By: Daniel Reynolds
After a year away we’re back in Netflix’s House of Cards, the show that somehow feels more ludicrous, politically speaking, than Game of Thrones. Actually, maybe that’s not the right comparison. Season Two of House of Cards speaks to the idea of a Walter White who is actually successful, pure and simple. Well OK, wait, “pure and simple” are probably not the best words to describe the absurd machinations put into effect by newly appointed – not elected! – Vice President Frank Underwood. By now I’ll assume we’ve all binged on the latest 13 episodes and so I say: welcome back to the House of Cards Season Two Detestability Rankings.
Before we get started let’s take a look back at the Season One Rankings to see who didn’t make the cut. In the “I’m dead” category we have Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes. Obviously poor Russo wasn’t going return. He couldn’t even survive Season One, and while Zoe’s murder in episode one (by incognito Underwood, doing his best Snidely Whiplash impression) was shocking, it also knocked her off the #2 perch. I’ll admit, I was stunned.
On the plus side, Tom Hammerschmidt was just enough of a lovable sad sack to get himself off the Rankings. It was telling that the Hammer was very ready with a beer for the panicked Lucas Goodwin when he was called back to his old offices at the Washington Herald. That Tom tries to do right by Goodwin – as he tumbles into a terrible prison sentence – is all the more commendable.
Similarly, Adam Galloway, he of the obnoxious scarf and accent, gets swept up in some ridiculous tabloid hullabaloo by Claire Underwood and you can’t help but feel sorry for him. He didn’t ask for this, he didn’t want this. Hey Claire, just let Galloway go back to his South American girlfriend and his arty photos (and get him out of our lives).
And finally, Marty Spinella, sorry bro, you done. Now, on to the Rankings!
The House of Cards Season Two Detestability Rankings:
10) Gavin Orsay – Compiled as essentially a batch of hacker stereotypes (the EDM music, the spartan apartment, the goddamn guinea pig named Cashew), Orsay is trapped by the FBI to entrap Poor Lucas Goodwin (he took the “Poor” title away from Russo) at the behest of Frank Underwood. Orsay does his job too well and gets Goodwin put in jail forever. Of course, he does also manage to out-l33t the FBI and hijack their communications grid. Still Gavin, I’m not going to bump it out.
9) Seth Grayson – As first blush Grayson feelings like a deeply unnecessary character. He insinuates his way into the Underwood inner circle (in an underhanded way, of course) but then quickly turns on his employers (Remy Danton and Raymond Tusk) because he enjoys the Underwood glow too much. Is he good at his job? Sure. But he’s also your straight up double dealing, back-stabbing political operator. I don’t like him.
8) Xander Feng – Speaking of unnecessary, Feng’s explosion (ahem) on to the scene was really a case of one too many guys running around with some weird peccadilloes. For a show already disquieted by the presence of the aforementioned Tusk (whom the show always seems to cut to while in the middle of some random hobby), Doug Stamper and uber-hacker Orsay (not to mention the former Mr. Joan Holloway), there is only so much tolerance to go around. Nothing personal, Feng. Just business.
7) Jackie Sharp – So Jackie totally threw old congressmen Ted Havemeyer – only her mentor in congress – out of the boat to secure her move up the congressional ladder and to get things done. Let’s start there. Now, Ted was no squeaky clean guy by any stretch (having a child out of wedlock and not telling anyone is kind of a dick move, even if you pay the bills), but Jackie’s cold calculations don’t exactly engender her to the general audience. I won’t even mention her resolute desire to kill any military reforms (you know, like a stronger anti-rape policy, NBD) brought forth by the Second AND First Ladies of the United States.
6) President Walker – Seriously, who voted for this guy? Walker just seems so feeble and clueless about everything. First he brings in Raymond Tusk as his best pal and senior confidant. Then Walker realizes that Tusk is probably taking advantage of him (no wai!) so instead he lets Frank play him like a fiddle and bilk him out of the presidency. I haven’t even started in on the marriage counselling, prescription drugs and inability to communicate. And this guy’s supposed to be the President?!
5) Remy Danton – Well now, a slight slip in the rankings for our pal Remy. After Season One’s Hall of Fame slick run, it appears Remy has grown weary of all the back channelling he seems to be dealing with alone (whatever happened to Sancorp anyway?). For all of Remy’s cool guy posturing, it definitely became clear as the season progressed that he was in over his head while trying to swim between Tusk and Underwood. I’ll have to assume it’s because a certain Ms. Sharp has made him soft (um, figuratively speaking).
4) Doug Stamper – Just to be clear: if this was a Top 10 Creepy Guy Rankings, Doug Stamper would be retired as the all-time champion. As it is, Stamper has managed to move up a tick here. Why detest him more? Is it the unnerving whisper voice of his? The unhealthy obsession with Rachel Posner? His demands to be read to? His weird competition for Frank’s attention? I’m at a loss. We bow to you, Creep Champion Doug Stamper.
3) Raymond Tusk – Our largest surge in the rankings! Tusk somehow avoided my attention during Season One, but boy oh boy does he make up for it during the second go-round. A small list of accomplishments: funnels dirty Chinese money through Native American casinos to make political contributions, shuts down power on the eastern seaboard to prove a point, appears to be instigating a China/Taiwan war, kills a bird with his bare hand, and indirectly causes Freddy to have to close down his rib shack. That last sin alone merits a ranking on this list. Now I’m hungry for ribs.
2) Claire Underwood – Staying on the ribs line of thought, Claire, much like Eve, appears even more so to be of the rib of Frank. Is that comparison tortured enough? Well, it’s not as tortured as the rigmarole that Claire drags soldier Megan Hennessey through. Yes, once again, Claire – despite totally legitimate emotional trauma (she was raped by General McGinnis while in college) – is still blatantly using anything and anyone to further her own goals, consequences be damned. Oh sure, Claire sheds a tear later in the season, but by then, was there much sympathy left? Not to mention Lady Macbeth again, but part of me believes there is a serious reckoning coming for Claire forcing her to own up to all of her cold-bloodedness (or go mad, I guess?).
1) Frank Underwood – Season Two ends with Frank Underwood being elevated to the office of the President of the United States of America. He was not elected to this position but achieved it based purely on his fearsome ability to manipulate. Was there ever any doubt, after killing Zoe Barnes, after double crossing Feng, screwing with Remy and Tusk, conning Donald Blythe (two years straight!), and totally flummoxing the sitting President, that Frank Underwood would be #1? No, there was no doubt.
Season Two of House of Cards felt marked by an increasing need to up the ante. If Season One had some mildly unseemly sexual trysts, Season Two had some out-and-out bonkers implications (hello Frank, Claire and Meechum sandwich). Where Season One had moments of humanity for Frank Underwood (remember when he gets linguistically undressed on live TV?), then Season Two had him operating as a Terminator in the White House, unable to be stopped. While Frank gently leads Peter Russo to his death, he pushes Zoe to her brutal demise. Then again, when you’re underhandedly gunning for the top office in the land, I guess it behooves you to get there by any means necessary.
House of Cards is a ridiculous and fun show to watch. Ultimately, though, it is inconsequential. I feel like we shouldn’t be particularly surprised that, hey, some politicians may be devious, and some big business men may be greedy. As we sit back to wait for next season I offer an interesting thought experiment. Ask yourself which form of government feels more terrifying: on the one hand is HBO’s Veep, where everyone bumbles around constantly just trying to save their own ass, and on the other, Netflix’s House of Cards, where everyone is playing a million angles at once to get what they want. Supreme incompetence versus chilling calculation.
Think about it. And see you next year for Season Three of the House of Cards Detestability Rankings. *knock knock*