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House of Cards Season 2, Episode 9 Recap: The Road to Power

At one point during “Chapter 22,” Adam tries to impress upon Remy the gravity of his situation: “This is my life you’re fucking with.” Remy, impassive: “You and I are just pawns, Mr. Galloway.”

In House of Cards, everyone is just a pawn for the all-mighty Underwoods. This is great for snappy chess-themed one-liners, but it makes for pretty dull television (Netflix-ision?) because it means most characters aren’t characters at all. No one but Frank and Claire get to really have passion, vision, desires, hopes, weaknesses, histories; non-Underwoods exist only to demonstrate, through their failures, that Claire and Frank will always succeed.

You all know how I feel about Adam. So it’s a pretty major statement when I, renowned dismisser of all things Adam, say that I feel badly for this guy, who wanted nothing but to live out his stealth-photo-taking, loft-having dreams in peace. But he has come in contact with the Underwoods, who reverse-Midas the world and turn the lives of everyone they touch to misery.

Adam’s untrustworthy associate outs Adam to Remy, and Remy uses his seemingly limitless powers as a lobbyist to leak the photo Adam took of Claire while she was sleeping. This photo makes the cover of the D.C. Daily News, so, like the New York Post, I guess? Why not make a fake Gawker? Or, better yet, why not have some plot continuity and have the photo leak on Slugline? Would make way more sense in this internet age, but I guess dealing with the print-web divide is so last season.

So now the world knows that Claire fell asleep in Adam’s presence and — okay, let’s backtrack a moment. I mean, honestly, this seems like the easiest scandal in the world to weather. There are like 1,000 plausible explanations for that photograph, the easiest one being the lie the Underwoods end up telling the public: that Frank commissioned it as a birthday gift because Claire had worked with Adam before. It’s not a naked picture, or a photo of Adam and Claire making out, or a sex tape, or some racy selfie, or anything infidelity-related whatsoever. We live in a society in which government officials literally tweet pictures of their dicks, both solicited and aggressively not-solicited, to women all over the internet, and still go on to be the focus of semi-respectable New York Times Magazine cover profile stories and possibly even continued careers in government. I get that we still live in Hester Prynne’s America and Claire would be penalized more for this transgression than Frank would, but Claire’s not the elected official (technically, Frank was never elected either). So: It’s strange that a show like House of Cards, so willing to take it to the Cathedral Heights Metro when murder is in order, shies away from the real dirt when it comes to these other plotlines. If you want Claire to be humiliated, humiliate her! This is not humiliating. That is the most flattering sleeping photo ever. ZERO DROOL, PEOPLE. (Of course Claire never drools in her sleep, she looks like some magic angel goddess of cheekbone perfection even while unconscious.)

Anyway, the world/the D.C. print-reading public has seen the “incriminating” photo, and this, for some reason, means Claire must lie to Adam and then lie to the public and then apologize to Adam about lying while ruining his life and bossing him around some more. Why can’t Adam just be in on the same story Claire and Frank are selling to the press? Claire says that if she and Adam “had the same story” that “the media would assume we were coordinating.” Umm, you know when people “have the same story”? When both of them are telling the truth!

There is a part of me that wonders if Claire makes this irrational decision because she gets a bad case of the feels when she finds out Adam went and got himself engaged to Inez. Inez, South America’s Keira Knightley, is from Bogotá (figures) and met Adam while she was doing some volunteering sort of thing that was too boring to follow (also figures) and her dad is some journalist/civil rights activist (more figuring) who got in trouble with the government (figures on figures), a tough spot Remy and Frank can leverage to make Adam obey their instructions.

Claire does tell Frank that “Part of me wishes that you’d be more upset” and Frank insists Claire ought to be more upset, because it’s his rivalry with Tusk that brought all this on in the first place. Frank, I am upset that your rivalry with Tusk — which is dull! It’s watching-paint-dry dull — is supposedly enough to propel this plot along. But that is obviously not what Claire is talking about. She wants Frank to be upset in a territorial, traditional-man way! Be upset, Frank, like a husband would be at his wife’s extramarital lover. (What’s the man-word for mistress? It should just be mistress, shouldn’t it? Do we not have a word for it? Language is so sexist, you guys.)

