Beau Willimon is the creator of “House of Cards,” but he’s the last person you want to ask about what’s going to happen in the upcoming second season.
“I don’t talk to anyone about what’s in Season 2,” Willimon said.
Not even to give us a slight sense of what might be in store?
Nope, Willimon insisted, politely. He’s the showrunner and executive producer of the Netflix series, which means he knows all. And he won’t tell us.
He explained his reasoning: “I really want the audience not to walk in with some preconceived notion for what the season is,” he said. “That should be a process of discovery to them. When you give adjectives or talk about the tone, you’re saying, ‘This is the lens that you should look at the season through.’ Drama should tell its own story.”
OK, Willimon, we’ll let you off the hook. Though that won’t stop viewers from speculating about what’s going to happen in the highly anticipated second season of the intense political drama, which debuts Feb. 14 when Netflix releases all 13 episodes at once.
If you gobbled up the first batch of 13 episodes in one sitting, here’s a quick refresher: At the end of the first season, scheming House Majority Whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) was on a quest to become vice president through a complex scheme of treachery, back-stabbing and murder. (RIP, Rep. Peter Russo.) Underwood did so with the help of his shrewdly calculating wife, Claire (Robin Wright), and an ambitious young investigative reporter, Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), who also became his mistress.
On to Season 2: Eventually, Willimon relents a little and teases that it’s going to be a big year for Wright’s character and you may see some Beltway media types make cameos. But that’s it. So here are some of the more juicy details we’ve gleaned from the second season trailer: It appears that Underwood has succeeded in becoming VP, persuading the former veep to step down and the president to name him as the replacement. “One heartbeat away from the presidency and not a single vote cast in my name,” Underwood sneers at the camera in one of his breaking-the-fourth-wall monologues. “Democracy is so overrated.”
However, things seem to go awry, as Zoe picked up the scent on the whole “murdered congressman” story and it looks like she’s closing in on the truth. There are scenes of chaos at the White House, lots of threats (“Am I really the sort of enemy you want to make?”), tears and a chilling final thought from Underwood: “There is but one rule. Hunt or be hunted.”
Expectations are high as the show continues. After filming the first season, which Willimon calls an “experiment for everyone involved,” the drama has turned into a well-oiled machine. When the series first started, neither Willimon, Spacey nor executive producer David Fincher had much TV experience.
“We all treated it as a 13-hour movie, because none of us made TV before,” said Willimon, a playwright who also previously worked on political campaigns, including those of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Howard Dean.
The advantage of knowing little about TV? “We weren’t bound by conventions because we didn’t know the rules, really.” Now they have a better of idea of the logistics, such as how many scenes you can film in a day, the pace of the show and the rhythm of the actors.
Being TV rookies certainly didn’t work against them. The buzz, theories, recaps and intense fandom started almost immediately after the episodes went live. (The New York Times declared that “What episode of ‘House of Cards’ are you on?” was the “new Beltway icebreaker.”) The show garnered nine Emmy nominations (Fincher won directing for a drama series); Robin Wright picked up the trophy for best actress in a drama series at the Golden Globes; and the show was recently crowned best new series at the Writers Guild Awards.
The drama’s success, particularly in mainstream awards, defied all his expectations, Willimon said. He sounded equally proud that the show has received “incredibly positive responses” from people on both sides of the political aisle, from operatives to high-level staffers.
“There are people who criticize certain aspects of its authenticity, and they’re right,” Willimon said, admitting that they exaggerate and condense some elements of D.C. life. “We do a great deal of research into every story line. . . . More often than not, people from Washington have said time and time again it’s one of the more accurate portrayals of Washington.”
The series has one very high-profile fan: President Barack Obama was recently seen on video during a meeting with technology executives (including Netflix chief Reed Hastings) asking for a preview of Season 2. “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient,” Obama joked about Spacey’s mischievous character. “I was thinking, ‘Man, this guy’s getting a lot of stuff done.’ ”
Willimon was very pleased.
“It was a really big deal to us,” he said of seeing the clip. “When someone like President Obama mentions your show, you know he’s watched some of it. It’s an incredible feeling to think the most powerful person in the free world has spent a little bit of his time watching our land of make-believe.”
“House of Cards”: About one hour per episode. All 13 episodes of Season 2 are available on Netflix starting Feb. 14.