Cracks in the Foundation

Once upon a time, there was a TV show. This TV show came roaring out of the gate from its very first episode, and both the critical community and the general public were swept up in the excitement. Though its first season had ups and downs, everyone agreed that it was monstrously entertaining, and nobody could wait to see where it went from there. Then it crawled up its own ass, spun out into ridiculous subplot after ridiculous subplot, and became actively annoying to watch. Then it tanked. And that show, ladies and gentlemen, was called Heroes.

You know how we read fairy tales to our kids about children who come to unfortunate ends because they didn't learn a valuable lesson? I'd like to read "The Tale of Heroes" to the production team behind House of Cards and hope they take it to heart. Its first season easily made my Best of 2013 list, snagging the spot for second best show of my year. Back then, I said that the Underwoods' quest for power involved "backstabbing schemes that are jaw-dropping without ever straying too far from plausibility". Damn, Africa. What happened?

The second season started off strong, wrapping up a loose end from Season 1 in a swift and shocking way. And it ended strong, with a foreboding and satisfying conclusion. In fact, House of Cards managed to tell four episodes' worth of very compelling stories about the Underwoods' continuing rise to power. Trouble is, the season is thirteen episodes long. What does that mean? Paaaaaaddddddding. Padding, padding, padding. Subplots about Adam the photographer. Subplots about Freddy the barbecue guy. Subplots about Rachel the call girl, who should receive a trophy for being Television's Most Boring Character. If these subplots were as well-crafted as the main story, I wouldn't have minded. But they weren't. They were tedious to the point that I could almost imagine a shot-clock just off screen that the characters were attempting to run down.

Even the main characters don't get off scot-free. Raymond Tusk, whom I gather was supposed to be Frank's worthy opponent this season, vacillated between inept strategies and cartoonish super-villainy. A bunch of time is devoted to the Mystery of Why Jackie Gets Tattoos. I'll go ahead and spoil that one for you: She likes pain. Isn't your mind blown? Speaking of blowing, the other big problem with this season is the sex scenes. I'm no prude - I enjoy a good sex scene as much as the next guy, but it has to make narrative sense within the story. Without even blinking, I can think of three scenes of non-normative sex presented this season with absolutely zero payoff, story-wise. They just wedged them in so the audience would be titillated. It wasn't a terrible season. Like I said, there was at least four hours of really compelling television buried in the bloat. Kevin Spacey didn't have much to do but purr evilly (which is not his fault), but Robin Wright had a tremendously strong run of episodes. And hey, Cashew the guinea pig sure is adorable.

I've been tremendously lucky with the television shows I've been watching this season; most of them have been hitting it out of the park. Maybe if it were a more lackluster season overall, this show wouldn't have come off as so disappointing. Given the end scene of Season 2, it's a little difficult to predict where the show will go from here, but I'm interested in finding out. I'm still on board for Season 3, though I'll be approaching it with a wary eye.

House of Cards - Season 2: C+


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