House of Cards: Kevin Spacey Sparkles in Season 2

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright

Nathaniel Bell for Netflix

updated 02/14/2014 AT 8:00 PM ET

originally published 02/14/2014 AT 2:00 PM ET

Politics, as the saying goes, is the art of the possible, the attainable, but cable shows have to aim and hit higher than that – especially if they star Kevin Spacey and happen to be season 2 of House of Cards.

The political melodrama that launched original programming on the House of Netflix is back – all 13 episodes are available Friday – but the first four episodes made available for review suggest that show is off its game, at least initially. And the game is everything here.

Oh, before we get started: Netflix has been very concerned about spoilers, and with good reason. There’s at least one thwopping surprise, and you’ll want it to fall on you like an angrily resistant turkey dropped unsuspectingly on your head. So those odd crackles and thumps you hear will be me beating about the bush.

Spacey, as Francis Underwood, a murderous aspirant to the Oval Office, still pursues his malevolent agenda. And he is succeeding. But every secret crime and every step up the ladder of power breeds him more enemies and increases the chance that some small particle of evidence will bring him down. And in this modern age of surveillance and technology, very, very small particles of evidence can prove resistant to elimination.

If Nixon were still alive and compiling his enemies’ list, he would be scrolling Twitter and maybe even Pinterest in a fever of hate.

Spacey plays Underwood with a wonderful surface crispness – he’s a pie with a restless crowd of blackbirds inside. If you’ve seen the original British House of Cards, you may find yourself wishing occasionally that Spacey had some of Ian Richardson’s pleasurable snap and arch humor. On the other hand, that may be the same as wishing Spacey would just go ahead and ham it up, and he seems to be avoiding that scrupulously: He wants to be a complete villain, also a complete human. He is not going to be twirling his mustache anytime soon.

Besides, he doesn’t have one.


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