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Welcome back to Underwood's Washington

Netflix released the entirety of _House of Cards_'s second season for streaming last Friday. (credit: Courtesy of Mario Bittanti via Flickr) Netflix released the entirety of _House of Cards_'s second season for streaming last Friday. (credit: Courtesy of Mario Bittanti via Flickr)

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the House of Cards season two premiere, "Happy Birthday Mr. (Vice) President".

“You didn’t think I’d forgotten about you, did you? Welcome back,” drawls former House Majority Whip Frank Underwood of Netflix’s Warning: This article contains spoilers for the House of Cards season two premiere, “Happy Birthday Mr. (Vice) President.”

“You didn’t think I’d forgotten about you, did you? Welcome back,” drawls former House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) of Netflix’s House of Cards. With that, the first episode of season two comes to a close and the race to the end of the season is on once again.

House of Cards’s wildly successful first season set a precedent for Netflix-exclusive TV series, proving that it was possible to captivate even a limited viewership given the right ingredients. It is indisputable that Netflix and House of Cards creator Beau Willimon have concocted the perfect recipe: complicated plotlines, a brilliant cast, and a slew of talented directors. After the whirlwind that was the first season, the cast and crew of the series had quite a lot to measure up to. But even in the first episode of the second season, it’s clear that the next 13 chapters that await viewers will leave them on the edge of their seats.

The first episode, titled “Happy Birthday Mr. (Vice) President,” picks up minutes after season one ended. Without missing a beat, viewers are tossed back into the thick of things.

Reporters Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer), and Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) are still in the midst of their frantic investigation into the death of Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll). They’re getting closer to connecting the dots, realizing that there is a wealth of evidence that implicates Frank, despite the police report that claims that Peter committed suicide.

Meanwhile, Frank is in the middle of ascending to the vice presidency and finding a replacement for his now vacant Whip position, all the while keeping his allies close and his enemies closer. His wife, Claire (Robin Wright), decisively resolves the lawsuit that former employee and expectant mother Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt) is bringing against Claire’s nonprofit for wrongful termination. Using Gillian’s pregnancy to blackmail her into taking over for Claire at the nonprofit, Claire coldly ends that chapter of her life in order to pour more effort into dealing with the media fallout that often accompanies Frank’s brutal scheming and politicking.

Frank’s chief of staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) continues to run around and take care of all of Frank’s dirty work, which includes making sure that Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), ex-prostitute and pawn in Peter’s death, stays quiet and out of sight.

The episode is equal parts set-up material for the second season and standalone action. Instead of easing viewers into season two with a buffer episode, the show takes off almost immediately, making watchers feel as though they never left this fast-paced political thriller. This pace was a good decision since it’s been a year since season one was released,which means it could have been a full year since Netflix users saw it.

House of Cards is not for the faint of heart, and Willimon issues a reminder that the series is a force to be reckoned with when, near the end of the season premiere, Frank kills Zoe when he finds out that she is close to finding out the truth behind Peter’s murder. Such a strong start indicates that this season will be filled with even more shadowy secrets and dark deeds than the last.

Netflix announced on Feb. 4 that House of Cards was renewed for a third season to be released in 2015. Considering that Time magazine reported nearly 15 percent of Netflix’s 40.4 million viewers watched the second season premiere within six hours of its release, it’s clear that by renewing this gem of a show, they’re not taking a gamble.