House of Cards: Chapter Four

“I revised the parameters of my promise.”

Who is Frank Underwood, really? Four episodes in and it’s still unclear to me. I know he is ruthless; I know he is ambitious; I know he will stoop to any level to achieve his goals. Yet, I am still unsure why he is all of these things or why he is so hellbent on revenge.

While the story this episode of Frank’s manipulating the Speaker was interesting, finally it was unsatisfying. For one thing, the people with whom Frank are playing the game are the most powerful in Washington. They all, however, seem to be incapable of realizing what game he is playing until it is too late. In this episode alone, Frank went against the Chief of Staff, the Speaker and the Majority Leader -- all of whom are higher up the food chain than he. If these people talked to each other, wouldn’t they be able to suss out what is happening and stop it in its tracks? Instead of Frank playing the Speaker and the Leader against each other, why aren’t they colluding to get rid of Frank?

While that story felt off to me, what really worked in this episode was watching the effect that Frank’s actions have on those around him.

Peter is quickly becoming the character I find the most fascinating. Here is a guy who truly wants to be a good man. He wants to be there for Christina, for his kids, for his friends at the Naval Yard. His demons, however, have driven him to a point where Frank can force him to go against what he believes in simply to survive. The scene in front of the BRAC Commission was hard to watch. I could see the pain of his decision in every aspect of his being. I don’t think it was a coincidence that as soon as he decided not to testify, he reached for a drink. It may only be water at this point, but what brilliant foreshadowing.

Because, of course, Peter’s demons grab him by the throat again. The decisions he makes continue to astonish me. Leaving his children on their own so that he can become falling down drunk is beyond the pale and, frankly, makes him almost beyond redemption. No wonder Christina leaves him; she really doesn’t have a choice under the circumstances.

Claire had to make a choice almost identical to the one that Peter had to make. Offered $1.5 million by Remy, she is savvy enough to know that no donation of that size comes without strings. She is tempted to take it and who can blame her. Obviously angry at Frank when he refuses to even discuss what the money could mean, she won’t give him the satisfaction of giving in to him too easily.

What this conversation does is set off a series of scenes that reveal to us a lot about this marriage, starting with the photo that Frank sends over to her. It is obviously from a few years ago as Claire’s hair is long and Frank’s is darker. But, what struck me was the note attached to it. Scrawled on a sticky, Frank can’t even be bothered to use a piece of paper or sign it with anything other than his initial. Is it any surprise that it is at this moment that she picks up the phone to call Adam?

With whom, it is clear, she has a long history and Frank knows all about it. The scene between the two of them in the bedroom was bizarre. Civil in the extreme, Claire makes it clear to her husband that she understands full well what was behind his sending her the photo and that she is not ready yet to play ball. Even creepier, however, was Frank helping her to pick out a dress to meet her lover. It felt a bit as though he was pimping her out.

Claire, however, is manipulating both of her men. She openly tells Adam that she is going to use him and then, not surprisingly, does so. She comes home from dinner with her lover and tells Frank, who is trying desperately to hide his jealousy, that she has turned Remy down. Relieved that she is home and not at the Mandarin and relieved at her decision, Frank agrees to anything Claire wants, including calling in favors for her gala.

Speaking of which, the exchange in the kitchen between Claire and Felicity was even more insight into this woman. Felicity, who is drinking far too much, looks on Claire as a friend and wants to have a girly chat about menopause. Claire is extremely uncomfortable with that particular conversation and instantly changes the subject. Both women understand how the game is played, however. Claire got Felicity tickets to the Jefferson Ball; Felicity now will give Claire all the money she needs for her gala.

Poor Zoe. This child is in way, way over her head and she can’t even begin to see how badly this is all going to end for her. I was shocked when Tom offered her the White House position, but then realized that this was probably his way of setting her up to fail. A failure that was almost guaranteed as she has no allies at all at the paper. The two reporters she talks to make it quite clear that they are jealous and will not have her back. Lucas, who was certainly her ally during the first episode, refuses to allow her to manipulate him. Janine, who has never been an ally, refuses to even consider that Zoe may be telling the truth.

