House of Cards Season 3, Episode 2 Recap: Meet Me Halfway

Jackie Sharp and Remy Danton on House of Cards. Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix
House of Cards
Episode Title
Chapter 28
Editor’s Rating

Claire is unflappable. This is her most envy-inducing trait: She’s icy cool in the hot seat. She cannot be rattled. Except when she can.

We find her at her confirmation hearing, hoping to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She is calmly, carefully laying out her qualifications — even though we’ve seen how dirty she had to let her hands get in order to achieve any of those accomplishments — as a champion of sexual assault reform and a leader who built a small nonprofit into “a major global player.” Claire believes she has demonstrated her “effectiveness,” which is not a surprising choice of words for her. Effectiveness is the number-one trait of House of Underwood, the way loyalty matters to Gryffindors and debt-repaying to Lannisters.

But Senator Mendoza trips her up; Claire accidentally says the phrase “The U.S. military is irrelevant,” and Mendoza keeps on interrupting her/generally being a dick about it, and he derails her whole confirmation.

All is not well with Frank, either: The Democratic Party would prefer that he not run in 2016. As they kindly point out, “You weren’t even elected to this office in the first place.” They want a fresh face. Even Jackie, who rode into the office on Frank’s coattails, is “with the leadership.” Frank flip-flops around a bit, first saying that 18 months is not a lot of time, then saying that it would be premature to make this kind of decision, with the election a whopping 18 months away. He and Claire are flailing; it doesn’t look good on them.

But they barely miss a beat before the next strategy kicks in. Claire calls senators personally to win over votes, and Frank tries to fund-raise his way out of a leadership crisis. “I’ve always said that power is more important than money, but when it comes to elections, money gives power, well, a run for its money.”

This is the best mode for the Underwoods: scrappy and cornered and unwilling to surrender. They are never out of fight. Their approach to the White House is very with your shield or on it, and it’s a thrill to watch them in action, cajoling and sweet-talking and pacing and on the same side of a battle. Claire even does that little quick-two-knock thing on Frank’s door frame!

Back to the Doug Dungeon (Dougeon?), a depressing little cave of poorly lit sadness. Seth, on Frank’s orders, is checking in. Doug is trying to make himself useful even though no one actually wants his help. Doug is like the little kid who keeps trying to help mom and dad make dinner and really they just wish he’d go to the basement and watch TV until the food is ready. Seth promises to deliver an email from Doug to Frank with his thoughts on AmWorks, but I doubt that will ever happen.

Even though Claire and Frank are back on great terms with each other, they are on not-so-great terms with anybody else. Frank doesn’t have a single backer, though I’d listen to his end of these calls for an entire episode (“It’s humiliating to have to beg from some kid who was on Facebook before his testicles descended but— Derrick!”). Claire sorts out her shpilkes by rousing her full security detail for an after-hours run along the Mall.

Remy crashes a date Jackie’s on with a guy I’m pretty sure we don’t know (after a while, all these white government bros in identical suits look the same to me). She agrees to Remy’s proposal that she be Frank’s “eyes and ears” inside the administration — on the condition that she gets the VP spot on Frank’s 2016 ticket. Then Jackie meets with Ayla, who, so far, is the only female journalist on this show who is taken seriously by everyone around her and doesn’t screw her sources for intel. I wish I could trust this progress, but I have a sinking feeling we’re maybe three episodes out from Ayla honey-trapping Seth for the goods on the Underwood administration. Jackie leaks that the meeting earlier that day, ostensibly an hour-long conversation about AmWorks, only lasted four and a half minutes.

Claire comes home from her run to see Frank in the wreckage of a snack he couldn’t stomach and a lamp he must not like. He’s sitting on the floor with his head between his knees, crying. To the sweet, sweet sounds of unnecessarily dramatic music, Claire initiates I-can-make-you-feel-better sex with Frank on the floor. It’s loving but also sort of intense and weird, like basically everything else about their relationship.

