House of Cards: Chapter Six

“I cannot abide falling back to square one.”

What fascinates me the most about this show is the ends to which the characters will go to achieve their goals. Not only will Frank and Claire do almost anything to achieve what they want, they manage to drag everyone in their sphere along with them. Those ancillary to them are used or sacrificed, without a thought to the fact that these are people they are hurting.

The Machiavellian machinations around the brick are a fascinating example, especially the second time through the episode when we know the truth. The episode opens with Claire inviting Ed in for coffee. The first time through the episode, it looked as if she were just being pleasant; it was, in fact, so that Doug could throw the brick. Doug is willing to go along with this plan (to the point of being shot at); Ed is just cannon fodder as we watch him lose his job.

Until, that is, Frank decides to step in and save Ed’s job. What a coup for Frank. He is able to save the job of a man who was manipulated by Claire into losing his job; but, Ed now feels as though he owes Frank. Yet another person firmly in Frank’s pocket.

The CNN debate was the best scene the show has done to date. Until now, Frank has appeared almost invincible. He has always been one step ahead of his enemies, leading them where he wants them to go. He underestimated Spinella who calls Frank out on national television for using his wife as a prop. For the first time, Frank has failed and he has failed on a massive scale.

This failure was something the show needed to do. Frank’s always being one step ahead was beginning to make the other characters look less than what they are, or at least what they should be. The stakes are higher and, therefore, the narrative tension is higher if we know that Frank can fail. Unfortunately, this failure doesn’t last long and Frank is soon back on top. While I think this was a mistake narratively, at least we got a glimpse of the other side.

One of the problems with a show that attempts to be sweeping and grandiose is that too many characters have to be developed in not enough time. The scene between Frank and the President should have been tense and exciting. The problem was the we don’t know the President at all or do we completely understand why Frank would show such hubris to the man so soon after the disastrous debate. Instead, we see Frank say, “no” and the President concede without enough background to fully appreciate why both would act in such in a way.

We did, however, get some character development in terms of Claire. We have had hints of what drives her, what motivates her, why she behaves in the ways she does. Although their relationship is unusual, she and Frank appear to have a real understanding, respect and love for each other. What Claire wants is to be an equal partner. Men like Adam and Steve, who want to take care of her and put her on a pedestal, do not interest her. While I understand Claire better after her visit with Steve, I like her less. To behave that way to a dying man who has just told you he cares about you is cold to the point of cruel.

Similarly, I really disliked Frank by the end of this episode. The scene with Spinella, while effective, was crude and nasty. To feel such glee at the death of a small child and then to use that death as political capital was even colder than Claire’s actions and I found myself feeling sorry for Spinella.

The final scene was revealing of both Frank's and Claire's characters. They have joined forces and they have won, nothing or no one else matters. Zoe will wait in vain for Frank; he will be making love to his wife.

Trump Cards:

-- The vowel game set to techno-music made me laugh out loud as did Frank asking how many characters there are in a tweet.

-- I mentioned in an earlier review that the show keeps throwing in these random encounters, the purpose of which I have yet to determine. This episode, it was the homeless man doing origami outside Claire’s office.

-- It amuses me that absolutely everyone in Washington carries an iPhone.

-- Interesting that in a episode that was so much about Claire and her motivations, Zoe had almost no screen time.

-- Peter’s run for the governorship will be fun to watch, especially as Frank pulls all the strings.

Speaking Frankly:

Claire: “I don’t mind that you improvised. I just wish you had done it better.”

Frank: “What’s better than a blank slate in the right hands?”

Frank: “Not an easy thing to say no to the most powerful man in the free world. But, sometimes the only way to gain your superior’s respect is to defy him.”

Frank: “From this moment on, you are a rock. You absorb nothing; you say nothing; and, nothing breaks you.”

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.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if these random encounters just seem so strange to the viewer because of Claire. Normally I would say that are encounters that can happen in daily life. But she is so socially awkward and reacts so confused that the whole situation seem out of place.

But they shall probably show the viewer that although Claire and Frank interact with so many people and master the art of social normality that it´s just pretending and part of their original nature that is power playing. When they are caught off guard they have no clue how to react and in the show´s environment that makes the viewer feel that these normal encounters are strange.

"he will be making love to his wife"

Well, I would not use this phrase in the context of Claire´s and Frank`s relationship. They might love each other but they love each other for what the other is able to offer in order to gain power. They use each other and cover it for the society under the term marriage. Sex is not love for them it`s just another form of power play - a means to an end. We never see them in an intimate moment. We see Claire with the photographer and Frank with Zoe but never the married couple in that way together.

Nick said...

I think you got it right when you said that they have to develop too many characters in too little time. I've finished the whole season, and while I find the central story very engaging and the series overall very well told, it's too bad that the whole show has to ride on Frank and Claire. They make the other characters look weak, characters who by virtue of their political positions should be a lot more cunning than they are made out to be.

But then again, given that Frank is essentially narrating the story, perhaps that's just how Frank sees people, and maybe we're only seeing it how he does. Maybe to him, the President's just a gullible manipulable man, but in reality he has much more reason for going along with Frank than he lets on.

Either way, I think they need to have more characters like Russo, where we can see their motivations and a little of how they tick. I can only suspend my disbelief for so long when he's fooling both the President and his chief of staff so easily.

sunbunny said...

I loved the interview where Frank crashed and burned. That was hard to watch. I disagree that it was a mistake for Frank to come out on top. His momentary misstep humanized him, but the show isn't about him as a human, it's about the lengths he'll go to to win. He's not above dirty tricks, obviously.

Josie Kafka said...

This was an interested episode. I'd guessed Frank was behind the brick right after it happened, so it didn't have much shock factor for me. I was more surprised that he used the drive-by shooting the way he did; that seems such an obvious ploy, especially after he'd been accused of using his wife as a prop on national TV.

I loved Dennis Miller's talking head joke about the Lee Harvey Oswald prison transfer.

ChrisB said...

UPDATE: Another Schumacher director's commentary that, finally, told us very little. Full of faux humility and faux praise for others that, finally, made sure we understand what a genius he believes himself to be.

A shame, because this is one of my favorite episodes of the first season and I would love to have had some insight into the choices made around the Spinella debate.