Indirectly, Tom is going to fall victim to Frank as well. He did lose his temper and he went way too far in the name he called Zoe. By ignoring the fact that he was specifically told not to fire her, my guess is that he is now out the door. But, I’m not sure that Zoe’s tweet was the best idea, either. At some point, she is going to need another job and a potential boss will not be at all impressed with how she walked out the door of her last one.

It is, of course, Frank who makes Zoe’s decision for her, and her continuing reliance on him is becoming more awful to watch. Their final conversation is chilling and, if I had to guess, on the nose. Telling her to take off her heels, one of the signs of an adult woman, was a brilliant move on his part. She literally shrinks in front of him before she sleeps with him.

Not a great political story this week, but I loved watching the others in Frank’s sphere. Two and a half out of four phallic symbols in hotel windows.

Trump Cards:

-- The fact that Frank is focused on the big picture and is not focused on the fallout was made clear during the various discussions around closing the military bases. By closing Peter’s, he has caused the loss of 12,000 jobs. By keeping Womack’s open, he has only saved 3,000.

-- BRAC = Base Closure and Realignment Commission. APG = Aberdeen Proving Ground.

-- PlayStation Vita as dialogue? Hope that payed a bill or two.

-- Claire standing in front of the fridge made me howl with laughter. Been there, done that.

Speaking Frankly:

Frank: “You see, Freddy believes that, if a fridge falls off a minivan, you better swerve out of its way. I believe it’s the fridge’s job to swerve out of mine.”

Zoe: “Call me whatever you want, but you should remember that these days, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand.”

Frank: “But, you’ve been with an older man before.”
Zoe: “Yes.”
Frank: “Then you know they hurt you, and after they hurt you, they discard you."
Zoe: “You can’t hurt me.”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


Miguel said...

Thanks for the review Chris!

This wasn't my favorite episode of the season, but it does set up a lot of great future plot points. I was a little creeped out by Frank and Zoe sleeping together, although I had a feeling it was heading in that direction. Like you, I find Peter to be the most interesting character, although I am always fascinated by Claire and Frank's unusual relationship. They are both so cold and calculating. They are a perfect match for each other.

sunbunny said...

This episode hooked me. Maybe I'm still too much in Scandal mode.

I love Zoe (big surprise, I love the spunky 20-something writer), but the girl needs to get her head in the damn game. She needs to freaking think. Her indecision about her job was a great indicator of this. She goes from wanting to be on Nightline to wanting to be her paper's White House Correspondent, to not wanting that, to wanting it again, to not wanting that.

She thinks having Frank on her side makes her invulnerable. She thinks he is the only friend she needs. But, hey, he's not on her side and he's not her friend. He's using her and she should know that. She's burning bridges with impunity and it's going to come back and bite her in the ass.

ChrisB said...

UPDATE: I was looking forward to this commentary as this was one of the episodes that I was unsure about in terms of the main story. What we get, however, is a lot of banal talk about sets and green screen shots, much of which has already been covered.

I did learn, however, that the line about the PlayStation was not product placement. It was only there to show that Frank knows gaming systems. My bad.

Billie Doux said...

Zoe inviting Frank home with her sort of made me cringe, especially when she took off her shoes and looked so small. She's smart, but she's so young. He's going to eat her for dinner.

Marianna said...

Great review!

I too was repulsed by Frank and Zoe. Frank has been fairly obvious that he's been using her. I'm not sure if she's choosing to ignore it or doesn't care. For example when he leaked his choice of Secretary of State to her, that wasn't really news. He was using her to create a rumor, and as a journalist she should be above that.

I was also surprised that Frank went ahead with this affair. Not that I think it would violate his morals since he doesn't seem to have any. I thought he of all people would realize this is the kind of thing that brings politicians down.