If anyone wants to know what truly excellent television looks like, I recommend that you head over to Netflix. The second season of House of Cards premiered on Valentines’ Day, and reminded us that chocolates, flowers and true love are utterly meaningless in comparison to the true delight of this show, with an opening episode that was dark, dramatic, intense and compelling. It also had one of the most gasp-worthy moments I’ve ever seen on television. The gauntlet was most definitely laid down.
And the fun doesn’t stop at one extraordinary episode: on Netflix the whole season is available at once. There are thirteen dangerously addictive instalments to be devoured. I watched the whole season in two days and I’m not even a little bit sorry. The show maintained many of the features which made us fall in love with it in the first time round, not least cinematography that any movie would be jealous of, shot in achingly beautiful muted greys and sinister blues. Kevin Spacey is once again deliciously evil and spine-chillingly ruthless but the real stand-out performance came from Robin Wright, simultaneously steely, vulnerable and perpetually watchable.
The season overall has its highs and lows. At times, the show achieves moments of true drama, poignant, compelling, and even shocking. An interview Claire gives in the fourth episode is particularly arresting, and watching Frank Underwood manipulate and control everyone in his path like a terrifying self-serving hurricane of destruction is undeniably exhilarating. However there are lows: at times the narrative loses its way a little, becoming unnecessarily caught up with Chinese businessmen we don’t really care about or descending into pointless conversation between Frank and Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney). Without the declared desire for revenge which powered the first season, it felt a little as if some of the narrative drive had been lost.
But these are minor quibbles and I wouldn’t want them to put you off . Netflix is on top of its game right now, and there’s no question that this is a show that is raising the bar. There is now no longer any excuse for TV not to be as well-written, acted, and beautifully shot as the best things coming from the film industry. I, for one, am sitting up and taking notice, and I hope that everyone making television is too.