Sebastian Arcelus in 'House of Cards'
Nathaniel Bell/Netflix Sebastian Arcelus in 'House of Cards'

Lucas' adventures in hacking. (Episode 5)

Lucas may be a more experienced journalist than Zoe, but he's softer, more emotional and therefore less of plausible threat to Frank despite his grief-fueled desperation. After Zoe died and Janine fled to Ithaca, basically giving up, he made a lot of noise about conspiracies, spiraled downward and couldn't get anyone to take him seriously. And then he stumbled onto the Deep Web ("Where you go to find everything and anything") and before you could say "Silk Road" was being taught how to use Tor by a helpful coworker and began browsing for freelance hackers. And found one!

This storyline, which involves Jimmi Simpson as Gavin Orsay, a condo-dwelling, guinea pig-clutching cyberterrorist, has had some amazingly eye-rolling moments, from the hacker contacting Lucas via his laptop screen suddenly blitzing to messengered delivery of a tablet at a diner, and for multiple episodes looked like the goofiest kind of Hollywood treatment of cybercrime as a magical solution to plot problems. "House of Cards" includes a nice on screen treatment of texting but also presents social media as more of a mystery to anyone over the age of 40 than it should be in its first season, so there's reason to be very skeptical about the series' continued travels in the realms of technology. Thankfully, the whole Gavin thing has turned out to mostly be theater -- he's an FBI informant turning on people in order to save his own skin, meaning that Lucas, already a mess, has far worse things coming his way.

House of Cards Jackie

Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), Frank's chosen successor. (Episode 6)

Third-term congresswoman Jacqueline Sharp has been the major new character introduced this season, but hasn't gotten a terribly memorable storyline yet by the season midpoint -- though one seems to be percolating with regard to her hookup with Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali), the former Frank protege now working for billionaire Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney). We do know that Jackie has a military background, a tattoo and a Frank-like willingness toward "ruthless pragmatism" in the name of getting things done: She forced her supporter and family friend out by exposing a personal secret in order to secure the seat that Majority Whip Frank vacated and wanted her to fill.

But Jackie doesn't seem quite as conscience-free as Frank, despite what he sees in her, which suggests that at some point the two of them are going to end up going head-to-head. For now, she's sided with him in terms of party agenda. Jackie is competent, but she's also determine to establish her own means of getting things done rather than play things the way her predecessor would. Instead of offering up favors to get votes, she's been able to shame her colleagues into acting as she needs. "House of Cards" generally has a very harsh point of view on the idealistic -- see Gillian, who's treated as naive and a hypocrite, or the progressive Donald Blythe (Reed Birney), who reemerges this season once again as a somewhat pathetic obstacle for Frank to sidestep. But Jackie's presence hints that being effective while not entirely surrendering a sense of morality is indeed possible in the show's rather poisonous universe.

House of Cards Tusk

Frank vs. Tusk. (Episode 7)

Immediately after ascending to his place at President Walker's (Michael Gill) side (without, as he pointed out, a vote cast in his name), Frank began a war with Raymond Tusk, the billionaire nuclear baron who also serves as Walker's closest adviser. Part of this is because Frank just doesn't like Tusk, and part of it is because he vowed an Iago-like general vengeance on Walker and his crew after getting passed over for the Secretary of State position, something Tusk actually grasps in the seventh episode, and Tusk is standing in his way. But part of it is that Frank instinctively looks for people to battle, and Tusk is a formidable opponent -- possibly too formidable, as episode six finds him using his position to cause blackouts he blamed on the overloaded energy grid and to manipulate prices higher, and episode seven has Tusk funneling millions of dollars into attack adds on the Democrats through the front of a Native American casino owner.

Tusk is shaping up as a damning portrait of a .01 percenter, one who's able to wield incredible influence over the White House without ever feeling bound by the obligations and scrutiny actually being a part of the government would entail. He sees no deviation between what's good for the country and what's good for his business, and has a very favorable alliance with the even more wealthy Chinese businessman Xander Feng (Terry Chen) set to net them both a lot of money before Frank started meddling. Given how little of an ultimate goal beyond revenge and self-interest Frank seems to have -- what kind of President would Frank make, with no one above him to topple and no apparent personal beliefs? -- it feels strange to root for him in this scenario, which is punishing the country with power outages and soaring electricity costs.

But Tusk's comfort that his cash can buy anything means that he and Frank are literally representing the forces of money and power that Frank delineated back in season one: "Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn't see the difference." Frank may be overstepping, but it's fun to see him with a worthy opponent.