In the second episode of the acclaimed new Netflix series, Frank Underwood continues his vendetta against his colleagues by convincing the denuded Secretary of Education to give over control of an important education bill and making the Secretary of State step down from office after looking like a racist jerk on national television. While Frank was able to accomplish quite a bit toward furthering his own agenda, much of the focus of this episode moved to Frank's wife Claire's struggles, both at work and in her relationship with Frank.
Robin Wright works very hard to make Claire Underwood downright inscrutable. It is nearly impossible to see what she is feeling beneath that shell of hers, both in terms of her decision to let go of most of her staff at her non-profit and in terms of her competitive/uncaring/caring/weird relationship with Frank. What we get from her is subtle, and it was wonderful to see Claire unpacked a little bit during this episode. If my interpretation is correct, Claire Underwood is concerned with aging and its ultimate result: death. This is why she bought a rowing machine for Frank, because health is one of the ways that we fight against entropy. This is also why she is going in such a difficult position with the non-profit: if she does not distinguish herself as hip and fresh, she and her entire enterprise will be distinguished as old and outmoded, and that's a situation where nobody wins. The question of mortality and replacement was hit home when Claire watches an older woman who is incapable of ringing up her coffee and who is immediately replaced by a younger, more capable employee.
These Death-of-a-Salesman-style themes permeate all of House of Cards. One needs only look to Frank being passed over for Secretary of State, Zoe Barnes rung-climbing past her colleagues because of her relationship with Frank, and the fact that the new education bill was written by six young wannabe-politicos to see this fact. The question becomes: Is Frank using this changing of the guard theme to his advantage or will he ultimately fail at his attempts because he's old and the next model has already come out?
House of Cards remains cleverly written and intelligently delivered. Kevin Spacey is still amazing, and he's even growing into that Southern accent a little bit better. The supporting cast is doing a great job of distinguishing themselves, but also of playing their parts. The second episode made it more clear to me just how fantastic the cinematography is in this series during a scene where Frank stands in front of a building in the night and the balance of light and darkness was absolutely stunning. Netflix pumped a lot of money into this series - this is true - but it is delightful to see that the money is going to good use. (If you've forgotten just how that much money can be misused, I direct your attention to Michael Bay's series of Transformers movies. What a waste!)
In the future, I'd like to see more about what made Frank and Claire Underwood into the people they are now, what their hopes and dreams were, what their early life was like, all that. It's not a problem yet, but if we don't get something that makes them more human within the first five episodes I fear it could hurt the program. As of now, however, House of Cards is the aces. (Get it?)