Apparently while working on this episode, the eighth of season two, someone in the House of Cards writers’ room stood up and said, “Oh my God, we only have five more episodes after this one and we still haven’t included nearly enough sex in our narrative. This season needs more sex! So let’s make at least a couple of our plot developments sexy and/or sex-related, right now, while there’s still time.”
At least I assume that’s what happened given some of the provocative developments in the latest chapter of the Underwood saga, which put several female characters in compromising positions of one kind or another.
For starters: Claire Underwood became the latest weapon in the ongoing, crazy-redundant, beyond tedious war between Frank Underwood and Raymond Tusk. Honest to God, I am so sick of watching Gerald McRaney sneer-threaten Kevin Spacey — “The tip of your iceberg is melting, Frank” — that I am on the verge of disavowing any love I may once have felt for the ‘80s McRaney series Simon & Simon. (But not the Adam Scott and Jon Hamm remake of the Simon & Simon opening credits. Come on. I haven’t completely lost my mind.)
Yet again, Tusk and Underwood engaged in a series of threats and counter-threats, this time involving Native American tribes, casinos, that confounding bridge over the Long Island Sound, Tusk’s refinery co-venture with Xander Feng, and — in an explosive, potentially debilitating final strike issued by Tusk — a leaked New York Examiner (but obviously, New York Post) cover story that exposed Claire’s affair with photographer Adam Galloway.
The photo evidence of Claire’s extramarital relationship — a picture snapped by Adam, of her sleeping in Adam’s bed — was procured by Remy, Tusk’s appointed digger of Underwood dirt. But the person who ultimately made the call that it was okay to leak this personal, defamatory, gossipy, nobody-else’s-business information to a New York tabloid was good ‘ol Jean Tusk, the spouse who supposedly thought so much of the way Claire bravely spoke out about military sex abuse. That sweet little woman took one look at the photos that exposed Claire and would obviously damage both her reputation and Frank’s, and declared: “Fuck him. Do it.” If there really is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women, Jean Tusk just secured herself a VIP seat. (For the record, Claire earned her spot down there already, when she threatened to let Gillian’s unborn child wither and die in her mother’s uterus.)
Since the episode closed with the dropping of that sex bob-omb, it’s not clear yet exactly how the affair d’Claire will play out. (Perhaps with Frank, in yet another Underwood quid pro Tusk quo, sharing racy photos of Jean Tusk with the New York Daily News?) One thing is sure: The timing of this could not be worse for Claire because: (1) She’s been super self-righteous with the First Lady about the strength of her marriage to Frank, and (2) Her attempt to convince Megan Hennessey to testify before Congress about being raped by Dalton McGinnis recently blew up in her face. At the last minute, Hennessey panicked, which was understandable. She also appeared to develop a sudden, mild case of Tourette's syndrome, spewing curse words at the vice-president’s wife and admitting that she had picked up a random guy the night before and let him “screw her brains out,” then adding that she allows random guys to screw her brains out on a regular basis. In other words, she’s not a clear-cut, camera-ready case of a perfectly chaste woman who was abused by a powerful man. With Claire now exposed as someone who has strayed sexually, it’s inevitable that the media will turn on her and start questioning whether she was a “true victim,” too. And it’s also inevitable that someone will start asking more questions about the timing of that abortion.
If such questions actually do get asked and are handled skillfully within the context of the House of Cards narrative, they could reveal some interesting things about the limited, Madonna-or-whore-ish ways in which society defines women. That would be a welcome change after witnessing this episode’s sudden, soft-core porn approach to telling the Rachel Posner story.
There were hints in previous episodes that Doug might have romantic feelings for Rachel, as well as subtle intimations that Rachel and her friend Lisa might be attracted to each other beyond platonic friendship. But the way that all played out here — with Rachel unnecessarily making morning coffee in her underwear, and Doug sneaking into her apartment to sniff her sheets, and Rachel and Lisa starting to snog after Rachel finally revealed she used to be a call girl — felt like some male sex fantasy version of what was actually going on in this young woman’s life. Honestly, during that Rachel-Lisa make-out session, I fully expected the camera to suddenly cut to an image of Doug with his nose buried in Rachel’s bedding, revealing that this was all some masturbatory chief of staff’s dream sequence. But it wasn’t. It was just a lame, poorly handled plot development on a Netflix original series. Now that Lisa knows a little more about Rachel, I am assuming that in the next episode or two we’ll discover that she’s actually working for Tusk or Remy or someone who’s trying to dig up dirt on Frank and the whole Peter Russo affair. (Wouldn’t it be fun if Lisa turned out to be Zoe Barnes’s journalistically enterprising cousin, determined to avenge her cousin’s death?)