In the morning, as Claire busies herself with the FLOTUS duty of selecting which commemorative egg colors she likes for the Easter Egg Roll, the bad news breaks: She lost, 52 to 48.

Frank, toying with the black egg Claire handed him, has an epiphany: “You can’t change the laws of physics, can you?” he says to the befuddled and probably annoyed Remy and Seth. Frank realizes that he can’t get the leadership “to do what they’re dead-set against doing … we have to reverse our thinking. When the wind’s blowing at gale force, there’s no point in sailing against it.”

Also, much to my surprise, Seth does tell Frank about what Doug is working on, and Frank says to forward the email. So maybe Seth isn’t sabotaging Doug? Ayla swings by Seth’s office with coffee, but this loyal henchman reveals nothing. Jackie tells Remy about her meet-and-leak with Ayla.

Frank gets his egg-inspired plan rolling (Easter Egg Roll pun!) with a speech that makes Claire give him power-sex-approval eye contact. He meets with the leadership and announces that he will not run for president. They think this is too good to be true; obviously it is. Frank sells the idea that he’d rather spend the next 18 months governing instead of campaigning anyway — knowing what we know about Frank, this sounds like the opposite of what he would enjoy doing; governance seems to frustrate and infuriate him — but whatever, he says he feels “liberated.” “I am prepared to vacate this chair. Meet me halfway.” By “halfway” he means he’s still set on cutting all of the entitlement programs that literally no one wants to cut. “I WANT US TO FUCKING TRY.” Okay then.

Frank gives his speech to the American people that night, saying sure-to-be-popular lines like, “For too long, we in Washington have been lying to you,” and “The American dream has failed you,” and “Let me be clear: You are entitled to nothing.” He tries to dress this up as something only he, the brave, never-elected-by-the-will-of-the-people POTUS, would dare to do, as no one running for office would say such a thing.

I will probably be asking this all season, but seriously: What does Frank even have against entitlement programs? Why does he want to cut this stuff so badly? Isn’t Frank a freaking Democrat? If what he wants is power, not just today but in the future, power that he can leverage to get more power for Claire, why is he (a) being such a lousy president, and (b) attempting to force through the least popular legislation maybe ever?

In (again) near-darkness, Doug treats himself to another squirt of Old Darby from his syringe. It is still unclear why he needs to consume alcohol in this way. This reminds me of the thing with Claire and the origami birds, like the show thinks it’s being really deep and symbolic, but actually these tropes are just strangeness for strangeness’ sake that don’t mean anything at all. Seth comes to visit so he and Doug can have a little “No, really, Frank is my bestest friend in the whole wide world” contest. He’ll be visiting more often because Frank is making him do it, so get excited about that, friends.

Something is going on with the solicitor general, Heather Dunbar, about a drone strike that blew off an American citizen’s legs. In Frank’s new quest to be honest about stuff ( … why, no one knows), he’s like, “Why don’t we just declassify that classified information and tell the public what really happened?” Never thought I’d see a fictional president who was even worse at being president than Scandal’s also-never-really-elected wimpy Fitz, but here we are.

Late that night, we find Frank singing “Hobo’s Lullaby” and slapping together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Claire comes in and gets all worked up about how she still wants the U.N. job and can get a recess appointment. “What if this is as far as we get? What if it’s all over in 18 months? I don’t want to wait, or settle for something else, when I’ve put all this work in— ” Frank cuts her off: “Okay, I’ll do it. Sure you don’t want half?” He skips away into the night with his sandwich and Claire cries/gags into the sink.

Totally over-the-top music plays as Claire makes fried eggs; is this supposed to be a metaphor about having to break a few eggs to make an omelette? Is it a callback to the eggs for the Easter Egg Roll? Or does Claire just understand that there’s no reason for anybody to ever eat anything besides breakfast food? I assume the answers to these pressing questions will be provided next week. Or the show will just move on as if this fried-egg scene never happened, like it has with Zoe’s murder and Lucas’s arrest and at least a dozen other important plot developments.