Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Netflix gifted its subscribers with the full second season of its hit series, House of Cards, featuring a slam-bang season opener that left viewers reeling (and tweeting copious versions of “OH MY GOD”) and that pushed already-nefarious characters to new levels of both evil and unlikability. No, there’s no rule that characters need to be charming or likable or aspirational, but it sure is nice to watch a show that stars someone (anyone) whose actions you can respect and admire.
The Underwoods and their lackeys have always been particularly underhanded, but the second season has already shoved them into new realms and practices of what is best described as over-the-top, unrelatable, and outsized evil. These are bad people doing very bad things, and as fun as it might be to watch them inflict their brand of political and personal striving on enemies, deserving or not, they are not the kind of characters anyone can actually root for. But if you can’t back the two lead characters of a series, who can you?
Spoilers ahead for the first episode of House of Cards’ second series premiere.
Sure, Kevin Spacey’s soon-to-be-Vice-President might be the central focus of the show, but he’s never been likable, and it’s hard to root for anyone who doesn’t see things like “crime” or “murder” or “morals” as any reason to stop whatever the hell it is he’s doing. While there’s been brief moments of lulling — Frank can be charming, after all — there’s little doubt of just how horrifying Underwood really is down in his core being. And when he turns to the camera to coolly recant a story or lesson to his viewership? Nothing but chills. It’s nearly impossible to root for Frank, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reveal in watching him.
Robin Wright is mesmerizing as Frank’s partner in life, love, and criminal activity, but while her undeniably put-together look and actual outlook are inspiring in a strange way, Claire has gone so far over to the dark side that she’s nearly irredeemable now. In just the first episode of the new season, she dedicates herself to ruining the life of former colleague Gillian Cole, tipping off the woman whose husband she had an affair with, pretending to be a woman looking to get pregnant to gather information as to why Gillian needs a certain medication, and yanking her essential health insurance so that she will give birth to a “shriveled” baby. But, why, Claire, why? To install Gillian as the head of the CWI with “no strings.” Yeah, right. The Underwoods are nothing to champion, but they are something to watch.
While Zoe’s questionable morals made her a fantastic foil for Underwood and his evil deeds, her reckless spirit landed her in some bad (and often stupid) situations. She was never quite going to make it – and now she hasn’t, because Frank kicks off the second season by shoving her under a subway train. No one deserves that.
If there’s anyone who appears to be deserving of any kind of moral admiration and even a touch of rooting-for, it’s the newly introduced Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker). Set up by Frank to take over his role as the House Majority Whip. While go-getter Jackie professes her interest in the role to Frank — ten years down the line — she certainly takes to the news that Frank wants her to take over, at least after plenty of internal machinations and maybe a smear campaign or two. While Frank gifts Jackie with a set of computer files on each of her apparent competitors, he also shows her a folder with her own name on it. We soon learn there’s nothing on it, but is that a flicker of worry that passes over Jackie’s face when Frank later mentions it?
Fresh off of essentially running Peter Russo’s congressional district, Christina is eager for another big, big job. She gets it in White House Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez’s office, with a gig that promises to rob her of a personal life, heap on her the work of three people, and basically just wear her the hell down. She eagerly accepts. Christina, like Jackie, is a true go-getter, but the emotional range we’ve previously seen from her indicates there’s something else to her beyond the typical political striving. We’re pulling for you, Christina.
As great as Michael Kelly is in his role as Underwood’s excessively loyal Chief of Staff, he’s nothing but a lackey and a stooge. No, Doug, we’re not rooting for you, and we never have.
The hard-bitten reporter gets the hell out of Dodge once Zoe is shoved in front of a train and she receives some naked pictures of her dead colleague in her mailbox. You can’t blame her fear, but it makes it hard to get behind a tough-talker who once deemed herself “fearless.” We might not be rooting for you Janine, but we are praying for you.
While Janine is busy running for her life, Zoe’s other journalistic bestie (and gentleman caller) Lucas doesn’t appear to be backing down any time soon. With Zoe dead and Janine gone, he’s the only one who knows the truth about Frank – which would make him an instant favorite if he weren’t so damn hard to like as a human being. Bone up on the likability, Lucas, and you could come out on top.
Perhaps one of the few true innocents in House of Cards (and she’s not even that innocent), young Rachel is at the mercy of Doug, when all she wants to do is live a normal life. It’s a small request, and one he refuses to grant it to her. She deserves better.
Of course Gillian is going to take Claire’s deal — and, no, not for the money or the job, but for the literal safety of her child — but is she willing to retaliate against Claire? We truly hope so.
House of Cards is available now on Netflix.