Seriously, while we’re still vaguely on the subject of Doug: Does he ever do any actual, legitimate government work? Mostly he jets around the country issuing threats and brokering illegal deals; makes sure journalists are wrongly imprisoned for cyberterrorism; and spies on Rachel. He is Frank Underwood’s chief of staff. That’s an enormous job that involves a lot more than acting like a mafia heavy all day long. For example, he supervises a sizable staff. Does anyone on that staff ever know where he is? Do they ever have staff meetings? Could anyone possibly get a fair and balanced performance review out of this guy? Do his employees take long lunch hours at Cosi where they share their wild theories about what’s really going on with Doug Stamper, not knowing that even their wild theories are not nearly as crazy as the nonstop, messed-up insanity Doug Stamper actually deals with on a daily basis? I have so, so many questions about this.
But let’s move on to a woman who got stuck in a compromising position of a less sexual nature: Linda Vasquez, the president’s chief of staff, who handed in her resignation after one too many disagreements with Frank about that stupid bridge, built with the help of the Chinese. Linda Vasquez might be the only person in that entire administration who was actively, competently doing the job she’s supposed to do. So of course she stepped down. Given the disrespectful way that Frank spoke to her during their climactic confrontation (“You call this being his chief of staff? Micromanaging his datebook? I’d say that’s more of a glorified scheduler”) and the way the president dismissed her attempts to initiate follow-up conversation, it was obvious her voice would never be heard. She’s probably better off getting out of there, since Frank’s approach to bridge-building will probably land the White House in a scandal involving financial ethics.
What irked me most about the whole Vasquez situation, aside from the fact that she really should not have given Frank that precious medal of honor as a gift, was that sneery aside from Frank when he realized Linda had spoken to the president about his obsession with the bridge. “That back-stabbing, vomit-inducing bitch,” he snarled, directly to camera. I know we’ve seen this guy murder two people, but the way he said that just made my blood run frigid. He’s such a horrible, soulless, vile, misogynistic bastard. I want comeuppance for him so, so badly. But of course, he probably will never get it, at least not this season. Meanwhile, perfectly good government employees have to move on just to get out of this jackasshole’s way. Life is not fair. It’s often extra-unfair in politics. And it’s super, really, colossally, egregiously unfair to women in politics.
Now, some assorted, lingering questions raised by this episode:
• How much longer can the romance between Remy and Jackie, based entirely on false pretenses on both sides, play out? It’s obvious Jackie is maintaining the romance because she thinks that if Remy becomes more attached, he’ll be less likely to help the Republicans destroy the Democrats in the midterm elections. Meanwhile, Remy is probably keeping the Jackie thing going until he can score a really juicy, damning piece of information about Frank. Ah, love.
• Seth Grayson, the communications director who’s secretly working for Remy and Tusk, but also secretly helping Frank and Claire, and also-also secretly working for someone else, for all we know: That guy’s the worst, right? With each episode, he looks more and more like a rat with the complexion of a member of the Cullen family. But what is his endgame? Is he honestly hoping to remain on the Underwoods’ staff, or is he just playing both sides of his situation so he can make double the money, then become loyal to whoever benefits most from the outcome of the idiotic Tusk-Underwood rivalry?
• Can someone explain what Raymond Tusk’s political leanings are? He has said before that he doesn’t take a public stance on politics because that’s not smart business. Okay, sure. Fine. But he seemed so willing to just start flowing money back in the direction of Frank and the Democratic party, after flowing it toward the Republicans, that it was puzzling. I know that money was meant to shut Frank up and get him to back down fro their fight, but still: Shouldn’t Frank care a little more about what that money will buy him? Does he want the Dems to win in the midterms and maintain power, or doesn’t he? This seems like an important piece of information to know from a basic character development standpoint. Yet here we are, at the end of episode eight, and we still don’t really know.
It’s enough to make a person stand up, straighten his suit, and in a burst of frustrated energy, chuck a $200-per-pound slab of steak straight into a swimming pool.
Actually, Frank’s steak-lobbing move seemed just right for House of Cards, where just about everyone handles their fellow human beings much the same way: like meaningless hunks of meat that can be thrown away when the moment calls for it.