‘House of Cards’ Season 2 Finale Review

Published 7 months ago by

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards Season 2 Chapter 26 House of Cards Season 2 Finale Review
[This is a review of House of Cards season 2, chapter 26. There will be SPOILERS.]

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Now that season 2 of House of Cards has existed in its entirety for a full week, chances are most viewers (other than those who binged the whole season over the first weekend) have had the time to move well past the season premiere, and perhaps even witness Frank Underwood’s swift and decisive rise to becoming the 46th president of the United States.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that the final image of season 2 is that of Frank Underwood resolutely knocking his class ring (a replacement one, given to him by Claire (Robin Wright), after he ceremoniously buried the original mid-season) on the desk of the Oval Office before the screen cuts to black. Unless House of Cards was going to somehow venture into a discussion on the penal system, via a crossover with Orange is the New Black, the early announcement that the series had been renewed for season 3 took some tension out of the finale’s climax. That is to say, it seemed unlikely that Frank Underwood was in any real danger, and that his efforts to clutch the highest office in the land would be anything less than fruitful. Perhaps there was some middle ground there, and Frank’s attempt to see President Walker impeached and subsequently removed from office (through his own resignation, of course) could have fallen flat, leaving Vice President Underwood to roam the halls of the White House as persona non grata for the rest of Walker’s term.

As interesting as that might have been, it was never going to happen; and had the series ended with ‘Chapter 26′ (as many initially believed when House of Cards was first announced), a few unresolved plot threads aside, there was no more indelible moment to conclude on than that of President Underwood’s aforementioned desk knock. In order to get there, though, the episode had to generate some tension between the president, Frank, and Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), while also offering up the predictable sacrificial lamb of the season – which, in this case, appears to have been Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly).

Michael Kelly in House of Cards Season 2 Chapter 26 House of Cards Season 2 Finale Review

After being spooked by hacker activist (hacktivist?) Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson), Doug scrambled to move Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), his unrequited love interest and one of two people capable of linking Underwood to Peter Russo’s murder way back in ‘Chapter 11,’ to another location. Understandably thinking she was about to be done in Adriana-style, Rachel turned the tables on Doug in the woods, brained him with a rock and left him to die. With season 3 now in the works, perhaps we can expect Rachel and Jimmi to become D.C.’s newest power couple – considering they could topple a standing president with charges far more deliciously sinister than being linked to a money laundering operation being run by a corrupt Chinese businessman, funneled through a Native American casino, and ostensibly spearheaded by a billionaire with the ear of President Garrett Walker.

But if that last scenario is any indication, the citizens in the world of House of Cards take such financial matters very seriously, as demonstrated by President Walker’s approval ratings dropping into the single digits (well below what Nixon’s rating was just before he resigned). So, if Frank just continues killing young, influential journalists and South Philadelphia congressmen in the most conspicuous manner possible, he’ll likely hold on to his presidency for a second term. And that’s as easy as it was for Frank. For all the supposed tension and bold power plays there were between President Walker, Vice President Underwood, and blandly villainous Raymond Tusk, the pinnacle of the season boiled down to a soupy and earnest multi-page letter, written on the old Underwood family typewriter, in which Frank solemnly recounted his father’s history of drunken abuse, and lack of conviction in taking his own life. After that sorrowful account, Frank offered, in the form of a signed confession, to take the fall for Walker, thereby regaining the president’s confidence and ensuring that Raymond Tusk would not be afforded the presidential pardon, he’d hedged all his bets upon.

As the audience has already witnessed the extreme lengths Frank is willing to go to achieve his single-minded goal of attaining power, having a letter read by an embattled president who is hiding out at Camp David, become the impetus for him to bring a venomous snake he’d rightly seen as duplicitous back into the circle of trust is about as dramatically inert as things can possibly get. Not only does it not require Frank and Garrett to meet face-to-face and have, you know, an actual dialogue, the best the audience can hope for from the president is a series of vaguely dissimilar facial expressions in which he appears to be struck by the awe and wonder that is Frank’s heartfelt letter written on a typewriter that may as well have been enchanted, since it apparently wields more power than the president’s wife, his advisors, or members of staff.

Gerald McRaney in House of Cards Season 2 Chapter 26 House of Cards Season 2 Finale Review

It’s easy to understand Frank’s manipulation of others around him based on their fear or avarice – Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson), Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali), and even Jaqueline Sharp (Molly Parker) among them – but when the manipulation is of an entirely emotional kind – especially of someone with an established reason not to trust him – the payoff and, more importantly, the credibility of such a thing becomes far more tenuous. Most egregiously, though, it makes President Walker possibly the most feckless, susceptible individual on television (Netflix or not) today. And that spineless incompetence, in turn, makes Frank’s dual conquests of a sitting president, and, in essence, the construct that is democracy (considering he rose to the highest office without winning a single vote to do so) resonate with the authoritative timbre of a stifled cough.

If a hero is only as good as the villain he faces, then what is the standard of measurement for the anti-hero? Does he not require an adversary or obstacle of considerable power through which he can test his mettle? Many would argue that he does, and in the case of House of Cards, such an entity wound up being woefully absent. In the end, neither President Walker, nor Raymond Tusk afforded the narrative the kind of adversarial component that would have brought weight to Frank’s accomplishment. As a season finale, ‘Chapter 26′ wound up being so focused on the foregone conclusion that Frank would wind up looking the audience in the eye from behind the ultimate seat of power to literally become The One Who Knocks that it infrequently stopped to make it feel as though he’d earned the right (underhandedly or not) to do so.

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Seasons 1 and 2 of House of Cards can be seen in their entirety on Netflix. Screen Rant will have an overall review of House of Cards season 2 soon.

