Jeff Smith: Why I Enjoyed Episode 1 of House of Cards, Season 2: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

(Check out Jonathan Miller’s “Why I Hated the Episode 1 of House of Cards.”)

I’m only one episode into Season 2 of House of Cards – unlike Jonathan, whose daughters are nearly grown, I don’t have any six hour chunks of time these days.

Also unlike Jonathan, I didn’t hate the first episode. Maybe I’ll change my mind after more episodes, but I quite enjoyed Episode 1. Sure, the Frank-Zoe (Kevin Spacey-Kata Mara) storyline infused Season 1 with some sexy tension – not to mention a scene that will forever haunt every father with an adult daughter who calls to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. But Mara is not irreplaceable on the show; I fully expect the emergence of another character who bring an erotic charge to the show. And frankly, I didn’t find Mara’s frequent coital disinterest – be it with Spacey or boyfriend Sebastian Arcelus (playing journalist Lucas Goodwin) – to be particularly sexy.

Jeff SmithJonathan’s other critique – that Frank’s murder of Zoe was gratuitous and unbelievable – strikes me as more legitimate. But still, it’s understandable. As someone who compounded a ticky-tack crime (approving a meeting between two former campaign aides and a consultant who planned to send out a postcard about one of my opponents) with a much more serious one (lying to the feds about whether I was aware of said meeting), I totally get how things can escalate as one’s grip on power is threatened, whether by a federal investigation or a sharp, ambitious young journalist whose knowledge of your MO has become more intimate than you originally planned.

Did Frank set out to be a murderer? Of course not. At first he just wanted to put Peter Russo in a position of power where he could leverage him for his own use. However, when Russo became a serious threat to Frank’s ambition, he had to be dealt with. Perhaps not so brutally, but once it became clear that Russo had no interest in playing ball, Frank needed a solution. Was the murder of Zoe – in a crowded subway station –riskier than Russo’s murder? Undoubtedly. But once you get away with something once, it becomes much easier to believe you can get away with it again. (That said, Frank really should’ve worn gloves.)

Aside from the Mara debate, Episode 1’s final scene left me confident that showrunner Beau Willimon’s writing chops are intact. “Every kitten grows up to be a cat,” intones Frank, after greeting the viewer for one of the show’s trademark soliloquys.

They seem so harmless at first – small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk.  But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood….sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt, or be hunted.

And he is right. For most real-life politicians, this mercilessness takes a different form – cutting off a preacher who has made incendiary comments, or a prison-bound friend and colleague – but hey, this is television, and so to some degree we suspend reality. But the thought processes that cause Frank to desperately cling to power by any means necessary are as real as they get. Trust me.


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