Spoiler alert: Do not read this recap unless you've seen the first episode of Season 2, or don't mind finding out what happened.
I liked Season 1 of House of Cards, but I didn't love it. I felt like the plot moved too slowly at times and there were far too many ho-hum characters introduced that we were expected to care about. Nothing prepared me for the non-stop excitement present in Season 2's premiere episode, appropriately titled, "Hunt Or Be Hunted." The show kicks off exactly where the last one ended, with Frank Underwood and his wife, Claire, returning from a nighttime run in the park like two vicious lions who just killed and devoured their midnight snack. Frank's murderous plan to get to almost the tippy-top of the food chain was a success, and in a few days he will assume the position of vice president. But there are LOTS of people still in the way, and neither Frank nor Claire are going to let that stop them.
It's apparent from the start of the episode which character poses the biggest threat to Frank: reporter Zoe Barnes, who -- if you recall -- had no problem last season having sex with Frank as many times as needed in order to get information from him. Zoe and her team of journalists, including Janine and totally annoying Lucas, are on to Frank and are aware of accurate details that link him to the murder of Congressman Russo. They know about Rachel, the prostitute who was hired to help bring Russo down, and they aren't backing off. No worries, Frank vows, he's perfectly capable of handling Zoe.
And he handles her, all right, just not in the way that we expect him to. He asks her to wipe the slate clean so they can work together again. Given her boring relationship with Lucas and the fact that Zoe really cares about getting ahead, you can understand why she's willing to drop everything and meet with Frank whenever he chooses -- you're pretty convinced a quarter of the way in that these two will end up in bed together again.
Here's what happens instead: Frank throws Zoe in front of a moving train in a metro station after she pushes him just a little too far for details about Russo's murder. Game over -- Frank wins. For now. And we viewers are left STUNNED, but also thrilled because this means the show isn't afraid to take chances this season by killing off a major character almost immediately. Kudos to them.
The greatest thing about Frank's action is Claire's lack of reaction to finding out Zoe has been killed. Played flawlessly by Robin Wright, Frank's wife is cool and expressionless as she continues to apply her makeup while watching the morning news. We never find out if Frank revealed what he did to his wife, but she knows.
And she doesn't care. In fact, Claire shows a lack of empathy for anyone and everyone who gets in her way -- most ruthlessly when she gets revenge at her pregnant former employee -- who is suing Claire for wrongful termination -- by taking away her health benefits and telling the wife of her baby's daddy that she had an affair with him. Ouch! Even bigger ouch -- the quote of the episode -- Claire looks her dead in the eye and says, "I'm willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that's required, but neither of us wants that." She tells Gillian all bad will go away if she agrees to take over for her at the Clean Water Initiative nonprofit.
In other news:
Frank is trying to bring pretty and ambitious Rep. Jackie Sharp over to the dark side, as he's tapped her to take his place as majority whip. There's little chance these two won't form a romantic relationship at some point, given she's exactly his type, but let's hope she values her career enough not to go and pull a Carrie Mathison on us.
Scary Doug Stamper forces Rachel to move, but shows moments of empathy by bringing her coffee and shooting her tender looks -- so it's anyone's guess what will happen there.
The president of the United States continues to be the most boring world leader to ever sit in the Oval Office and there's no way Frank won't have his job by the end of Season 2.
Janine was smart enough to leave town after Zoe's murder and leaves Lucas to work on his detective skills all alone. Which sucks for us because -- did I mention? -- Lucas is supremely annoying.
And, lastly, what the hell -- Claire and possible fertility treatments? Please tell me she was just doing her homework to find out more about whatever medicine Gillian claims she needs to get through her pregnancy.
Overall, a fantastic start to a promising season.
Are you watching Season 2? What did you think of the premiere episode?
Image via Netflix.com