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With just the first episode of its newly released second season, “House of Cards” solidifies its place alongside shows like “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones” – shows that favor evolving story over formula.
The season premiere, titled “Chapter 14,” picks up where last season’s finale left off.
Having made a significant step forward in his plot for political revenge, Kevin Spacey’s Francis Underwood is in no mood for rest.
The episode opens with an empty park at night. A paved pathway cuts through the grass, curving back and forth and up and down.
We hear sirens in the distance, and, after a few moments of stillness, we see two dark figures emerge from the woods at the beginning of the path. They run downhill on the path, toward us.
They move quickly, but they’re in no rush. As they get closer, we see that it is Francis and his wife, Claire, played by Robin Wright.
When they reach the bottom of the hill, they pause their run, resting front and center in the frame. After a breath or two, they look to one another, nod and run off, out of the frame.
Then, the screen goes dark, and we hear a familiar theme begin to swell as the titles begin. But, this season, something isn’t quite the same about the title sequence.
The music is fuller, utilizing more strings than synth. New time-lapse views of Washington, D.C., are incorporated into the sequence.
These subtle changes to the otherwise consistent tone are telling of the season to come.
Several critics have noted that this season is significantly darker than the first one, which was dark to begin with. And, considering just the sequence of events in “Chapter 14,” the critics seem to be right.
We know that Frank Underwood will go to great lengths to get what he feels he deserves, but the places he goes this season, particularly in the first episode, could make a viewer uncomfortably fearful of his presence.
The first time he breaks the fourth wall this season is jarring and shows a vigor unmatched in the first season.
But, even though Frank is the driving force behind all of the evil that takes place, it’s his wife who truly owns the season.
Episode after episode, Claire consistently proves she’s every bit as conniving as her husband, if not more so.
After the Underwoods endured a tumultuous first season, we’re shown by the first shot that no matter where Frank and Claire go, they go together.
The season efficiently balances various genres at once.
With this season, “House of Cards” isn’t just the brooding, biting political satire it was for its first 13 episodes.
Season two efficiently balances stories of political corruption, journalistic paranoia, cyber terrorism, foreign relations and more, all the while maintaining a firm grasp of character development.
As Frank tells the audience in “Chapter 14,” just before the final shot, “Welcome back.”