Be warned that this article contains major spoilers for the entire second season of House of Cards. Friday, House of Cards was released in full on Netflix and many of us swarmed the streaming service to find out what 2014 held for Frank Underwood and Co. only to discover, in an extremely shocking twist, that Frank killed Zoe Barnes by throwing her in front of a train and nonchalantly walking away.
We were shocked. We were stunned. The blood drained from our bodies. We knew Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) was dangerous, but we never knew he’d literally push an enemy in front of an oncoming train. Even now, just thinking of that terrifyingly brief end sends a numbness through me. Surely, something that gargantuan would weigh on the rest of the series as a whole. And it does, but not in a satisfying way.
Shockingly, news outlets simply rule Zoe’s death as a tragic subway accident and move on. No one, save for Janine and Lucas, seem to have even the slightest suspicion that foul play was involved. There aren’t even any radical blogs — House of Cards Season 1’s favorite chunk of the internet — claiming conspiracy. Nothing. Nada. When Lucas continues on his quest to find the truth, he’s swallowed up by the rest of the plot, swept off to prison, and told by Janine that Frank’s just going to get away with this one. See ya in 20 years, Lucas.
Just like that, the plot that took over all of last season and bled over into this one is cut off at the knees (and pushed in front of a train). It’s a clean break and it’s gone completely from the rest of Season 2. And while the circumstances of Zoe’s death and her involvement with Frank have been banished, the effect of her shocking death reverberates throughout the remainder of the series in a less-than desirable way: nothing leading up to the Season 2 finale feels nearly as visceral or as horrible as that episode one death.
Don’t get me wrong, the rest of Season 2 is absolutely absurd and entertaining. We’ve got plenty to be shocked about between the hacker petting his gerbil and minding his improbable cell phone grid surveillance station while waltzing to German death metal and snatching Pinot Grigio from his wine fridge; the Chinese money launderer who inexplicably has two people tie a plastic bag around his head during sex; the oddly ritualistic threesome Frank and Claire have with Meechum; and the Season 2 villain being a Southern gentleman who crushes his pet birds with his bare hands when they annoy him. House of Cards may have all the wrappings of a much higher brow series, but when you get down to the plot, it’s just as absurd as Shonda “My Character Chew Through Their Own Wrists” Rhimes’ Scandal.
But despite all the shock and awe of the places House of Cards dares to go under its umbrella of realism, nothing feels as dire as it did before Frank killed Zoe. And that’s because when Frank murdered her swiftly, he showed his hand. During Season 1, Frank was a terrifying force because we knew he’d do “anything” to get what he wanted, but we weren’t quite sure what “anything” entailed. Now we know, and thanks to Lucas, we’ve seen the slow-motion, blood spattered evidence to prove it. From that point on, nothing Frank does is shocking — we know he really will do absolutely anything. And in return, the series becomes a mere whodunit – or rather, a howdunit.
We know Frank will move onto his next goal — anyone who didn’t enter this season well aware that Frank was gunning for the White House by episode 13 hasn’t been paying very close attention — the real question is how he manages to fit the pieces together. We used to wonder how far he’d go to get what he wanted — even when he left Peter Russo to fall asleep peacefully in an exhaust-filled garage, we knew his brutality and brute force could be greater. If he could have Peter killed, who else would he be willing to take down? But once Frank used his own two hands to end the life of one of his minions — and a rather central character on the show — we knew, irrefutably, just how heartily Frank has taken Machiavelli’s stance on power:
If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.
Frank Underwood would certainly concur.
Of course, touting that showing Frank's whole deck “ruins” the show is a bit of a reach. The series is still salacious, well-written, and full of intrigue. The debate ignited over sexual assault in the armed forces thanks to Claire and Jackie Sharp raises some interesting questions as do Claire’s string of other Underwoodian schemes. By no means is the series over after Season 2’s “Chapter 14,” but there is an unavoidable sense that nothing could be any more terrifying than it was in those two seconds in the Cathedral Heights Metro station. And from that point on, even Rachel bludgeoning Doug to death with a rock in the finale isn't all that shocking.
Images: Netflix (3)