NEW YORK — “Did you think I’d forgotten you?” asks Francis Underwood, addressing us viewers near the end of the second-season “House of Cards” debut. Then he roguishly adds, “Perhaps you hoped I had.”
Portrayed by series star Kevin Spacey, Underwood, the soon-to-be-sworn-in vice president, has a delicious way of conspiring with the audience in his Beltway depravity: a sly aside, a knowing roll of his eyes, a caustic pronouncement shared only with us.
Though many of the first-season batch of episodes are sparked with Underwood’s in-our-face declarations, he keeps his own counsel until late in this second-season kickoff.
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“There is but one rule,” he reminds us in its final moments — “hunt or be hunted.”
Happily for us, another 12 new episodes keep Underwood on the hunt as Netflix releases the full second season on its website Feb. 14.
Set in Washington, D.C., in the current day, “House of Cards” is a loose reinvention of the 1990s British political thriller of the same name.
It premiered a year ago and instantly established Netflix as a bold new contender in the world of original video, stealing thunder from such august cable networks as HBO and AMC while landing the first major Emmy nominations for a streaming-video series.
Now Underwood, formerly a ranking U.S. Congressman, has plotted his way into the vice presidency. But there’s no hint he’s satisfied with that lofty perch, if the first four hours made available for preview are any indication. Even as he faces growing threats that could lead to his downfall, he’s driven to climb higher, whatever it takes.
“That’s the interesting thing about Francis: He has no allegiance, not even to party,” says Spacey.
Actually, Underwood does seem to have a precious pair of allegiances: to his own accumulation of power and to his wife, Claire, his loyal partner-in-crime, played by Robin Wright (who last month won a Golden Globe for her performance).
“I love the fact that the new season is coming out on Valentine’s Day,” says Spacey, 54, puckishly. “I think their relationship is incredibly romantic.
“There is so much I don’t know about Francis, so much that I’m learning,” adds Spacey, clearly pleased to be granted even more time to explore him: Netflix recently announced plans for a third season.
Spacey’s midcareer entry into series stardom comes after many distinguished films, including “L.A. Confidential,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Se7en” and “Recount,” as well as “The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty,” for which he won his two Oscars. Since 2003, he has focused on stage work as the artistic director of London’s Old Vic Theatre.
Spacey’s many Old Vic collaborations include the title role in Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” whose diabolical champion, he notes, served as a template for the “House of Cards” hero.
“I absolutely know that without the work I’ve done at the Old Vic,” says Spacey, “I wouldn’t have been ready to do Francis Underwood.”