(Spoiler Alert: A few details from the Season 2 premiere episode of “House of Cards” are revealed in this piece).
Anyone who watched the first season of “House of Cards” knows that it’s one of the best shows on TV. Or is it? Actually, Netflix doesn’t really qualify as TV. Or does it? Truth be told, the lines between traditional TV and its OTT cousins are blurring so fast that it’s becoming impossible to tell the difference. The incredible quality of House of Cards—from the polished writing of Beau Willimon to the nuanced (and sinister) performance of Kevin Spacey to the pointed directing of master filmmaker David Fincher—means we really don’t have to care whether or not it’s television. It’s just damned good. And for those of us who crave great storytelling and political intrigue, this series simply hits the spot.
With the release of Season 2 one week ago today, it’s clear that Netflix has no intention of letting up on its relentless quest to exceed all expectations. Here’s one minor spoiler alert if you have yet to watch at least the opening episode of Season 2: Somebody dies. And it’s a major character. And for those who watched without knowing that in advance, you didn’t see it coming. And if you claim you did see it coming, you’re lying. How do I know this? Because I was at the Hollywood Season 2 premiere last week, and this group of jaded, “we know all the story tricks and can predict anything” crowd of Hollywood insiders didn’t see it coming. At all. So neither did you.
Here’s how it went down: As everyone shuffled into the spacious theater at the Director’s Guild on Sunset Blvd, occasionally glancing over at Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara and other stars milling around before they found their seats, an unusual amount of nervous anticipation filled the air. How would Willimon top last season? Where would Frank Underwood’s devious plan, in which he maneuvered himself into the Vice Presidency through trickery, subterfuge and even murder, go from here? (We all kind of pretend that some of these story beats haven’t already played out in the British version from which this is adapted, but I digress). In terms of the American version, the full 2nd season wouldn’t be released globally for about 4 hours, and there we were… the lucky few who would see it first (Netflix’s Ted Sarandos implored us not to tweet out any spoilers before the midnight release, and it seems like everyone complied). As the lights dimmed, the chatter died into a silent hush. And then it happened. About 40 minutes into the episode, the theater erupted into gasps and even a few screams. People grabbed onto strangers and locked eyes in shock. Did that just happen? Did it really happen? Was it some kind of dream? No. It actually happened. And there are 9 more episodes to go.
At the after-party that followed at the famed Chateau Marmont, I told Willimon that the episode blew me away (Of course, he needs my validation). He smiled knowingly, having already been told that about 100 times at this point. I even bugged David Fincher (one of my favorite film directors, by the way) to tell him how much that first episode would keep me up that night, and he too smiled with some satisfaction, noting that he and the team knew since the end of last season that they wanted to kill off said character in the 1st season 2 ep—and that everyone got behind the idea with immediate gusto (such a ruthless group, eh?). And it wasn’t just that shocker moment. The entire premiere episode just radiated subtext and storytelling power. It was a brilliant tour de force that used subtle cues to tell us how every major character will operate this season. It was the movie before the movie. And it was mesmerizing to watch.
The bottom line: This series works. And whether it’s technically “TV” or not, it’s a proud contributor to the Golden Age of Something. In fact, the S2 premiere presents the kind of shocking turn that gets you to keep binging on the entire season, which is of course the entire point of Netflix putting everything up at once. If you’re going to invite people to stay up all night, you might as well suck them in fast and make that 1st episode a doozy. In some ways, Netflix has done for the season opener what HBO’s “Game of Thrones” penultimate Red Wedding episode did last year to give the season closer added impact as it foreboded the almost certain revenge that will follow. It’s the same thing here. A small group of people know what Frank Underwood has done. And they have his number. We feel like they’ll call it up. Eventually. But we’ll all just have to keep watching to find out when. It most likely won’t be when anyone expects it.