Adam is getting the shortest end of all the sticks here. He does whatever Claire tells him to do; his mere association with her, post-affair, is enough to derail his life. She will emerge unscathed because Claire is made of steel. (In case you’re wondering whose job it is to “heal the wound,” Frank will break the fourth wall and speak in wound-related metaphors at you for several sentences in a row. “Claire must be the surgeon. Only she can stop the bleeding.”)

Seth proves his mettle by casting a “model” (“If you had a modeling career, I would be speaking to your agency”) to stage a convincing copy of Adam’s second leaked photo of Claire to prove that Adam’s could easily be a fake. (Adam takes photos of his married girlfriend while she is sleeping and while she is showering and without her consent? Adam is kind of a monster, too. Just saying, that’s some creepy stuff.)

After watching his reputation be thoroughly wrecked by the woman he once loved, Adam declares the Underwoods’ treatment of him to be “fucking inhuman.” This does lead to my favorite scene of the night: Claire, Adam, and Frank alone in the Underwoods’ bedroom, where it is so painfully clear Adam will never belong. Adam is still flailing around, because he is just shocked that the Underwoods could behave as the Underwoods have always behaved (he thought he was exempt; how naïve of him) and is all “but after all we’ve been through, how could you?” (I’m paraphrasing, his dialogue was lame). And Frank levels him with this: “Do not mistake any history you’ve shared for the slightest understanding of what our marriage is, or how insignificant you are in comparison.”

House of Cards, in a nutshell: Everyone and everything is insignificant in comparison to the Underwoods. Longtime friendships, professional alliances, sexual dalliances, you name it — they’ll get tossed onto the Metro tracks the second they come between Frank and Claire, or between the Underwoods and what they want. Because Adam is a little slow on the uptake, Claire spells it out for him: “I will bury you.” Sure, there might not be a baby inside Adam that Claire could let wither and die, but girl will do the next best thing!

Meanwhile, Ayla continues to be an excellent journalist in unfortunate costumes (a tank top with armholes big enough to see half her bra? Come on now) and visits Tusk in St. Louis because she doesn’t feel like doing tabloid crap on the Underwoods’ front lawn. She’s onto something, and Tusk is rude and awful as usual, getting all up in her face, and trying to make her nervous by calling all reporters “parasites” and letting her know that “America can be just as dangerous as Tehran.”

To catch you up on Freddy’s plotline, let’s play a game: imagine exactly what you would predict would happen to Freddy. Oh, a criminal history, you say? A hotheaded son with a gun? Freddy gets an offer to make a franchise and a barbecue sauce, and then promises that money away to his family prematurely? Does his son do something stupid involving said gun because Chekhov? Does that money disappear before Freddy sees a cent? Yes, yes, yes, to all of the above. Freddy is closing up shop because, like some ragtag teens hoping to save the rec center who enter a talent contest for which the prize money is the exact amount they need to keep their dance hall alive, if Freddy shuts down his place he’ll have just enough money to pay his son’s bail. We’re not going to dwell on it. Like Frank, we have to distance ourselves.

Frank wants to “obliterate” Raymond. Claire’s reply: “Make him suffer.” Halfway across the country, Raymond Tusk complains that Remy is not being a good henchman — Remy’s like, “uhh, I’m a lobbyist” but Tusk does NOT like excuses — and then he kills a bird for chirping too much.

Everyone is horrible. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Zoe.

And a few other things …

Every time Doug and Seth talk to each other, they use Christian Bale Batvoice. Should I try this more often with my nemesis?

Even if Freddy’s franchise miraculously worked out, you know the result would be awful: intentionally peeling linoleum so white suburbanites in Silver Spring can get the “authentic” Freddy’s experience? Good Lord, that’s depressing.

Adam’s never hated anyone before. Sure.

“I hired you to destroy Frank,” said Tusk. “You’re failing.” Seriously? Does Tusk think he’s a freaking Bond villain? You don’t hire lobbyists to “destroy” people. That’s not a thing. You are not a Lannister. Cool your jets, Tusk. Stop killing your birds.

Photo: Nathaniel E. Bell/Netflix