House of Cards: Chapter Eight

“Do you think this place made us?”

We make choices when we are young that resonate, whether we want them to or not, for the rest of our lives. Whom we marry or don’t, whom we choose as a lover or don’t, whether we become a parent or don’t, what career we decide to pursue are all crossroads we reach before we hit the age of 30. Every choice we make leads to the next choice until, before we know it, we are legitimate grown-ups and living with the consequences (both good and bad) of those choices.

As we live our daily lives, we seldom stop to reflect on the choices we have made. Occasionally, however, we are put into a situation where our choices are thrown into stark relief and we have the opportunity to re-examine them and to wonder what might have happened if we had chosen that other road in the yellow wood. Certainly, returning to our alma mater is one of those times.

The people who know us best knew us when we were young. They were with us as we made the choices and were the catalyst for some of them. We can drift apart from them, go decades without seeing them, yet come together again and act as though we had seen them yesterday. As soon as the three men walked into the reception singing, I knew they were old friends. All we need is to watch how Frank behaves with them. While he grasps his wife hand at the reception, when these three walk in, he comes down off the dais (a metaphor if I ever saw one) and wraps his arms around them.

As we all tend to do when we reunite with friends from high school or college, everyone drinks too much and howls with laughter over stories that no one who wasn’t there would find the slightest bit funny. And, in bourbon veritas. Old feelings are stirred up and choices are second guessed. Frank, we learn, was in love with his friend Tim. They had a sexual relationship that ended when Frank went to law school and Tim went into the army.

Is Frank gay? I’m not sure and, finally, I don’t think it matters. What does matter is that Frank made the choice a long time ago to bury that part of him, at least in public. He implies while talking to Tim that he has had other male lovers, but it is not explicitly stated. Frank’s choices were all around the fact that he wanted to be a Congressman. Twenty-two years ago, he would never have been elected as an openly gay man. So, Frank married Claire and had lovers on the side.

He’s never forgotten or gotten over Tim, however. Frank tries to reconnect with Tim on a deeply intimate level, but Tim’s choice has also been to marry and have children. He has convinced himself that what he did all those years ago, he did to make Frank happy. As always, however, the truth is in our actions. It is Tim who takes Frank’s hand and puts it on his chest and, as we watch the two of them wake up the next morning, Tim’s head is on Frank’s shoulder.

Frank’s speech the next morning moved me to tears. He implies that the only time he was in harmony was when he was at the Citadel, read with Tim. As the emotion grows within him and is reflected on his face, I thought for a moment that Frank was going to break and reveal all. But, he made another choice. Frank chose to continue the life he has led, as false as it may be, and we saw the politician come out at the end of the speech. When he thanks Claire, “the love of [his] life” at the end of it, he, she and we know that she is not.

Claire’s choice was to marry a man who could provide status and money, but not a marriage in the traditional sense. While we have understood in the past that her marriage is far from the norm, what we have not seen is how it affects her emotionally.

She has accompanied her husband to his alma mater, but being his arm candy is all she can provide for him in his moment of triumph and acknowledgement. His preference for his buddies leaves her alone and lonely, in a town where she knows no one. She is savvy enough to turn down Remy’s advances (thank goodness), but she does call Adam and talk to him for an hour.

Suddenly, the relationship that Claire has with Adam clicks into focus (Yes, I know that he is a photographer. Pun intended.). He is unable to provide her with the status, but he is able to truly love her. No wonder she vacillates with him. She doesn’t want to lose what Frank provides for her, nor does she want to lose how Adam makes her feel.

This duality also makes all the angst around Claire’s menopause clearer to me. There is no clearer sign of aging in a woman, and Claire does not want to age. She wants to remain sexually attractive to Adam and she wants to continue to be Frank’s arm candy. The fact that Frank is now sleeping with a woman half Claire’s age is probably causing her to miss a night’s sleep or two.

Peter’s choices have been about trying to escape his background. Through what must have only been sheer force of will, Peter has left the row houses and the dockyard of Philadelphia and become a Congressman. A large part of him, however, is still there. He understands these people and he understands what they respect. They respect strength and they respect winners.

Winning the fight with Paul gives Peter exactly what he has been looking for throughout the episode. He earns Paul’s respect enough that his friend backs him for the governorship. His mother, a genuinely nasty person, doesn’t care that her son is so successful and is astonishingly rude to his girlfriend. The only time she smiles is when she learns that her son has won a fight.

The end of the episode makes it clear that, although they may not be completely comfortable with the choices they have made, both Frank and Peter feel they are better men because of them. Frank is back in politician mode before he is in the car; Peter gets in the orderly’s face before he leaves the hospital. The alpha male in both of them has re-surfaced.

Isn’t it interesting that the best episode of the series so far takes place away from Washington. Learning about these characters and the choices they have made can be far more compelling than how they are living their lives today. Four out of four bottles of bourbon that bring back the past.

Trump Cards:

-- Peter’s Nirvana poster gives us a good idea of his age.

-- Interesting contrast between the two men and their women. Frank wants Claire in Charleston with him, but doesn’t sleep with her. Peter doesn’t want Christina in Philadelphia with him, but when she turns up, sleeps with her.

-- During the conversation Claire and Adam had about not having kids, it struck me that Frank getting himself involved in the education bill is fairly ironic. Spinella should have used that fact against him.

-- Fantastic shot of the four old, hungover, disheveled men walking past the young guard.

-- It wasn’t until the second time through this episode that I realized that Zoe was not in it. I certainly didn’t miss her.

Speaking Frankly:

Frank: “How quickly poor grades are forgotten in the shadow of power and wealth.”

Frank: “If I want someone, I want them. It’s attraction.”

Frank: “Harmony. That’s the word that stuck in my mind. Harmony. It’s not about what’s lasting or permanent. It’s about individual voices coming together, for a moment. And, that moment lasts the lengthy of a breath. That’s what I think about my time here.”

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...

My favorite episode so far with a very surprising revelation from Frank.

Olga said...

ChrisB, thank you for the review of this particular episode. This was the only episode I couldn't watch, for some reason from the start I found it unwatchable and basically just fast forwarded it to the end, missing all the important revelations, so your review filled in some blanks!

Suzanne said...

Chris, excellent review! I liked this episode, too, but your review really showed me the depth it had. Your review made me want to rewatch it.

sunbunny said...

I love how tense this show is. I keep thinking something extremely melodramatic is about to happen (although it never does). I was sure something more would happen between Frank and Tim. I was sure something would be wrong with the sign on the library. I was sure the fight between Peter and his buddy would end in death. The show's writers are far too good to indulge themselves in this ridiculousness, but they do expertly cultivate an 'anything can happen atmosphere.'

I like Peter more and more with each episode.

Fabulous review, as ever, Chris!

Josie Kafka said...

My favorite episode so far! Interesting how little of it had to do with politics...

Peter’s Nirvana poster gives us a good idea of his age. And it makes some of us feel very old. :-)

ChrisB said...

UPDATE: This was the director's commentary I was most looking forward to as this episode is my favorite of the first season. It did not disappoint. A fair amount of insight into the acting and directing choices that were made, but it doesn't spoil what it is to come.


Billie Doux said...

Wonderful episode. And it made me think that, if we watched this episode alone, without the others, it would seem to be about two nice politicians. Frank chose to leave the best part of himself behind because he wanted to be a politician, and it made me sad. Pete went home and appeared to finally find himself again; that was the strongest and toughest we've seen him yet.

Did they have to destroy the old library? :)

Terrific review, Chris.