House of Cards: Chapter Fourteen

“Let’s start this new chapter with a clean slate.”

Wow, did this show ever start the next chapter with a clean slate. Of course, to wipe to slate clean, Frank and those around him must play as dirty as it is possible to do.

The second season hits the ground running exactly where last season ended. Frank and Claire are running through the park and stop at the same time to catch their breath. Continuing with that same metaphor, there are obstacles in the Underwoods’ path. Rachel, Zoe, and Gillian all must be dealt with to ensure that Frank’s ascension to the Vice Presidency is smooth.

Never one to stay on the back foot for long, Claire really goes on the offensive against Gillian. She sets the baby daddy’s wife on her and then forges Gillian’s signature for access to her medical records. The scene between these two women in Claire’s office was glacial, until that odd twist at the end.

Claire is giving up the CWI and handing it over to Gillian in exchange for Gillian dropping the law suit. Huh? Gillian is rightfully suspicious and so am I. To go from saying that she would allow the baby to die and then handing over the reins to the organization she built seems weird. I’ve thought about it, a lot, and I can’t figure out what Claire is up to.

Similarly, the scene between Frank and Freddy seemed odd to me until the second time through the episode. Freddy has tried a new butcher, one who slow-bleeds his hogs. This makes the meat taste better instead of the more humane quick blow to the back of the neck. Frank is mesmerized while Freddy is talking to him, jumping when Freddy hits the table.

This scene becomes an extended metaphor for what happened with Rachel and Zoe. Rachel is being slowly bled; Zoe got the quick blow to the back. Literally.

Thanks to the UK version of this show, I knew it was a possibility that Zoe would be killed. I believed that, if it was going to happen, it would happen in the park. I relaxed when she made it out of that meeting alive, even when Zoe walked onto that platform. I kept telling myself that even this show wouldn’t be so bold as to kill off its third billed actor only minutes into the first episode of the second season. I was wrong; it was exactly that bold.

Peter Russo’s death was one thing, it was a means to an end for Frank’s ambition. Zoe, on the other hand, is quite another. Frank cared about her on one level, but she had to be killed to keep her quiet. Her death will not help Frank in any way, in spite of what he is telling himself. In fact, with Janine running for her life and Lucas on the warpath, my guess is that this murder is going to haunt Frank, both literally and metaphorically. It already seems to be. When he snuffs out that single birthday candle, both Claire and he understand what it signifies.

It doesn’t take Frank long to tap another young woman, again too young. Jackie is clearly as ambitious as Frank, but she has not been in the game long enough to go up against those with more experience. She is obviously bright and obviously vaguely suspicious of what Frank is up to. Unfortunately, her ambition, much like Zoe’s at the beginning of last season, is blinding her to what the truth must be.

Rachel does not get the blessing of a quick death; she is the one being slowly bled. Forced to give up her job and her home, again, she is hidden away in an unfurnished room, eating Indian food with Doug. Now, that’s hell.

It is not until the final moments of this episode that Frank breaks the fourth wall. In fact, I wondered if the writers had decided to do away with it this year. What a brilliant way to end this episode. “Welcome back,” Frank says as the camera pans down to the cufflinks. F.U.

A good, surprising start to the season that has me already wondering where we are going. Three out of four plates of ribs that are better than normal.

Trump Cards:

— The opening credits are the same. Once again, I must comment on how well done they are. The juxtaposition of the two sides of Washington, with that haunting score, are the perfect combination to introduce this show.

— It’s Frank’s birthday and everyone is reacting to it in some way. Doug does nothing, because he knows Frank doesn’t want it acknowledged. Ed buys cufflinks for his boss. Claire throws out the cigarettes. I’m sorry to see them go. Some of the best moments are the two of them, standing at that window, smoking and plotting.

— The drummer playing on the subway platform was a genius use of ambient noise. I could feel the tension rising just listening to him play.

— The news report about Zoe’s death got some of the facts wrong. We hear the reporter say that her article about Kerns was a college newspaper article. In fact, she was already at the Herald and already working with Frank.

— Christina is working for the President. Interesting.

Speaking Frankly:

Mrs. Applebaum: “Use a condom the next time you fuck somebody’s husband.”

Frank: “Trust me or not, but I’m about to be confirmed as the Vice President. And, our relationship extends to the Oval Office now. Don’t step out of the sunlight for no reason.”

Freddy: “Now, the humane way to do it is make it quick.”

Claire: “I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that’s what’s required.”

Janine: “My entire career, I have always chosen the tough stories. I have been fearless. But, you know what? I’m really fucking scared this time. He’s got power; he’s got a lot to lose; and, right now, he is winning.”

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:

Miguel said...

I watched this back in February, but I still remembered how floored I was by this season premiere. They know how to start things off with a bang indead! Great review Chris.

sunbunny said...

I was shocked, absolutely shocked when Frank pushed Zoe in front of the train. (You'll remember, Chris, that I emailed you hysterically). Russo's death let us know our main characters weren't necessarily safe, but to kill a main character at the beginning of a new season? What the hell? Has that EVER ben done before?

As a side effect of her socking death, I remember nothing else about this episode. :/

sunbunny said...

Randomly watched this one again tonight. The first time through, I thought Claire really was trying to get pregnant. Like she thought it would help her at trial, but now I'm thinking it was purely for information. Thoughts?

ChrisB said...

Miguel -- thank you.

sunbunny -- I do remember that exchange of emails. There were more than a few OMGs and WTFs flying between the two coasts.

I agree with you about Claire's pregnancy. Although I do think she was pretending to get information (like the scene with the doctor when she talks about the medication that is obviously the one Gillian needs), I believe there was part of her that was thinking about it.

The scene where she tells the nurse that she won't be keeping the appointment is poignant in its own way. We can almost watch Claire come to the realization that the door to motherhood is now firmly shut. She is not entirely happy about her decision.