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  1. I wonder. Am I the only one who thinks that Frank is going to have to face off against his wife next? Something tells me she didn’t want to go into the office with him for a reason. Also S2 was better than S1. I don’t have the vocabulary to express why I feel this so I’m just going to try to make it as simple as possible. There was more at stake, and there were more players of note. Season 1 was more like a dance between frank and Zoe which I quickly got bored of. In season 2 we se Frank’s skill put to the test more than in season 1, and we see other people with as much power of manipulation as him. In season 3 he will have to deal with the loss of Dug, a pissed off Rachel, and a bunch of other people who know who he is and want him dead. Also I say again that I am keeping my eye on Claire. Something tells me she is ready to become the first female president.

    • Considering that the major plot lines are not anything truly new then I can’t see that the ‘early’ news of an additional session would somehow weaken or change the possible outcome of session 2.

      Any speculation of additional sub-plot lines aside, those of us who’ve seen the original series or read the books already know how the last series will end.

      Any remake of anything that was a big success in it’s own right does well to keep it’s original mind when reviewing. The original was so powerful that the phrase ‘you might think that; I couldn’t possible comment’ became not only a catchphrase but even a part of the culture and political life of all how saw it. Something that the US remake won’t be able to pull of.

      Never the less, the series is good. Kevin Spacey does a very nice job about it considering US sensitivities but Francis Urquhart,without breaking into a sweat, would have made Francis Underwood running home to mommy.

  2. Thanks you! I just finished watching Season 2 last night and I was so aggravated by the silly plot devices. Are we to believe that everyone in Washington is so completely gullible and Frank is some svengaly able to fool them all. Even the President? He had Frank dead to rights. Tusk was going to testify and crucify Frank, everyone would see it was all a plot by Frank, the heat would be off the president. And then after some magic letter it was all undone and suddenly Walker trusts Frank again and lets him bidding for him in Congress? Right. Frank would never double cross me. He wrote me a letter. Come on. But of course if Frank was able magically find the one spot in Washington’s public transit system that did not have security cameras and magically lure Zoe there to murder her- even though Zoe was already afraid for her life at the time- well, I guess anything’s possible.

    • It’s hollywood….and darn good hollywood. You are reading way to much into it. The plot is the best on TV. So stop playing Monday morning quarterback and either enjoy or move on

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  5. Are there nudes of Doug Stamper? Discuss.

  6. That Doug/Rachel arc was very compelling for me, and fuelled my binge watching more than anything else. I really hope Doug isn’t dead, though I’d be surprised since that final shot of him did look pretty damn final. I found Michael Kelly’s performance impressively understated despite the borderline ridiculous scenarios he had to work with, and Rachel Brosnahan is gorgeous and built a really interesting chemistry with Kelly. That scene where she recounts the Biblical story of Rachel and Jacob to Doug was particularly chilling, and left me with higher expectations for that arc than was fulfilled by the end of the season.

    • I completely agree. Doug is such an interesting character and I feel there is so much more to his story. I also feel that the Doug and Rachel dynamic is extremely interesting and I would like to see more.

    • Personally I found the whole Doug/Rachel arc boring, to the point I fast forwarded through some of the later scenes, mainly the ones that involved the new girlfriend.

  7. Stumbled onto your commentary late, as I’ve just finally given in and watched season 1 of HofC. I totally agree with your final assessment, Francis’ adversaries are unbelievably weak. I think this stems from the fact that even the writers of a cynical look at power are unable to bear the thought of a world where everyone with any power is a machiavellian construct. It is safer, and script wise, easier to portray one shark in a tank of little fish, than a dark void filled with soulless sharks. It stretches disbelief to portray every other power figure in Washington as an easily manipulated tool, how would any of them have gotten to power. Stronger adversaries would have made the series more realistic and more interesting. I will watch season 2 because I think Kevin spacey is a good actor and there are two few opportunities to watch him perform. But for me, HofC is more a cartoonish depiction of Washington, than an insightful drama. I await the scene when Frank twirlers his moustache and ties Pauline to the tracks.

    • I believe you are right, Gabby. It could’ve been a powerfull piece of a series if other politicians were as manipulative and dark as the protagonist. I think Hofc is a great show anyway, but not one as serious as it’s supposed to be.

  8. Of course that should read, “twirls his moustache” darn self correct.

  9. Does it bother anyone else that the budget is so poor that the vice presidents wife and the head of the congressional committee amongst other actors wear the same clothes for days at a time. What is production doing!

  10. Loved S1 and S2. Writers have their work ahead of them to keep the momentum going and to keep us on the edge of our seats!

  11. Writers have their work ahead of them to keep the momentum going and to keep us on the edge of our seats!

    Personally, I don’t want to see Clare and Francis fighting each other. I like them together fighting everyone else. They make a great team….complex yes…but I like them on the same team.

  12. Just finished season 2 (literally 10 min ago & season 1 last week so yes im late to the convo lol) I really enjoyed this season! My mouth is still hanging open from him tossing zoe to the train. Although a lil unbelievable they wouldnt have better camera angles. And I REALLY hope doug survives. I want better story lines for him cuz I was growing so tired of the rachel thing. Get rid of her. I love claire & frank (shes the perfect beard) & cant wait to see what scheming they do as president & 1st lady!

  13. I loved the first season, but was disappointed with the second. They killed off the best two actors, minus Kevin and Robin. There story lines were riveting and their characters were key to keeping the viewers coming back for more. I don’t know what is in store for the 3rd season, but would welcome the senator and journalist coming back to haunt the newly elected president!

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