show since it isn't released an episode one week at a time, to allow reflection-- It is also released all at once, as if to suggest--watch me, you know you want to, because you LOOOVE Kevin Spacey. Yes, it is true, there is something about an actor that is so talented and good at what they do--you BELIEVE its Frank Underwood--he makes this RUTHLESS manipulative politician come to life to where you do imagine life imitating art and vice versa--and that to me is the true standard of any good actor--or artist for that fact. Then there is the indulgent appeal to our ego by releasing it on Valentine's Day of all days--a polarizing Holiday for many singles which coincides with the President's Day weekend.
Those of you who have not watched the first season--please stop reading and CATCH UP.
SPOILERS from now on, since I am going to break down the new episodes.
Season 2, Episode 1: Chapter 14
When we left off season one's cliffhanger--where Stamper is trying to reach Frank, while he and Claire are out running--I was hoping that we would return this season--where everything is somehow fixed, and the corner they painted themselves into was no longer an issue--but then I remembered--television has changed or in this case it isn't television--its Netflix--we can watch an entire season with all the power we are granted as viewers--to choose to watch all at once, or slowly enjoy one episode at a time as we break it down. This show has always granted the audience a place--we watch the show but we are enticed by the storyline and characters--but the main character literally looks at the camera and speaks to you--acknowledges you exist.
We actually catch up with Frank and Claire on their run--right where we left off, jogging side by side in unison, in harmony--foreshadowing the true depth of their relationship: their goals are in line but also their methods of getting what they want. They are still in the same predicaments as before, Claire still had that conflict with Jillian and Frank still had the Rachel/Russo ordeal that Zoe and friends had been digging into.
The intro has even been edited, to sound more grandiose. But whatever...
Back at the townhouse, we see Meecham waiting with Stamper, and they are discussing Frank's birthday--Stamper advises Meecham to not gift anything. Frank shows up and Stamper fills him in on Zoe & friends getting close to the truth--they go inside and discuss what must be done in order to keep their secrets from coming out. The change of space, is another example of how manipulative Frank is--he has his public face and his private face--he manipulates the very space he is in. He breaks through the dimension of film and transcends to acknowledge that he is being watched and we are paying attention: he has that kind of power.
Throughout the first season he has given us that inside monologue--looks straight at the audience, TALKS to us--but then goes back to the action happening. Frank is two-faced, manipulative, and he rationalizes his actions, we see him own up to them because it is "what must be done", but in the light of the people of the United States, this Congressman is a squeaky clean--and we also accept his two faced character because he is after all a politician. I know Frank is just a character, but politics and tactics of power tend to work out in certain ways. What I love about Frank is that he KNOWS power--and he is not afraid to use it and is a Master at the game. But so is Claire. She stops smoking their morning cigarette, because the Vice President mustn't be a smoker. We see who really wears the pants.
We cut to Zoe being doggystyle fucked by Lucas--while looking completely annoyed and bored at the same time. Its like she doesn't know what she wants, she can't decide whether she wants to play ball by being Frank's reporter, lover, and is dishonest--she fucks Lucas but is clearly not into it. By the way, this totally explains my repulsion at how most men vanilla men think that sex should be. Lucas was just fucking her like an animal, while Frank was more generous of a lover--eat her pussy slowly, make her cum. Here she is on the bottom, no power, just getting it over with--sex is about power--so here she shows us that she hates her decision. She can't communicate with Lucas.
Frank shows up to the White House to meet with Jackie Sharp, and he sets her up with some files to read to plant the seed for a plan to derail the opposition for Whip Majority Leader. He supplies her with the ammunition, the power to take down her opponents. Her name is even appropriate, Sharp.
Zoe and Lucas are going to aggressively seek Rachel about seeing her hop into Stamper's car--this is a rare audience view of how we know something that Frank doesn't--but without evidence or witnesses--there is no proof and the reporters are again without real power. Frank makes sure to keep his distance and cut off his ties because he is moving up the ladder--Vice Presidency is a foothold into being President in the future--and we know Frank is an ambitious man.
Frank is meeting with the President and his staff to discuss his replacement as Whip, the two names he showed Sharp earlier come up. He suggests that Congress decide, leave it open--the Old Fashioned Way. But we already know Frank just wants to draw votes from the two candidates and get Sharp in there. He has Congress doing what he wants them to without them knowing, and with a whip like Sharp--who he is trying to make an ally--he would have two branches of government to control.
