“Power play.” It’s all about the pecking order. Who’s on top? Who’s under you? Ouch, ouch, you’re on my hair. And who’s this.. “Underwood”?
Back for a second season on Netflix, Kevin Spacey is jockeying for pole position on Capitol Hill. Hyah! His fictional Frank Underwood character is currently the Majority Whip in House of Cards’ House of Reps., but I wouldn’t describe him as being “happy with where he’s at right now.” No, sir. The Representative from South Carolina’s 5th district (the fightin’ fifth!) has schemes and plots to get to the top.
(Editor’s Note: Both chambers of the legislature have whips: minorities and majorities, two per party; this
man person ensures everyone votes how the men leaders want; “whip” comes from hunters, focusing their hounds when they lose the scent.)
Underwood’s craving for upward mobility through raw power stood poised to crush whoever became in opposition. Yes, that Power, the power lured this Frank to Washington, D.C.. A graduate of law school, no doubt he had other opportunities, open like so many midnight boulevards. Politics became his thing because that was where dominion and control rested – control over others, influence over the fate of a nation. Government has long been Power’s true seat, and Underwood did not discriminate in his distaste for those distracted by wealth. Take Rémy Danton (Mahershala Ali). A diligent and wicked cunning strategist, Danton worked for Underwood 8 years before flocking to the private sector. A pity.
The struggle to climb the ladder is just as savage whether in big business or big government though. Hit from behind early on in the first season – nearly beaten – Underwood jibbed defeat. Top Democrats in his own party told him he was to become Secretary of State, before reneging and giving that job to someone else; down and out, his Golden Globe award-winning TV wife came to his side. A success in her own (w)right as a fundraiser and non profit foundation executive, she got behind and helped as her husband lifted himself up to his feet. Then, they began taking names.
There’s no place like the swampy DMV (that’s D.C./Maryland/Virginia area, OK?) for staging a revenge fueled rampage. Frank was out for the blood of his own blue bloc, and the results sometimes were deadly. Underwood, muckraking and mud slinging his way through the first season of House of Cards, settled scores but coalesced new enemies. He devoured opponents on both sides of the aisle like so many rib racks at down-home Freddy’s BBQ Joint. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
A media savant, he handled rapidly evolving situations with precision. He leaked stories to reporters, often at great political peril, and put the brunt of a good day’s manipulatin’ to his right hand man, Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). Doug saved the day sometimes, evacuating Underwood from jam after potentially career-ending jam. Whether it was loose end tying; bribes to D.C. police chiefs over knotty pine tables; or hiding away a metro area hooker (Rachel Brosnahan) with threatening information, Stamper held a crosshair focus and honesty to his job that only a former addict could. One crisis/one day at a time.
Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) was Underwood’s most useful tool. Sort of. A young and head-shaking beauty, the Senator was struck by her, uh, ambitions. As a journalist for big outlets, she leveraged the stories she spun for Underwood into new avenues of employment. Her colleagues Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer) and Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) picked up on her penchant for disclosures relative to her good looks, especially as those stories broke and circulated down and out through the Distrct. It was obvious she was closely involved with someone higher up. Despite some misgivings and grey areas, the three hunkered down together, determined to find truth in the Russo scandal. It became clearer that Underwood might be involved.
Underwood’s committed, calculating wife Claire (Robin Wright) knew of the romantic tryst between her husband and the Washington Herald newspaper’s Zoe. But this is the District of Columbia: here, the rules are different. Perhaps hurt, Claire still appreciated the rote utility of banging a journalist, in a town where media are so hard to trust. She reacted as an audience could understand, though, kindling the fire underneath an old flame of hers across the country – one of those artsy-type guys, Adam Galloway.
If her husband should get to fool around on the side, why shouldn’t she?
It was just intense. Frank, Claire, and their ploy-toy play things Zoe Barnes and Adam Galloway became quite involved. At the highest levels of
bureaucracy government, the allegiances and fidelities are fickle where you might expect them to be stout, and vice versa. This all played out against a backdrop of political posturing that could either sink Senator Underwood or maneuver him toward the top: you know, the whole Russo bit. As Whip, he vetted, selected, and groomed Philadelphia’s blue-collar congressman Peter Russo to run for Governor of the state of Pennsylvania, knowing full well the young man’s history with drinking and getting high too much. Russo’s sobriety became a bus stop stump speech rallying point. It was calculated for voters to know he was in recovery.
Underwood had Russo on the campaign trail but also still out working for the Democratic party, so he sent him to speak to Roy Kapeniak – a man who had crucial information, far off the beaten path. Kapeniak was useful only to derail the appointment of the man Underwood’s party and leadership chose instead of him to become the Secretary of State. Russo’s apparent suicide came weeks after that visit but just days following an intoxicated and embarrassing phone interview: a public relapse that crushed his chances of a win in the race. His departure from planet Earth meant the current Vice President – notoriously unhappy with the acrimony of D.C. – could step aside without question. He would leave the White House to run in Russo’s stead, back in his own home Keystone State.
The President was free to select a new No. 2 for the country.
It just appeared too politically convenient for Zoe and co. to ignore. Season two promises to address that head-on, among all the other drama. Cards‘s first season cooked on low heat. It was a slow pan across the surface of a threatened political heavyweight’s soul. Instead of in the background, his wife Claire became a powerhouse, instrumental at times to Senator Frank Underwood’s vision. His Chief of Staff Stamper, miss Zoe Barnes, and the bold Rémy Danton proved they could intrigue with the best of them, and that this show had a lot to offer. Frank Underwood ducks for no man, woman, or child – least of all a beltway goose. Watch. Don’t watch, he won’t care. You matter little in his grand scheme of things. He’s the one playing for Power.
Season 2 is here in all of its glory, ready for you to binge until you need to purge. HBO’s serial anthology about people killing people in Louisiana, True Detective, is a palatable cleanser. Just know that if you cheat on Frank with any other top shelf TV show, he will find it out. And..