House of Cards: Chapter Eleven

“Once someone is exposed, they’re at your mercy.”

With only three more episodes left in the first series, this one felt like the beginning of the end. Throughout the episode we see how far Frank will go when someone has made the mistake of trusting him and, therefore, exposed himself or herself to Frank’s complete lack of mercy.

Frank’s end game all along has been to screw the President of the United States by becoming the Vice President. My guess is that this is only one more step in his master plan. Frank is never good at being number two at anything, let alone an almost ceremonial position with very little real power. The President better watch his back at the end of his term.

Having said that, I have rarely seen two more inept politicians than Walker and Matthews. It seems to me to be impossible that these two men, so easily manipulated, would make it to the highest positions in the land, some would argue in the world. Why does it never occur to any of these characters to talk to each other and not just to Frank? A very brief conversation between these two men would clear up much of the misunderstanding.

On the flip side, however, Vasquez knows exactly what’s going on and has the courage to call Frank on it. She is, of course, one of the people who has exposed her weakness (her son) to Frank and he uses her shamelessly. I’m sorry for her, but I’m pleased that at least someone in that White House is savvy enough to see what is really going on.

Frank’s plan is far from secure. There are three legs upon which it stands, all of which could crumble at any time. Peter was, of course, the first leg and his death now removes any threat he, personally, may have posed. The fact that Frank murdered him, and the fact that I believe several people know he murdered him, will continue to be a threat.

Interestingly, for all the demons we have watched him fight over the past eleven hours, Peter has a strong moral streak. It is this streak that, finally, seals his fate. If he had just gone away quietly, all would have been well. But, as he threatens to make a statement about everything, Frank panics and decides that he must remove this threat once and for all. Peter pays the ultimate price for exposing himself to Frank.

It is not unprecedented for writers to ask us to sympathize with cold blooded killers. What makes Franks actions so awful, however, is that in contrast to Peter’s morality, Frank is sociopathic. I genuinely believe that Frank made the decision to kill Peter at the spur of the moment and, as a result, we were able to watch him make that decision. In a fascinating directorial choice, as Frank makes up his mind, all we can see is his mouth. His eyes are hidden from us.

The second leg, and I would argue the most unstable (both literally and figuratively), is Zoe. Zoe and Frank’s relationship continues to descend into unprecedented levels of creepy. In an excellent callback to the previous episode, Zoe comes to Claire’s house and rifles through her clothes. Zoe, however, takes it to another level by trying on one of Claire’s dresses and modeling it for Frank before sleeping with him in Claire’s bed. Although she and Frank appear to have amicably ended their sexual relationship, I wouldn’t trust this girl for a second. She admits she’s hurt and we all know about a woman scorned.

In case we’ve missed the point, there is a scene in the park where Claire and Adam are talking about what Claire was like a young woman. Zoe is that young woman, but the dress doesn’t fit and nor does the man. My guess is that her choices are going to be very different from Claire’s.

Who, by the way, has made her choice all over again. She leaves Adam (one can only hope for good -- he’s dull) and goes home, thereby stabilizing the third of the three legs. She doesn’t leave the loft without a highly symbolic gesture. The disarranged photo with one of those damn origami swans in the middle is not the most subtle thing we’ve seen in this series. Although I hope that the true significance of the swans comes to light at some point, they do seem to represent to Claire the people she truly cares about and the regrets that she has (not being with Adam, not having children).

Frank has only truly exposed himself to Claire and Zoe. He is not really at Claire’s mercy as she has clearly made her choice and come home to support him. Zoe? I’m not so sure.

The final montage of everyone getting the news about Peter was an interesting setup for how I foresee the final two episodes to unfold. Christina is grieving. Lucas, Zoe, Janine, and Carly all sense a bigger story and immediately start to work on it. Several minor characters are shown, one can only guess so that we remember them in the next episode. Walker, Matthews and Vasquez are sympathetic and, most likely, more receptive to Frank’s VP nomination. Claire is home and (quite literally) standing by her man as we hear Frank’s press statement over the rolling credits.

A game changing episode that set up the finale. Three out of four dresses made of steel.

Trump Cards:

-- For two women with such different body types, it’s astonishing how well that dress fit both Claire and Zoe. Although, as Zoe says, the dress fits Claire better. Now, if that isn’t the metaphor of the episode.

-- I’ve mentioned this before, but Frank’s complete lack of understanding of how women think is astonishing for a man who is so politically astute. It is one thing to have a fling with a young reporter; it is quite another to allow said bit on the side into the family home, allow her to wear your wife’s clothes and sleep with her in the marital bed.

-- How did Peter’s phone get from the side of the car to the curb without a scratch on it?

-- I’ve watched too many forensics shows. The entire time Frank was wiping down the car, I kept thinking of ways he could still get caught (fibers from his clothes, no prints at all on the driver’s side door handle).

Speaking Frankly:

Adam: “What were you interested in?”
Claire: “Being more than an observer.”
Adam: “You wanted to be seen.”
Claire: “Not just seen. I wanted to be significant.”

Frank: “Yes. I want to be the Vice President.”

Peter: “When did your help ever help 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.

4 comments:

Dustin said...

I totally agree with your comments about forensics shows, I was having the same thoughts myself.

The first time Peter opened that garage door I wondered if he was going to asphyxiate himself in that tiny space. Once Frank drove him back to it, I knew it was going to happen.

I don't know much about acting, but watching the actress who plays the prostitute react to Peter's death was mesmerizing. There was a haunted look in her face and her only real movement was the muscle under her left eye twitching.

ChrisB said...

UPDATE: Another excellent director's commentary. I was especially pleased when the shot I discuss in the review was discussed. Very interesting account of the choices made at that point in the episode.

Billie Doux said...

I've gotten the feeling almost from the start that Peter would eventually kill himself. It's so sad that he'd reached the point where he decided he wouldn't, that he would do the right thing instead, and what happens to the poor guy?

The reveal of what Frank's ultimate plan was all along was just fascinating, because even though we knew he had a plan, I had no idea what it was. Even with all of the focus on Pete and the Vice President both being from Pennsylvania.

Terrific review, Chris.

Marianna said...

I actually thought at the end of the last episode that Peter had killed himself. Rather than finding him missing I thought Doug had found him with his wrists slit as Frank had instructed Peter previously. I was then relieved that he was still alive and even more let down when Frank killed him.

While I agree that one might piece together that Frank was there forensically, I doubt anyone will investigate that much as it will likely be immediately written off as a suicide.

Doug's reaction to realizing what had happened gave me some hope that he's not just Frank Jr.