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House of Cards: Chapter Three

“I just hate this small-ball crap.”

This episode moved the action from the halls of government to a much smaller scale. It was an intimate and compelling show, full of the small moments that make us realize that what is happening on the larger stage may or may not influence the ones we believe it will.

A couple of months have passed since the last episode. The first hundred days are nearly past. The Education Bill is still being negotiated, Claire has still not hired anyone new and Zoe is eagerly waiting for her next story.

Frank is forced to go down to Gaffney, South Carolina to deal with the death of a young girl who ran her car off the road. It is immediately clear why these people have voted Frank into office eleven times. As soon as he arrives in his home town, his drawl becomes much more evident, his dress becomes much less formal and he treats the town leaders as equals. In effect, he becomes one of them, but he knows that he is doing it. He even tells us that everything in the up country is thicker, even him.

It is all show. Frank is still the ultimate politician and what he is most concerned about is saving his seat in Congress. At the same time that Frank is dealing with the smaller problems at home, he is dealing with a bigger national problem, the Education Bill. Being fought over in a room and being picked to death by unions and politicians, it is a wonderful contrast to what really matters to the people of Gaffney. While I am sure the good people of Gaffney care about the education of their children, they are unconcerned about a new education bill that is being developed hundreds of miles away. What they are concerned about is the family of a dead girl and the peach farmers union. Frank understands this and deals with it in a masterful way.

The scene in the church was disconcerting. On the one hand, Frank is a natural speaker. I can imagine him being a powerhouse in the church if he had chosen to live his life another way. But, because he pauses during his speech to speak to us, we know that everything he is saying is a lie. It also takes a certain amount of nerve to speak to parents so passionately about the loss of their child when Frank, himself, is childless and cannot possibly understand what it is the Masters are feeling.

We see a glimpse of the man we know when Frank is dealing with Orrin, cold and calculating. Orrin is outgunned and outplayed by the master. It is unclear if what Orrin really wants is that seat in Congress or to beat Frank. If it is the former, he’s won; if it’s the latter, he just lost.

Orrin is not the only person who gets played. Claire is as masterful a manipulator as her husband and she has decided that she wants to hire Gillian who is running her own small organization. At first, Gillian is not impressed and is, in fact, a bit turned off by Claire and her ties to the art world. Never one to give up, Claire turns up at Gillian’s house and goes into caring mode. She understands why Gillian turned down the job at Google; she is going to make sure that Gillian gets to a doctor and heals with supervision; she tells Gillian how much she admires her. Gillian is at a disadvantage because she’s unwell and none of us are at our best when we are ill; Claire is not above using it and, in the end, gets what she wants.

I loved the phone call between Claire and Frank. In some ways, it was more intimate than the conversations they have had face to face. I was intrigued that Claire finally chose not to tell Frank about the old woman in the cemetery and that she is completely comfortable with Frank getting messages from a young woman late at night. Here is a woman who does not want even her husband to see any sign of weakness or insecurity.

Additionally, I really liked the way the Education Bill negotiations were going on in the background as Frank was talking to Claire and texting with Zoe. A metaphor for the entire episode, again the business of the country is happening in the background while the people take care of what really matters to them.

Zoe is struggling a bit. She has earned the respect of Mrs. Tilden; but, in doing so, has managed to infuriate Tom. She digs an even deeper hole for herself by going on television and making the paper look slightly silly. I thought the conversation she had with Tom was fascinating. The fact is that Tom is right; she is a kid. She is young, inexperienced and overwhelmed by all the attention she is now generating. Even her trying to stand up for herself to Tom felt like someone spouting words she had heard in the past from someone she admired; not like words that she, herself, believes. When Tom says, “No TV for a month,” I burst out laughing. It sounded exactly like a parent grounding a teenager.

Zoe’s text exchange and subsequent conversation with Frank made me uneasy. Their relationship seems to be moving from mentor and student into something bordering on the flirty. Frank has all the power in this relationship and Zoe is too young to either see or appreciate that. I will be very concerned about her if she begins to believe that she and Frank are friends.

Peter and Christina’s story very much took the back seat this episode. But, something has happened to Peter. I struggle to believe that it’s simply that Christina is thinking of taking another job, but that is the moment in which he changes almost in front of us. He throws away his drugs; he is considerate of Christina; he is working on a Sunday to catch up. I’m not sure people can change that completely that quickly, so it will be interesting to see where this goes.

Finally, each of the first three episodes has had an odd thing happen that seems to fall outside the story of the show. The first was the dead dog, the second was the homeless man and this time around it was the old woman in the cemetery. I’m beginning to wonder if, taken as a whole, they mean something. If they do, I haven’t yet figured it out. It’s interesting that Frank dealt with the dog and homeless man without blinking an eye while the old woman really unsettled Claire, enough so that she returned to the cemetery. The old woman wasn’t there, but a couple of kids were making out. I really hope all this clears up as the series goes on. It feels too strategically placed to be filler.

An excellent episode that allowed us time with each of our characters on a much more intimate level. Three out of four peach water towers.

Trump Cards:

-- Gaffney, South Carolina is a real town in upstate (up country) South Carolina. Known as the Peach Capital of South Carolina, there really is a Peachoid.

-- Like Gillian, I know very little about the art world, so I looked some things up. According to Wikipedia, the Whitney Biennial is “a biennale exhibition of contemporary American art, typically by young and lesser known artists, on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The Whitney show is generally regarded as one of the leading shows in the art world, often setting or leading trends in contemporary art.”

-- PS1 is “is one of the largest and oldest institutions in the United States dedicated solely to contemporary art.”

-- When I googled Adam Galloway and photographer, several names came up. None of them seemed right for what Claire was talking about, so I hope all of them are benefiting from the show.

