You thought politician Frank Underwood and his wife Claire were up to some shenanigans in Season 1 of Netflix's Emmy and Golden Globe-winning political drama "House of Cards"? Frank becomes the vice president of the United States in Season 2, and while that means the Underwoods are closer than ever to their big goal, it also means the pressure to hold on to their hard-earned power is turned up.
As a result — and these are the only real hints we'll give about Season 2 — something that happens in the first episode of Season 2 will provide the biggest shock of the series so far… until something that happens in Episode 4 will have you saying, "I can't believe that they just did that!"
But for those who have yet to delve into the fascinating, manipulative world of the Underwoods, or those who binge-watched Season 1 so long ago they need a refresher, here's everything you need to know about the series before logging into the delicious double dealings of "House of Cards" Season 2.
THE MAJOR PLAYERS
Francis "Frank" Underwood
(Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Kevin Spacey)
He's the House majority whip, as a Democrat from South Carolina, and Frank gets s--t, uh, stuff, done. Even President Obama, a fan of the show, has expressed admiration for how much Frank manages to accomplish, versus how much our real politicians do. (He even tweeted on Thursday a request that no one spoil the new season for him).
Part of the reason for Frank's success is his unwillingness to accept no for an answer. Without getting into specifics (the surprises are definitely a big part of the fun of "HoC"), he has yet to show any floor or ceiling for where he won't go, what he won't do, and who he won't do it to to ensure his plans come to fruition.
(Emmy-nominated, Golden Globe-winning Robin Wright)
Frank's wife and a Washington, D.C., lobbyist. Claire runs the non-profit Clean Water Initiative, which Frank wholly supports … unless he needs Claire to put her own agenda aside to further his. She, by the way, can appear to a gentler version of Frank, but is just as ambitious. Their marriage is not all political though; they allow each other to engage in extracurricular activity if it's politically advantageous to do so, but they do also seem to genuinely care for each other.
"We are equals, and we have a deep, profound respect for one another," Wright told reporters at a "House of Cards" media day. "They truly love each other… they do. Different kind of love, but they do," she said, adding that the Underwoods were first described to her as "you are Lady MacBeth to his Richard III."
She's an ambitious and tenacious reporter for the Washington Herald, and then the Website Slugline, who makes a professional and personal pact with Frank to get political scoop. Later, she begins to investigate Frank after becoming suspicious about his colleague and protégé, Peter Russo.
(Golden Globe-nominated Corey Stoll)
A Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania who has drug and alcohol problems Frank threatens to expose unless Russo helps push Frank's agendas. When Russo's problems and addictions spiral out of control and threaten to involve Frank, he murders Russo.
The ambitious White House chief of staff who cautiously, and secretly, helps Frank strengthen his relationship with the president.
Frank's chief of staff, i.e. the guy who actually gets his hands dirty in Frank's wheelings and dealings.
Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer)
A Herald and Slugline reporter who is initially jealous of Zoe Barnes, but who later befriends her and joins her in an investigation of Frank Underwood.
An editor at the Washington Herald who becomes Zoe's confidant and lover, and who joins Janine and Zoe in investigating Frank.
Christina Gallagher (Kristen Connolly)
A talented congressional staffer who's in a relationship with Peter Russo until his addictions spiral out of control.
Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney)
The billionaire best friend of President Walker, who asks Tusk to secretly vet Frank as a vice president candidate. Tusk recommended Frank for the job, and, despite Frank's refusal to consider himself in Tusk's debt, Tusk does anticipate Frank will do him a solid at some point.
THE REST OF THE CAST
Garrett Walker (Michael Gill): The easily influenced president of the United States.
Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt): Hired by Claire to work at the Clean Water Initiative, the two have a falling out when Cole refuses to follow Claire's instructions and Claire fires her.
Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow): Frank's bodyguard and driver, a guy who knows some of Frank's secrets and keeps them all to himself.
Adam Galloway (Ben Daniels): A New York photographer who has an affair with Claire.
Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan): A prostitute used by Doug Stamper to help control Peter Russo.
Freddy Armstrong (Reg E. Cathey): The owner of Freddy's BBQ, Frank's favorite BBQ joint, and a place he uses to host secret meetings.
6 MUST-SEE EPISODES FROM SEASON 1
1. "Chapter 1": We meet the Underwoods, Frank meets Zoe, and the betrayal that fuels Frank's power play in D.C. is revealed.
2. "Chapter 5": There's confirmation that Frank and Zoe's relationship has turned sexual, and Zoe and Claire come face to face.
3. "Chapter 8": Frank returns to his alma mater, where a library is being named after him, and where we learn he had an ongoing sexual relationship with a male classmate. Peter returns to his Pennsylvania hometown to drum up support for his gubernatorial bid.
4. "Chapter 10": Peter gives a radio interview that goes horribly wrong, and proves to be the beginning of the end of his political career and life.
5. "Chapter 11": Peter decides to come clean about everything, which Frank simply cannot allow.
6. "Chapter 13": Frank secures his future position, but Claire finds out she's being sued by the fired Gillian. Zoe begins to understand how dangerous Frank can be.
THE FOURTH WALL
Some viewers love it, some hate it. We're big fans of what Spacey calls Frank Underwood's "direct address" speeches to the camera, the "Ferris Bueller"-y breaking of the fourth wall in which Frank's charm and Southern drawl are used to great effect and frequently include Frank's funniest, most quotable lines. On wife Claire: "I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood."
Spacey told reporters at the show's media day that he thinks of the direct addresses as Frank's conversations with a confidant.
"Instead of thinking I'm talking to lots and lots of people, I'm talking to my best friend, the person I trust more than anyone," he said, adding it's a device used as far back as Shakespearean days.
"The character's stopping in the middle of the play and going, 'OK, do you see that person over there? I'm going to go f--king kill him, and get his wife to marry me.' And then he goes over and does it and comes back and says, 'Can you f--king believe I got away with that?'"
ONE MORE SORTA SPOILER
Because we can't resist teasing the very fun ending of the first episode of Season 2, we will say that Frank's initials have always sparked a giggle, because they're just so appropriate to the character's attitude and actions. And a visual gag at the end of the Season 2 opener provides such a chuckle that if we were to ever learn Spacey's character was initially named Francis Underwood for the sole purpose of this scene, we'd say it was totally worth it.
P.S. Far be it from us to discourage binge-viewing of any great TV series, but the pace of "House of Cards" lends itself to batch-viewing more than binge-viewing. Try watching two, three, even four episodes at a time, and letting them sink in before moving on to the next set. "House of Cards" is a multilayered drama, and in our experience, the drama sinks in even further, and the machinations of the Underwoods and their cohorts make an even bigger impact, if you enjoy them a few eps at a time.
Plus, it gives you a chance to mull over all those great Frank quotes again and again, and there are plenty to mull over in both seasons.
"House of Cards" Season 2 premiered in its entirety on Friday at 12 a.m. PT on Netflix.