The Crazy Thing That Happens in the First New Episode of House of Cards

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 14 2014 9:37 AM

The Crazy Thing That Happens in the First New Episode of House of Cards

House_cards_spacey
What did Frank Underwood do now?

Netflix

This is a post on the surprising thing that happens in the very first episode of the new season of House of Cards. If you do not want to know what that surprising thing is, please do not keep reading! Or, more simply: MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT.

Poor Zoe Barnes. She finally learns just how mercenary Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) really is, as he throws her in front of an oncoming train. And just like that, one of the first season’s major characters is gone, dead, writing for Slugline no more.

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Fans of the original British version of House of Cards may not be surprised. That show’s Zoe-equivalent also died at the hands of the main character, though he tossed her off the House of Parliament’s roof garden in a season finale, not an opener. One thing about releasing all your episodes at once: There’s no reason to save your “holy shit” moment for episode eight.

In my review of the new season, I wrote that House of Cards finally felt hip to its own ridiculousness. No moment captured that vibe for me quite like Frank Underwood’s murder outfit (except for maybe the whole tossing-a-main-character-in-front-of-a-train insanity). Wearing a fedora and Buddy Holly glasses, with his collar flipped up as he lurked behind construction barriers, Frank might as well have been wearing a sign that said “Suspicious Character.” And yet he walked away from the murder with ease. Apparently there were no security cameras covering an entire half of the train platform and/or a guy dressed as “conspicuous!!!” just did not attract police attention.

As for a Zoe-less House of Cards: In the four episodes of the new season that I’ve seen, it’s been less painful than I would have predicted. In terms of convoluted scheming, raw ambition, and scenery chewing, Kate Mara’s Zoe was second only to Frank last year. Though I miss her disgusting apartment, the glimpses of the Slugline CMS, and the kinky/gross daddy-issues fornication between her and Frank, the show has ably made up for her absence. There’s the do-gooder Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) to continue with the thankless parts of Zoe’s role—i.e., the person with a flexible conscience investigating Frank. And then there’s Congresswoman Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) to do the mercilessly-ambitious-female thing. She may not wear thongs, but she does know how to shoot a rifle.

Netflix has always made a big deal out of the fact that its bingeable series don’t require “previously on” at the beginning of each episode, often describing those reminder segments as though they were a tawdry and cheap offense to propriety. But one of the downsides of putting Zoe’s death in the premiere, especially without a “Previously on House of Cards” segment, is that her death doesn’t really resound. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Zoe. It’s not so hard to go on without her. I’m sure Frank felt the same way.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

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