-- Deputy LD for the Speaker means that Christina would be the Deputy Legislative Director for the Speaker of the House. The Speaker is ranked higher than Frank.

-- The fact that Tom compares Zoe to Judy Miller is not entirely flattering. Miller was a reporter for the New York Times and was the one who wrote many of the articles about Iraq’s WMD. The information she printed turned out to be, more often than not, false.

-- The woman who interviews Zoe is Soledad O’Brien.

-- Gillian tells Claire that she is suffering from Giardia. I’m confused. When I looked this up, Giardia is a parasite that affects your stomach. Why is Gillian coughing so badly?

-- Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google, both of them (like Gillian) attended Stanford.

-- Ed Meacham is an odd guy. I was instantly suspicious when he told Frank that Steve was sick. I have always assumed that Secret Service agents are too macho to admit they are sick, even when they are. Also, he seemed oddly fixated on those white tulips when he took them to the house. Something tells me we have not seen the last of this man.

-- Speaking of white tulips, did anyone else flash to Fringe?

Speaking Frankly:

Zoe: “Which do you want, my source or my integrity?”

Orrin: “I’m not looking to make a deal.”
Frank: “It’s not a deal; it’s an opportunity.”
Orrin: “I’ll be just fine.”
Frank: “You may despise me, Orrin, but the classy thing to do would’ve been to invite us up for some of that iced tea.”

Frank: “And do me up a budget and plan for removing the sphincter.”
Jake: “The what?”
Jamie: “He means the emergency valve.”
Jake: “That’s interesting. I always thought of it as a clitoris.”

Claire: "I know what it is to be capable and beautiful and ambitious."

Frank: “What you have to understand about my people is that they are a noble people. Humility is their form of pride. It is their strength; it is their weakness. And, if you can humble yourself before them, they will do anything you ask.”

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.


  1. First of all: You´re doing a great job with these reviews!

    I found it fascinating to see how easy Frank could adapt to the small town life and politics. And I was suprised that he stayed so calm with the people that blamed the peach instead of the girl talking on the phone while driving. I would have gone bananas.

    Claire is really cold but it´s interesting that nevertheless she has the ability to befriend and persuade people. Her weird encounters are a mystery to me too.

    Zoe seems to think that she can play with the big boys. I have the impression she wants to be more like Frank but it will be interesting to see if she is willing to give up her emotional side just to be successful.

  2. I'd like to second the anonymous comment above: these reviews are great!

    The giardia comment confused me, too. It's a parasite from drinking contaminated water, right? (I thought that was ironic.)

    Their relationship seems to be moving from mentor and student into something bordering on the flirty. Frank has all the power in this relationship and Zoe is too young to either see or appreciate that. I will be very concerned about her if she begins to believe that she and Frank are friends.

    I took this scene another way: I think Zoe was intentionally turning this into a flirtatious thing, and I think she was doing it on purpose with the goal of having "dirt" on Underwood that should could use at a later date, much like the push-up bra and v-neck in the first episode.

    In fact, I think "post-feminism" is one of the major themes of this show, at least as far a Zoe is concerned. In the previous episode, Janice asked Zoe who she was sleeping with to get info, and my first reaction was that a line like that was something that men might think women would say to each other.

    But now that I've seen this episode, I've reconsidered. I don't think Janice would say that to just any woman. Janice has Zoe's number: Zoe uses sex, sex appeal, and her body to get what she wants.

    There's the push-up bra, of course, but also her not-so-subtle threat of a sexual discrimination lawsuit against The Hammer. Zoe sees her body as a tool of seduction, but also as a potential threat. Not the threat of violence, but the threat of Zoe implicating someone in inappropriate sexual situations. It's fascinating (and horrifying).

    I'd think this was all rather accidental if the TV interview hadn't brought up the issue of women in the media, and if the show hadn't made the old-boy's clubbiness of Washington so obvious. (The shot of the kids who are going to write the education bill was great: it's all men until it cuts to the one woman.) I think Fincher is intentionally raising these issues and showing how Zoe, like Frank, uses every tool at her disposal to get what she wants.

    I'm curious to see how the Frank/Zoe relationship plays out. I assume Frank has an end-game in mind for dropping Zoe from the heights (he thinks) he has raised her to. False info, maybe?

  3. [My comment was getting long, so I cut it in half.]

    As you point out, Chris, Zoe thinks they are friends, or at least equals, but she's in way over her head. She reminds me a bit of Truman Capote and what happened to him after the publication of parts of Answered Prayers. Capote thought he was a member of high society, but he was isolated within that society. No one had any reason to be loyal to him, so when he was "dropped," there was no one to stick up for him. Zoe is isolating herself from Janice and The Hammer, but she's putting all of her eggs into one very smarmy basket.

  4. Interesting take on Zoe, Josie. The relationship between Frank and her gets more interesting as the series continues, but I think your view of her at this point is great.

    You have inspired me to finally post the final review -- just in time for the next series.


  5. UPDATE: An interesting director's commentary. It is told from the point of view of a director who, because he took over from another, had to subvert his artistic vision to maintain the "look" of the show. I found it fascinating.

    A lot of fun tidbits about the sets and the acting decisions as well. I must say, the first three of these commentaries have all been really fun to listen to.

  6. Frank and Claire were both manipulating people right and left during this episode, both masterful at getting exactly what they want. I kept thinking that their marriage looks absolutely perfect from a certain perspective. They're total partners, they completely understand each other, and the way he gathered a bouquet of the white tulips she had planted and made sure she got them seemed so romantic. And yet, there's this strange undercurrent to their marriage that you can just feel. It's fascinating.


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