Rachel is surprised to see Stamper at her work, he pretends to order something while telling her she must go home, pack a bag. She refuses to understand that she is a pawn, a very valuable one--but also very dispensable if she refuses to play along. Stamper is like Frank's shadow man--he does all the dirty deeds--loyal and dependable, understand the true dynamics in play and knows who Frank really is--but also understands this is politics.
Claire is having a meeting with her attorney about the allegations Jillian Cole is making about Claire. Since Jillian admitted to Claire, that she is playing dirty and lying--Claire decides that she is done and is going to not settle, no more communication between parties and let it go to court--against her attorney's wishes. Claire knows how to play dirty, and she is going to show Jillian what power is--she looks up all the possible doctors that Jillian would have had an affair with.
Zoe arrives a little too late to the restaurant where Rachel works--and tries to get the manager to give her any information she can get--she is powerless, the best she could do was lie badly to the manager to get a P.O. box. She is too late and doesn't have the power to stop Stamper.
Back at Frank's office the birthday presents have started to arrive, he directs his secretary to inventory the valuable presents, regift the cheap ones to the interns and the cards--well she clearly grins as she throws the cards away. Frank doesn't give a fuck, clearly--he is too busy looking for Stamper so he can have an update on the Rachel situation. She is close enough to be hidden but not enough to hide from them. Frank is starting to clean house--he got a new phone so the history between him and Zoe is not longer an issue. To him it is as simple as replacing an electronic device. Zoe on the other hand hasn't been able to get anything substantive for a story since Frank stopped "feeding" her.
A woman approaches Jillian on the street angrily at Jillian, we find out it is the wife of the doctor she had an affair with. The wife sees that Jillian is pregnant and start berating her and publically at her front door shaming her--making it known publicly that this woman is a homewrecker--of course we can assume this is Claire's doing--exposing Jillian and causing this secret Jillian had to come to light, she is showing Jillian what kind of power she has--to wreck your life one piece at a time. Jillian is being fucked with, she just doesn't know it yet.
The Reporters, all meet to discuss their progress and what kind of information they really have on their hands. They are definitely on the right track, but do not have anything substantive the stripper that can identify Russo doesn't want to talk, Kapeniak is MIA, and Rachel is under Stamper's control. Their one loose end is just not within their reach and they are just drawing straws. Zoe shows them a text she got from an unknown number--whom we are made to assume is Frank. We know that Frank is cleaning house, Zoe should know better than to assume that she isn't just one of his loose ends, Lucas immediately smells something is up.
Christina is meeting with Linda, it seems that her political aspirations are taking precedent to her mourning Peter. It seems she has learned to seize an opportunity to move up the echelons of power--good for her. I think she might be a real threat later--but that is because a good politician smiles as they are sharpening the knife with which to stab you back with.
Stamper goes to get Rachel, who is sitting in the dark and hasn't packed and tries to put up a fight with a knife--he promptly puts her in line and keep her in check. She is really getting the reality thrown at her face--that she is nothing and what she wants doesn't matter. She was first bought out for 10K, tried to be greedy, but she got help, she is clearly grateful that she has someone like Stamper over nothing, but she is not in control of her life--she is lucky they haven't killed her yet. She doesn't want to start over, but she's never stop being for sale--she has yet to stand up and tell the truth and think for herself--that is why she is completely pathetic and powerless--a puppet who (was) is holding all the cards (no pun intended) but too stupid to realize it. She could tell the truth about her relationship with Russo, expose Stamper and ultimately Frank--but instead she lives in fear. On one hand she is smart for playing ball and staying alive, but on the other hand she could expose everything and herself when she just wants to run and hide.
Claire knows that Frank doesn't like to celebrate his birthday buts asks anyway--she knows that he even though he is the future Vice President, he values his privacy enough to suggest a quiet dinner at home--just the two of them while talking over coffee that morning. Frank values his privacy and is embracing it as he is about to be put into an office that is rather visible but not enough power to actually do anything. His private life is about to be more open and his birthday is a reminder that he is human, he has weaknesses that could be exposed--but being a man of power--he keeps his focus and so does Claire as she cooly dismissed the lawsuit when Frank asks in passing as he leaves for work.
