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House of Cards Season 2, Episode 11 Recap: Three Is a Magic Number

There is no point in attempting to discuss anything in this House of Cards episode without first addressing the Scene.

You know exactly which scene I mean without my having to say it, much the way Edward Meechum knew it was okay to press his lips against the flesh of Frank Underwood and Claire Underwood without anyone speaking loud. That’s how a classic Meechum Threesome works: Words are never uttered, especially after much alcohol has been consumed and blood from a hand wound has already been spilled.

The weird, vaguely sinister circle of sexual trust built in this episode by Frank, Claire, and their most reliable bodyguard may have caught some viewers off-guard even though little details — the FU cufflinks, Meechum’s insistence on working around the clock, the porn interruptus and beer toast incidents from episode ten, not to mention internet spoilers — served as foreshadow-y bread crumbs that led directly to that hat trick of a hookup. On one hand, the scene played as too obviously provocative, as if the writers were desperate to deliver another gasp equal to the one unleashed earlier this season via the Metro station shoving of Zoe Barnes. On the other hand, the Meechum Threesome Scene served as a natural narrative book end to Zoe’s murder. The former incident involved Frank taking violent action against a former lover, literally pushing her out when he perceived that she could not be trusted. The latter involved Frank taking a lover, a man who happens to be responsible for shielding Frank from violence on a daily basis. Instead of pushing Meechum out, Frank — and also Claire — were inviting him in, confident that his loyalty is beyond question. Something about the way that interaction unfolded felt like an initiation ritual, as if Meechum were being inducted into the cult of Underwood. I used the word sinister before, and that’s really the best word for the vibe of that bizarre mini-make-out session. It was more creepy than steamy.

I’ve now used the word threesome a couple of times to describe what was going on between husband, wife, and security man here. That’s because on initial viewing, what happened definitely looked like the prelude to three-way sex. But rewind, if you haven’t already, and watch the scene again. As Frank attempted to treat Meechum’s wound, Meechum exchanged a meaningful glance with Claire, then began to caress Frank’s hand. Frank looked at Claire, who looked back at both men and kissed their intertwined grasp, almost as if she were giving her blessing. Then Meechum kissed Claire’s neck while Frank kissed her lips so that they collectively looked like a three-headed, politico-sexual hydra. And then Meechum and Frank finally kissed each other while the image of Claire faded into soft focus and receded into the background. All of that suggested this was not the beginning of a hot sexual encounter between three powerful and attractive individuals, but a wife giving permission for her husband to get it on with his most valued staff member.

The scenes that followed further supported that version of events. First, we saw Doug peeping into Rachel’s apartment while Rachel and Lisa were involved in their own act of sexual (ahem) congress, portraying another situation in which lovers of the same gender were together while a third party stood on the perimeter. Once again, a love scene between Rachel and Lisa played like a male sexual fantasy, but at least this one served a purpose: to demonstrate Doug’s increasing isolation and also illuminate the Meechum-Frank-Claire relationship by suggesting there’s some parallelism between the two trios.

And then there was the Frank and Claire conversation the morning after Meechum. As they nonchalantly chit-chatted in the kitchen it seemed pretty clear the two didn’t share a bed the night before. “How’s your head?” Frank asked his wife, who said she had taken some aspirin. “You?” she asked. “I slept like a baby,” he said. “Good,” Claire responded. “You needed that.” In other words: Frank needed a night with Meechum to relieve the stress of everything associated with the Chinese money laundering investigation, which is rapidly ballooning into a serious White House scandal. And as the ever-attentive political wife, Claire made sure he got it. She does her spousal duty of making sure her husband is satisfied. She just isn’t the person who does the actual satisfying.

A lot of questions here, but let’s start with this basic one: Is Frank gay? Last season, we learned that he was in a relationship years ago with a male classmate at the Sentinel, and his willingness to join physical forces with Meechum made it clear that the Sentinel romance wasn’t a one-time thing. Still, he could be bisexual, or a straight guy who likes to experiment. Or all of this could mean that he’s a closeted gay man who married Claire for the sake of appearances, and had sex with Zoe as part of a mutual power game they were playing. But that wouldn’t explain why, in the last episode, he was watching porn that appeared to involve women.

Ultimately, I think Frank’s sexuality is like his politics: fluid, although I do think his male relationships may mean more to him emotionally than the female ones.

The truth is that Frank’s orientation is less important to the House of Cards narrative than what his affair with Meechum says about his marriage. That marriage is based on exactly what Ashleigh Banfield said it was during that CNN interview with Claire: ambition and a mutual agreement to sacrifice everything for the sake of Capitol Hill advancement. Frank and Claire — who seemed like such a happy, co-jogging, solidly married couple to the Walkers — are solid only because their marriage is not based on actual emotions. They stand as proof that the best way to get ahead in Washington — or at least the Washington in House of Cards — is to avoid all those pesky, messy human feelings and just keep both pairs of eyes on the political prize. Everything that happened in the adjacent story lines in this episode further supported that premise.

