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Blu-ray Review: 'House of Cards: Season Two'

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The Show:

House of Cards” has continued to make history by being one of the first extremely popular shows offered via streaming through Netflix, in addition to it being the first Emmy-nominated show to do just that. With season one, we were treated to the political power struggle that is Francis Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) everyday life, a struggle that took him from the Majority Whip’s office to that of the Vice President of the United States. As season two opens, Frank is sworn into his new office, but he still must deal with the meddling group of reporters, including Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) and Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), who are trying to link him to the death of Congressman Russo. However, having gotten this far in his career, he’s not about to let them get the better of him.

Meanwhile, a situation develops in which President Walker’s (Michael Gill) close friend and confidant, billionaire Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), is getting too close to the President for Frank’s comfort, swaying decisions that Frank feels Raymond shouldn’t be interfering with. This leads to a kind of standoff between the two, which builds to a scandal involving China and millions of dollars’ worth of campaign contributions. As the battle intensifies, more people get drawn into the crossfire, including Frank’s wife, Claire (Robin Wright), who is having a hard enough time trying to get a bill passed through congress without being drawn into the fray. As we get deeper and deeper into the story, we soon realize that Frank has a more ambitious goal than simply taking down an adversary. For a man who is as power-hungry as Frank Underwood, even the Vice Presidency isn’t big enough to quench his appetite.

Looking back on season one for a moment, things were always tense as we watched Frank manipulate his way through every situation (cabinet appointments, a teachers’ strike, a gubernatorial race, and eventually the Vice Presidency). Every episode had you wanting to come back for more to see how he would continue to weasel in and out of his various predicaments, leading right up to his goal (his short-term goal that is). Season two is a slight step down, but is still thrilling throughout much of it. The reason why it ends up not grabbing you as much as before is because a good deal of it focuses on this little rivalry between Frank and Raymond, which merely becomes a back-and-forth series of attacks that aren’t quite as compelling as what we saw in the first season.

Meanwhile, we have to deal with little sideplots that don’t get anywhere, including one with Frank’s assistant, Doug (Michael Kelly), who takes care of/falls in love with Rachel (Rachel Borsnahan), one of the loose ends of the Russo affair. The other involves Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali), a lobbyist for a large firm who tries to play both sides and ends up falling in love with the new Majority Whip. Both of these could have used better integration into the story so that they felt like something more than distractions from the main plotline.

Again, the season is still decent overall, especially as we approach the last few episodes in which we can only guess how the entire scandal is going to play out and who is ultimately going to take the blame. A step down for a great series is still far above many others. Plus, those others don’t have the outstanding performances from Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, who are always spellbinding as the duplicitous duo who always seem to know just how to get their way. We’ve already gotten the great news that another season is on its way, so now we can only begin to imagine what trouble Frank’s lust for power could possibly get him into. At the end of season two, we’re left with quite a finish. It’s hard to say it was a surprising outcome, but it does make one wonder where they could possibly go from there. It may be called “House of Cards” because of the precarious nature of Frank’s work, but it can also refer to maintaining the stability of a show like this. Thus far, we’ve seen a great season and a good season. Let’s hope next season doesn’t see the “house of cards” fall down.

Video/Audio:

“House of Cards: Season Two” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.00:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of superb quality. Every frame is perfectly sharp and crystal clear with no noticeable issues of any kind. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is flawless, allowing all elements to be heard without issue. Overall, it’s doubtful that the show could look or sound any better than it does in this release.

Special Features:

  • Politics for the Sake of Politics
  • Direct Address
  • Two Houses
  • Table Read
  • Line of Succession

All five of these featurettes are fascinating looks behind the scenes at how the show came together, featuring interviews with the cast and crew who share their thoughts on the process. The footage of the scenes being blocked is particularly interesting because it shows you just how much work goes into the smallest of scenes. My only complaint about the extras actually has nothing to do with the content itself, but rather its placement in the set. For some odd reason, they’ve spread them over all four discs in the set, which is a rather silly thing to do because most people only watch the special features once they’re done with the main feature, so this causes them to have to load in each disc again just to get to all of them. All five featurettes would have easily fit on disc four where they belong, so there really wasn’t any reason not to put them there for convenience. But I digress. All of these featurettes are informative and worth watching, so even though you have to go through a bit of trouble to see them all, you most certainly should.

Conclusion:

While “House of Cards: Season Two” isn’t quite as good as the preceding season, it still provides enough thrills and intrigue to make it worth returning for another 13 episodes of Frank’s continuous power struggle. Hopefully as we move into season three, there will be less focus on the insignificant sideplots and more of a concentration on the main storyline, which should prove to be more thrilling given the position Frank is in at the conclusion of this current season. However, despite its faults, season two proves to be more than enough to tide audiences over until we get there.

Score: 3.5/5

Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting today.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Tim's Vermeer, Alan Partridge, RoboCop (2014), Alexander: The Ultimate Cut, Ravenous, Son of God, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection, Stalingrad, The Monuments Men, Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill, Grand Piano, Her, Orange is the New Black: Season One, I, Frankenstein, Final Exam, Evilspeak, Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four, The Legend of Hercules, Dead Shadows, Sorcerer, Copperhead, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Best of Bogart Collection, Beneath, American Hustle

Now playing in theaters: How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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