Back at Frank's office, he is meeting the Secret Service to work out his detail. They want to bring in a full security detail, and Frank insists he would like to hold on to his privacy as long as he can, until he is officially sworn in. Interesting, he keeps downplaying his public life and Frank is clearly showing how good he is at calling the shots. He wants to keep his townhouse rather than moving into the Naval Observatory--forcing them to renovate his house to ridiculous security standards--he also wants Meecham in his detail, just make it happen. I don't think they even listened to anything the SSA had to say--just get it done. He gets a text from Zoe on his new phone--which is cool because they have superimposed the text onto the screen. Another way that this show has utilized the space of the conversation between the two of them, the space he is occupying and we witness that private relationship we have with our phones--it is very intimate, but that imposing of the texts brings it to the public space for us the audience. He also is making Meechum loyal to him, by giving him a position he is not qualified for--in the past he rescued him from being punished for an incident Frank needed him distracted from, and now he is promoting him so that Meechum is loyal and grateful to him and doesn't tell anyone where he goes--to keep a foothold into his private life, when it all goes public.
Lucas meets with his police contact who is really squirrelly about meeting up, he knows that something is up high up the ladder and highlight the severity of the situation warns Lucas- the police report just states that Russo was in the passenger seat the night he died and is texting Zoe about it as she is waiting to meet Frank at a park. The texts infer that it implies someone else was "in the driver's seat" in control of the situation, but more importantly, it doesn't prove anything. No power to do anything really, they just have to keep digging.
Meechum drives Frank to meet Zoe at the park, as he arrives--her and Lucas stop texting--again the power of the texts are a subtext to the advancement of technology in our private and public spaces--and also how technology has changed television and communication in general. Frank highlights this point by demanding that she delete all his texts and contact info--to sever the digital tie between then, so as to not compromise their relationship--but he presents it as a clean slate, for them to start over. She keeps digging for information and leads to link him up to Russo's death. He is in control so he keeps his cool and dismisses anything she throws at him. He gets real with her and reasserts how beneficial their relationship can be, he is going to be VP and she can have that kind of political access. Most importantly, he gives Zoe a choice, the power to keep playing the game of politics and journalism they have been partners in or to expose herself for no reason, with no power. He leaves and tells her to think about it--after all it is a big decision, but he also wants her to simmer.
Claire is meeting with a fertility doctor to see if there is a possibility of her being able to have a baby at her age. She tries to discuss some issues with the doctor but ultimately she hasn't even discussed it with Frank, signaling that this is either a personal wish or part of a grander scheme having to do with pregnant Jillian. Back home she washes her face as we hear the TV in the background--Frank is working in bed, and he makes space for her to come in and cuddle--a very rare intimate moment--you think that she is going to talk about the visit she had at the doctor--but vaguely discuss a decision that Frank is prepared, fully prepared for some time.
Zoe and friends meet to discuss their latest find and they start arguing about what they have/ don't have--Zoe is clearly thinking about herself and what Frank said, and leaves them frustrated and confused. Frank got into her head and made her doubt herself--she is clearly thinking of letting this story go, and going back to being Frank's girl.
It really is all about Frank he even thinks that Freddie's ribs taste better now that he is closer to having more power and moving his plan along. Realistically, Freddie says that it's a new butcher, who slow bleeds his hogs--and explains that the butcher even has a soundproof room because of how loud they scream from being slowly drained. The humane way is to do it fast and hard--that way there is no screaming. Frank jumps at this but it symbolizes and foreshadows a sacrifice Frank will have to make to be more humane.
Frank is approached by Womack, who wants to know who his support is behind to replace him as whip, Womack knows that Frank is up to something, but is just going to play along. Frank texts Zoe about whether they should have a fresh start.
Jillian goes to CWI to approach Claire, as Jillian's insurance is somehow cancelled. Claire has to approve the insurance Jillian needs to get her meds that she can't get otherwise, ones that keep her baby alive. Claire clearly not only refuses to help, but has gone to the OBGYN to find out about meds and procedures that affect Jillian, as she has forged a consent form, and ask about the angry wife who visited her. Is playing dirty, but legally--just like Jillian, and is forcing Jillian to either do what she wants or experience her baby die. Claire gives Jillian a choice--take over the CWI and drop the lawsuit or have her baby die. Claire really is just as ruthless as Frank about exerting her power. We really get that she only used the fertility doctor, when she cancels the appointment for the tests, after all she never spoke to Frank.
