Two kinds of pain: Netflix series ‘House of Cards’

While I will attempt to make this as spoiler-free as possible, I’m banking on the fact that if you’ve deigned to read this far, you’ve most likely witnessed the spectacle that is episode one of season two of the Netflix original series “House of Cards.” In case your permanent residence is underneath a rock or you’re Amish, all I will say about the matter is that my roommate and I had essentially the same reaction to the big shock toward the end of the aforementioned episode: shrieks and gasps that potentially traumatized the fourth floor of Seton Hall.

Unfortunately, as a proud member of the I-Finished-The- Entire-Second-Season-In-Under- A-Week club, I’m afraid to say I found those 30 seconds or so of the first episode the only real jaw-dropping moment. To keep you going all the way through to the end, I will say there is a slightly scintillating moment in the eleventh episode, but unlike the first one, this memorable scene doesn’t really do anything to move the plot along and is more bizarre than anything else.

Perhaps there are no further scandalous moments in “House of Cards”‘s second season because the plot is thoroughly predictable. If you’re familiar with your basic Shakespeare, I’m sure you’ve identified the unfailingly Machiavellian Frank Underwood, played by the ever-delightful and consistently on-point Kevin Spacey, as eerily similar to Richard III. Richard III is a world-class schemer who will stop at nothing to seize the English throne. Sound familiar? Meanwhile, the beautiful and ferocious Claire Underwood is our modern day Lady Macbeth, urging her husband along the road to power and delivering scathing one-liners along the way. My favorite of Claire’s this season? “I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that’s what it takes.” Claire, played by the Emmy-winning Robin Wright, is arguably a much more intriguing character than her outwardly megalomaniacal spouse. While Frank sticks to his usual tactics of using his bluster, charm, or aide Doug Stamper to intimidate politicians, business leaders and the president to do his bidding, Claire’s rise to power is more of a slow burn. She adjusts her deft manipulations to each situation, planting ideas in the minds of her closest allies, such as the First Lady, in such a subtle way that she escapes reproach and, in fact, receives praise. Frank’s obvious machinations of those around him grow tiresome, particularly when they are made all the more pronounced by his fourth-wall-breaking monologues; Claire’s more mysterious and delicate schemes make her the one to watch this season.

Despite its highbrow Shakespearean motifs, “House of Cards” does have a lot in common with junk food, particularly Oreos. It’s formulated for binge consumption and full of ingredients that are usually viewed as bad for us but are somehow rendered irresistibly delicious when put into their specific format. Why can’t the nation get enough of a show about fake horrible, terrible, no good politicians when we claim to despise nothing more than our real partisan and ineffective ones?

DePaul political science professor Benjamin Epstein can provide some insight on the matter. “It doesn’t take much to understand why a very dark view of political insiders would be attractive to a wide audience if done right. American politics is more hyperpartisan and antagonistic today than it as has been for decades,” Epstein said. He pointed to a Pew Research Center study showing that “politics and politicians are seen less favorably today than nearly any point in the past 90 years. We trust our government less than at any point since we started measuring.” Epstein continued, “With all of this antagonism and endless fuel for the fire through media we also have a long tradition of corruption and scandal associated with our national politicians. We like the bad guys in our movies and TV shows, and we know that there are various levels of ‘bad guys’ in politically powerful positions.”

This speaks to America’s current obsession with TV antiheroes; Frank Underwood fits right in with the likes of Dexter and “Breaking Bad”‘s Walter White. Epstein noted, “Most Americans don’t like politics or politicians but they love political drama and intrigue. Enter ‘House of Cards.’

If you’ve watched the series all the way through, it’s clear that the writers and producers thought they would only have the 26 episodes promised to them by Netflix to tell the epic tale of Frank Underwood. It wouldn’t have seemed out of place if this season finale was a series finale, but luckily there are still plenty of loose ends and ways to take the story that hopefully are more surprising and original than the arc of this second season. I, for one, am thrilled that Netflix has already renewed “House of Cards” for a third season. Twenty-six Oreos just doesn’t cut it for me.