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House of Cards: Chapter Eighteen

“In Gaffney, we had our own brand of diplomacy: shake with your right hand, but hold a rock in your left.”

Much in the way that Frank’s ancestor died, this episode was designed to hit us over the head with a metaphoric rock. Unfortunately, it all got lost in a story that I struggle to follow or to see where it is headed.

The episode opens with an incredibly disturbing image of a man being asphyxiated while having sex. Turns out that guy is Xander Feng, a Chinese billionaire who has joined economic forces with Tusk. The political drama this episode centered around currency manipulation and a bridge over Long Island sound.

To which I say, huh? I didn’t completely understand all the stuff around why the Chinese wanted the US to drop the WTO lawsuit or why the President was so gung-ho about that bridge. What I did understand was that Frank was doing exactly what he wanted to get exactly what he wants. Here’s my problem. What, exactly, does Frank want?

I think we get a clue in the showdown between Frank and Feng in the woods. Each believes he is destined to rule because of his ancestry; each has unlimited resources; each is ambitious in a manner that makes Macbeth look like a slacker. That scene is one of the best in the series, beautifully written and acted. The menace was powerful.

All of Frank’s machinations take place during a Civil War re-enactment. Again, huh? That Frank would not be aware of his ancestor made me roll my eyes. These are stories that every Southern family still tells. They certainly told them when Frank was a child. If the point was to humanize Frank a bit, it was a poor shadow of last season’s school reunion which shone a light on some of Frank’s motivations.

Speaking of menace, that Seth Grayson is trouble. I almost feel sorry for Connor. To be fair, he should not have believed Claire and he should have done what Grayson did in finding the journal. Yet, Grayson is obviously playing a long game that is still unclear to me. Claire is right not to trust him.

Poor Lucas trusted the wrong person, didn’t he. His downfall is inevitable; he is no match for Frank. What was interesting to watch this episode was Gavin. There is a human side to this guy. He desperately tried to warn Lucas off the plan and he was completely undone by the threat to Cashew. As foreshadowing to the conversation in the woods, I liked the exchange between Lucas and Gavin. Both know that what they are doing is an enormous risk; each thinks he is the bigger man.

This episode left me wondering. Am I meant to care about what the Chinese are up to? I don’t. Am I meant to see Tusk or Feng as the Big Bad? Both? Neither seems to have the true gravitas to win longterm against Frank. It says something that the most emotionally fraught moment for me was watching poor Cashew almost get squished. It’s time this season ramps up a bit.

Two a half out of four rings in the dirt, another metaphor that I’m sure is meant to be more important than I took it.

Trump Cards:

— The look that Kevin Spacey gives the camera during the Civil War reenactment made me snort coffee. My sentiments exactly! Having said that, the Overland Campaign was the beginning of the end of the Civil War and deserves to be remembered.

— Sexual assault in the military is an incredibly serious issue with which the military continues to struggle. I know I’ve said it before, but please watch The Invisible War. It is a documentary that explores in depth the long term effects of and the military’s seemingly inability to deal with sexual assault against its members. It also discusses many of the issues raised in the meeting between Claire and the members of the Joint Staff.

— Is the first time we have heard the Underwoods say “I love you?”

— Frank’s Secret Service name is “Little John.” Odd choice.

Speaking Frankly:

Frank: “Avoid wars you can’t win and never raise your flag for an asinine cause like slavery.”

Lucas: “You think you’re badass because you’re on some vigilante anarchy kick? At least I have the balls to put my name on the work I do.”

Frank: “The first drops of blood have been spilt. Bullet grazed my cheek, but I haven’t fallen.”

Frank: “I’d rather manage someone I don’t trust than someone who’s reckless.”

Frank: “Stick a knife through its heart and put an apple in its mouth. I won’t shed a tear.”

Feng: “There is no sacred ground for the conquered.”

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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