Zoe meets with Frank at a subway station--there is construction site she meets him by that is dark and secluded and closed off. Its loud and Frank is hiding in the shadows in disguise--she stays in public view but still out of the way. She agrees that they should start with a clean slate, she deletes his texts and contact info--he watches her do it--except she keeps insisting on Russo, and tells him she has leads about Rachel and Russo's last meeting that she hasn't told the other two. As the train approaches the station Zoe takes a confessional tone, where she acknowledges the reality about her relationship with Frank, and the compromises she has made, she owns them but she finally brings up that she feels she contributed to Russo's death--that she wasn't a part of murder. She wants Frank to give her an answer that she doesn't want to hear and would also expose Frank--for what he is a ruthless butcher. He slowly bled Russo, but nonetheless Frank is willing to kill to get what he wants. He walks away into the dark, she follows after him--landing right into his trap--he throws Zoe onto the oncoming train. He killed her fast and painlessly--the humane way.
Lucas finds out at work what happened, we don't hear anything we just watch someone step into his glass office and tell him. His expressions changed but we don't hear anything--we are cut off from his space but know what its about when we see him break down as his colleagues outside in their cubicles are completely clueless in their cubicles--they are disconnected from the news, probably as they are about to report it.
Frank arrives at home, its dark and Claire is waiting for him, lighting a candle on his cake--which we know he didn't want. He puts it out with his finger, refusing to play into the birthday tradition, but also to symbolize that he snuffed out Zoe. His fire has been put out.
Janine scrambles to get packed, to leave town as she knows that this has to do with the dirt they were digging up. There is a knock at her door, and she cautiously answers the door--to Lucas whom she hugs like crazy, they are both distressed over the situation. He doesn't get why she is packing and she explains the kind danger they are in. Lucas is upset because he doesn't want to give up on an investigation that Janine encouraged Zoe to pursue. Janine is fully aware of how power works, and realizes that she has nothing--and is risking her life--without power of their own. Stamper sent Janine the naked photos that Frank took of Zoe last season from his old phone. Which Lucas sees and of course remind him of the fact she never looked at Lucas that way or was that way with him. Lucas wants to keep going but Janine puts it best:
"He has power, he has a lot to lose, and right now he is winning".
As Claire is getting ready, she sees the news concerning Zoe Barnes' death, she goes on about her make up as Frank showers. Preparing her public persona, and privately thinking about whether Frank was involved in Zoe's death.
Frank meets with Sharp, about the files he gave her to read--ammunition against the whip nominees. She confronts Frank about his intentions and why he is helping her out. She is definitely asking all the right questions, and Frank is giving her all the answers he wants to give her--but we can tell that he is not looking to use her as a pawn like Zoe. She wants to know why he chose her, and he brings up examples of her killing in combat without hesitation because it was going to get things done--ruthless pragmatism, just like Frank.
Frank discusses the whip nominations with the House leaders--but still keeps Sharp his secret for the time being. We see Christina interacting with the President as the assistant to the Chief of Staff, power is how Christina has stayed quiet and within Frank's reach within the White House. Rachel is still within reach for Stamford to bring her lunch and spend a little time with her. Two women who have the power to expose Frank, but dealt with in different ways.
As Meechum drives Frank home, he offers his condolences, for Zoe--its unknown if he drove Frank to the station or if he is truly being sincere. Part of Meechum's job is that he has to keep quiet--and especially since Frank had him bumped up into the Secret Service--there is more of an incentive for Meechum to be loyal to Frank. He also hands Frank a gift, even though Stamper advised against it. Meechum was smart enough to wait a day, and to not make a big deal about it. Frank clearly likes them, wears them and appreciates the gift.
Finally, Frank has his monologue to the audience: taunts us, as if he knew we were wondering if he was going to continue his tradition of speaking to us this season--through the lens. He gets brutally honest about Zoe--compares her to a cute kitten that grows up to be a bratty cat, biting the hand that feeds. He is clear that in the power struggle, there must be no mercy--(and its true) hunt or be hunted.
The closing shot is the monogrammed cufflinks Meechum gifted Frank, The letters F-U. Frank Underwood, also his attitude about anything that gets in his way--fuck you.