So … that was unexpected.
Or was it?
(Note: This serves as another SPOILER WARNING for the major twist in the “House of Cards” second season premiere. If you go past this SPOILER WARNING, you are not allowed to send angry e-mails that I SPOILED the show for you.)
As anyone who watched the first episode knows, poor Zoe Barnes (played by Kate Mara) met a gruesome end when Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), panicked that she knew too much about how he murdered a congressman, pushed her in front of a speeding Metro train. (At the, um, Cathedral Heights station.)
But Mara didn’t get to show off too many acting skills in the second season (Zoe’s demise occurred about 37 minutes in), she sure put them to use while talking to the press recently. Two weeks ago, I interviewed Mara for The Post. As the first season’s breakout star who got third billing in the opening credits, she seemed like the right person to profile in advance of the highly-hyped second season.
Except for the fact that she gets run over by a train in the first episode.
How were we supposed to know? Though Mara talked at length about her ambitious reporter character, she politely avoided saying anything about the second season or the length of her stay on the show. Here are her full remarks when I asked her for a hint of Season 2 (I mentioned I had also interviewed showrunner Beau Willimon):
“If Beau’s not telling you anything, I obviously can’t tell you anything,” she said. “But also, people always ask that question, but you don’t really want to know. Why would the readers actually want to know what’s going to happen? It takes away all the excitement of the experience of actually watching the show and being surprised and being shocked.”
She continued, more emphatically at this point: “In my opinion, as a TV viewer and even just in my experience watching the first season of ‘House of Cards’ – and I knew what was going to be happening – it was still so much fun to experience it. The shock value and all of that is what people get excited about. So I think it’s cool that it’s very secretive. And it’s definitely just as dramatic and dangerous and exciting as the first season for sure, so I don’t think people will be disappointed.”
So while it’s tempting to yell “It was all a lie!” the shock value part was accurate. And it’s true, the not-minor legion of Zoe Barnes haters won’t be disappointed.
Looking back, however, if I had paid really close attention to some tiny details, I may have sensed something was amiss. For example, the Netflix press site had a grand total of one photo of Mara for the second season. A little odd, but Netflix is notoriously, ridiculously secretive (see: critic Hank Stuever had to sign a confidentiality agreement to watch the episodes in advance). Also: Mara is only featured in a few brief scenes in the Season 2 trailer, more than one in the deadly Metro station. But shows often use the same scenes for multiple clips in trailers.
We weren’t the only publication that featured Mara pegged to the new season – she gave interviews to various outlets, including a feature in New York Magazine that noted she was “forbidden from discussing her character’s survival prospects.” But it’s hard not to feel bad for GQ, which proudly trumpeted a “sexy photo shoot” with Mara in the Feb. 25 issue, long after many people will know about her character’s swift exit from the show she’s promoting. (Although the GQ readership might not care so much about that.)
Maybe there will be a big twist, and she’ll return later on? Hey, flashbacks are always a good trick. Still, you can’t help but read into things like this excerpt from GQ’s Q&A:
GQ: “When you shot Season 2, did you have to put everything else aside?”
Mara: “I mean, I’m sure Kevin has to, because he’s in almost every scene. But for everyone else, it’s very different. I don’t shoot every day. I actually shot ‘Transcendence’ while I was shooting ‘House of Cards.’ So I wasn’t even in Baltimore the whole time. I was in New Mexico.”