The Netflix Original juggernaut House of Cards returned with the drop of all 13 episodes from Season Three on February 27th 2015. The Emmy Award-winning drama follows Democratic Congressman and House Majority Whip, Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), and his wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), as they undertake a mission to claim the top spot in the White House. The series has garnered critical acclaim for its stylish cinematography, dark portrayal of American politics and unique way of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ with Frank occasionally addressing the audience directly. This Top 5 will be looking at the best episodes from the first two seasons, excluding the latest season in order to avoid spoilers for those viewers who are yet to catch up.
- ‘Chapter 1’
The one that started it all is also one of the most entertaining. The pilot’s dark opening scene introduced us to Francis Underwood with gravitas – his neighbour’s dog having been hit by a car, Frank puts the animal out of its misery by breaking its neck, before ushering the audience around a New Year’s Eve party attended by the political elite and finally welcoming us to Washington. When Underwood is backstabbed by President Garrett Walker, who fails to honour the agreement to make Frank Secretary of State, Frank sets out not only to become President, but to do so whilst gaining revenge over all those who have crossed him in his past. The episode succeeds in convincing the audience to side with the anti-hero character, Frank, and is so artistically shot in blacks and greys that it comes as no surprise that the episode was directed by David Fincher, known for his artistically gloomy films.
- ‘Chapter 8’
This was a slower episode than usual, but one that gave the audience something slightly different than the episodes before and after it. Frank goes back to the military college he studied at, meets up with some old friends, and breaks into the college library (newly named in honour of Frank himself) to spend the night drinking and reminiscing. This episode was particularly interesting because it gave a glimpse of the man behind the icy exterior that Frank presents to the world, especially with the suggestion that one of his old friends may have been a former boyfriend. Whilst not containing the usual high amount of politics, ‘Chapter 8’ opened up Frank’s character a bit more and drew in some more of his back-story. And the series was all the better for it.
- ‘Chapter 11’
As the end of Season One drew closer, ‘Chapter 11’ saw Frank’s plan move a major step closer to success. With his convincing of Vice President Matthews to run for Governor of Pennsylvania, the Vice President post was in reach for Frank (he would take it in the season finale, Chapter 13). This episode also brought to a head the self-destructive Peter Russo storyline, the Congressman with an alcohol problem. Frank realises that Russo is too much of a liability, and murders him in a garage via carbon-monoxide poisoning, staging it to look like a suicide. This was the first time House of Cards properly displayed just how far Frank was willing to go to complete his mission, and proving how heavy-hitting the show could be.
- ‘Chapter 14’
In the Season Two opener, showrunner Beau Willimon saw the opportunity to provoke controversy with a shock ending, in which Frank pushes reporter Zoe Barnes in front of a train in a dimly-lit subway station. This was a major twist as Zoe had played such a pivotal role in the first season, but her death sparked a continuing storyline in which her fellow reporters sought to find out the truth. This drew the interesting character of computer hacker Gavin Orsay into the mix and brought a branch of espionage storytelling into the political thriller.
- ‘Chapter 26’
The final episode of the show’s second season sees Francis Underwood ascend to the Oval Office. With President Walker impeached, Frank finally manoeuvres into power and becomes the President of the United States, whilst elsewhere his loyal aid Doug Stamper is attacked and left injured, his fate unknown. Following his inauguration, Frank receives a newly-made ring from Claire and hits the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office twice – his signature style – signifying his mission is complete.
Editor’s Note: Season Three of House of Cards is now available for streaming on Netflix.