Although it has been relatively subtle until this episode, children have been an underlying theme throughout the first nine episodes of this show. After all, the first half of this season revolved around Frank and an education bill. This episode, however, children and the parent/child relationships that develop as we mature were front and center.
The opening shot is of Peter’s son playing with action figures and being taken to the copy room where he and his sister “won’t be in the way.” Being a child, however, he doesn’t stay put and barrels into Frank, spilling hot coffee everywhere. Frank instantly tells us that he doesn’t like children; Claire, moments later, offers to drive the Russo kids to school.
Again, we are given the smallest glimpse into their marriage. Did Claire’s deal with the devil that I discussed last episode also mean giving up children of her own? Her face when Gillian tells her she is pregnant is revealing. Although I truly think she is happy for her colleague, there is an overwhelming look of sadness in her eyes. There has been a fair amount of time spent this season on the fact that Claire has entered menopause. Having a child is no longer an option for her.
Linda, on the other hand, is an example of a woman who did have a child, but who has prioritized her own ambition over the welfare of her child. How much the fact that her son did not get into Stanford is Linda’s responsibility and how much is her son’s is open to debate. What matters, however, is that she feels guilty and flies to California to try to remedy what she sees as her failings.
The choice to take Frank up on his offer and to lie to the President may end up being a very bad idea. As we were told several times, the Watershed Bill was key to Peter becoming governor. If the Republican candidate wins and manages to redistrict the state, the President is going to be less than pleased with everyone involved in the failure of this bill.
We have several examples this week of a parental dynamic, even though the two participants do not share DNA. The first is Doug helping Rachel keep her waitressing job. I am not sure how the Doug/Rachel story is meant to fit into the larger arc, but I loved watching him use bullying tactics to take down Leon. He and Frank are very similar in that way.
Likewise, Peter calls Frank when the Vice President is not playing well with others. Frank gives him advice on the best way to move forward and Peter takes it. Turns out, it was good advice. Not unlike a father passing the mantle to his son, Peter persuades Matthews to back him by showing how much alike they are. Maybe it’s not just those from Philadelphia, maybe it’s all Pennsylvanians, but Peter is referred to again this week as “a fighter.” It is this aspect of his personality that Matthews respects and the next introduction makes it clear that the mantle is being passed.
Of course, the most obvious example of this paternal dynamic is Zoe’s relationship with Frank. I’m beginning to think that Zoe is incapable of making up her own mind. Throughout this series, we have seen her be manipulated and used by Frank. One conversation with Janice, and she’s treating this same man with contempt. To drive home the children theme, she mentions that any daughter of Frank's would be older than she.
Zoe appears to be genuinely interested in why Frank is sleeping with her and what he gets out of it. In light of last week's episode, so am I. Zoe is small, flat chested and thin hipped. From the back, is Frank able to forget that she is a woman? Or, is it because she is young and so easily manipulated? Either way, the fact that both he and Zoe accept the whore/john roles so easily is unnerving.
We are again reminded in this episode about what an unreliable narrator Frank is. He tells us that he is using Zoe for sex and paying for it by throwing her crumbs of news. Yet, when she tries to break off that part of their relationship, he sulks like a child who has lost a new toy. Unfortunately for him, his anger and frustration are what caused his failure with the bill. By shouting at Claire and not taking her seriously, he turned her against him.
Frank is the ultimate Daddy, but unlike a parent who puts his children’s wishes before his own, Frank plays the role only to achieve his own aims. He bullies Congresspeople who rank below him; he takes care of Linda’s problem for her; he takes the time to give advice to Peter. The only person with whom we have seen him have even a slightly even partnership is with Claire; and, she’s just taken him on.
Whether it’s because she is tired of his so openly sleeping with Zoe or because he is not being respectful enough of her and her goals, I still can’t tell you. It doesn’t matter. Claire has undermined him and done so in a very public way. The choice to have Frank’s biggest failure to date engineered domestically and not professionally is genius. I am looking forward to seeing the fallout.
Three and a half out of four spilled cups of coffee.
-- Claire’s story of the bus losing its brakes is a wonderful metaphor with which to bookend this episode. Not to mention, “He was driving; I was shotgun.”
-- The less we see of the pseudo Fox-like News talking heads, the better.
-- Claire is good with kids and appears genuinely upset with what Peter’s kids were telling her. More origami. I wish I had a better sense of what this is all leading to.
-- I’d love to know if Janice really had a fling with a Congressman or if she suspects what is happening with Zoe. “It’s not worth fucking your way to the middle” is damn good advice one way or the other.
-- It is no accident that the picture that Zoe and Frank are looking at in the National Gallery is Mary Cassatt’s “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair.”
-- "Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power." Oscar Wilde
Peter: “And, I preferred vodka to scotch. You should get your facts straight.”
Frank: “When was the last time I got a count wrong?”
Frank: “Proximity to power deludes some into believing they wield it.”
Frank: “I think I broke the bowl.”
Frank: “And, the most important of those is don’t surprise me.”
Frank: “I have often found that bleeding hearts have an ironic fear of their own blood.”
Zoe: “Oh, the fuck wasn’t enough? You need a special tone, too?”
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.
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