Doug Stamper — whose jaunts to casinos and Xander Feng’s place made Special Prosecutor Dunbar look very carefully at what Underwood knew about money laundering and when he knew it — continued to unravel, largely because of the strong, complicated, kind of random feelings he has for Rachel. The implication: developing a strong attachment to a woman is a bad thing for Doug, because it distracts him from his 24/7, on-call work as Underwood’s Chief of Staff/Head Evildoer.

Remy Danton got all the dirt he needed on the Jackie/Representative Havemeyer/illegitimate daughter situation to bury Jackie’s career, exactly as Raymond requested. But Remy ultimately couldn’t do it because he’s now so invested in his relationship with Jackie that he can’t compartmentalize it anymore. Instead, he opted to work out an arrangement with Frank that will allow him to have a backup plan if Raymond comes out a loser in his ongoing battle with the VP. Something tells me Remy can’t win here, that he’ll ultimately wind up kicked to the career curb because he had the audacity to fall in love with a woman on the wrong side of a political rivalry. He’s yet another man who could be potentially undone by his genuine feelings for another person.

Megan Hennessey resurfaced in this episode and was super-eager to help Claire with any and all interviews orchestrated to pave a path toward the passage of her military rape bill. Unlike Remy and Doug, Megan hadn’t succumbed to, if I may put this in Steve Miller Band terms, “the pompatus of love.” But as her pill-popping and manic behavior demonstrated, she had gotten out of control. And Frank and Claire know that out-of-control is unacceptable, which is why Claire put that overnight media whore on the first plane out of National Airport. Seriously, this was Megan: “Want me to do more interviews, Claire? I can do more interviews. Slugline, Buzzfeed, Slugbuzz, Feedline — I’ll talk to whoever you want. I’ll fire up my interview game right now. Just put some blush on my cheeks, toss some reds and blues down my gullet, and point me in the direction of the first human being you see with a reporter’s notebook and a recording device.” She was definitely on uppers, if not, specifically, Effie’s diet pills from that Family Ties episode where Alex P. Keaton started taking amphetamines so he could get more studying done.

By the way, while we’re on the subject of Megan and military sex abuse: It seemed remarkably, absurdly easy for Seth to convince that New York Times reporter to shift the focus of his story from Claire to Megan, especially considering that the newsworthiness of Claire’s recent adultery scandal would have made Claire the much better story. It’s hard to imagine that happening in real life. It also was surprising to hear Seth mention that Dalton McGinnis will be sentenced soon. That happened fast, especially considering that: (a) we didn’t know he’d officially been convicted of anything and (b) there doesn’t seem to be a robust amount of physical evidence (as far as we know) that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s guilty of rape. I wish House of Cards had spent a little more time explaining that one.

But back to the notion of emotions being people’s downfall: No one is poised for a greater fall on that score than President Garrett Walker. Once Frank began to feel singed by the special prosecutor hot seat, he made it clear that he would extricate himself from the fire at all costs. “When you’re fresh meat,” he declared, “kill and throw them something fresher.”

That something fresher turned out to be the travel logs for both the VP and the president, which eventually led Dunbar to notice that President Walker has repeatedly visited the same address. That address appears to be the private home where Garrett and Tricia sought marriage counseling, per the advice of Frank and Claire Underwood. Did Frank and Claire purposely set them up by sending them there? Is there another reason that location might seem shady to the special prosecutor? It was unclear. But it was clear that President Walker — who popped slightly fewer pills than Megan during this episode — was nervous, and that Dunbar seemed alarmed by what she was seeing in his travel log, and that the sticky marital problems between the Walkers may lead to bigger problems for the president than he imagined.

As for Frank? Early in this episode, he was finally seeming vulnerable and on edge, unable to keep up with the scope of the lies he was telling during that federal investigation. Frankly, it was refreshing to see Mr. Calculating and Murderous finally coming unglued a bit. But by episode’s end — with the focus starting to shift to the president and Frank feeling renewed by the Meechum experience — he was back to his confident, chilly-to-the-bone self.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Frank told Meechum as he got into his car to head off to work. Frank’s eyes and demeanor betrayed no hint of what had happened the night before. Any genuine feelings, for Meechum or about anything else for that matter, were kept exactly where they have to be if you’re Frank Underwood: in check, under wraps, and away from the prying eyes of public observers and special prosecutors intent on bringing down somebody big in their money laundering investigation. But as we all know by now, there’s no way that the vice-president or Claire Underwood are going to let that somebody be Frank Underwood. As husband and wife, they are 100 percent on the same page about that.

Photo: Nathaniel E. Bell/Netflix