House of Cards Season 3, Episode 11 Recap: Traitors Among Us

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Debate time! Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix
House of Cards
Episode Title
Chapter 37
Season
3
Episode
11
Editor’s Rating
4/5

The only type of loyalty Frank wants is unconditional. That’s all well and good when you’ve got a buddy like Doug who will take all the cruelty you can dish out only to come back, drunk and desperate, all, “Please, sir, can I have some more?” But most people are not Doug. Without enough incentive to stay, Frank’s army is deserting. Who is a commander-in-chief with no one to command? 

Claire is charming all the ladies who lunch with her to make (honestly unconvincing) pledges of allegiance to her dear Francis. “I have trouble believing that your husband truly cares about people,” says one woman who clearly has an eye for cold-hearted murderers.

Meanwhile, Frank is deep in debate prep. He tells Jackie that she has to call Heather sexist and call her out for sending her kids to private school. But Jackie is wary of that tactic; for one thing, she sends her kids to private school. Frank tells her to be a pit bull, then tells us, “Such a pity how much ruthless pragmatism gets weighed down by family values.” He knows the marriage was his idea. Don’t remind him.

On the sly, Jackie calls a meeting with Heather. “I want to endorse you,” Jackie says, in exchange for a cabinet position. Jackie, American hero: “I wouldn’t expect to be on your ticket, Heather. You need a Southerner with a penis.” But Heather — possibly too virtuous for her own good; definitely too virtuous for anywhere but television/Netflixision — promises nothing. “Those decisions will be made purely on merit.” Jackie says she’s sticking with Underwood. Productive chat, everybody!

Alan flies out to meet Jackie for the debate. They seem like a great team, actually. “I’d throw you on the bed right now if it wouldn’t mess up your hair.” This man, again, proves that he has his priorities in check.

Debate time! This is already such an unfair setup because women have to wear heels and stand for the entire thing, and the podiums aren’t solid so you can tell if they shift their weight or if they stand on one foot while popping the other out for a break. Classic patriarchy. Frank gives his opening statement, emphasizing “vision and experience” and playing up his folksy South Carolina cred: “Where I come from down South, we call that as clear as a glass of moonshine.”

Heather responds by wrecking Frank as having “the wrong vision and horrendous experience,” but that’s not where things get really interesting. Jackie’s opening statement is all about equal pay for equal work and how Heather inherited a multi-billion-dollar fortune, plus Jackie’s a soldier and will fight-fight-fight. Then the debate spirals out of control.

The moderator does not appear to know how to moderate; people just keep shouting over each other. Jackie does as Frank instructed, accusing Heather of sexism when she mentions Frank’s appointment of Claire to the U.N. She even does the one thing she really, really did not want to do: She plays the kids card, alleging that Heather obviously wants her kids to have an advantage over other children and that she “shipped them off to boarding school.”

Heather, scandalized, but totally cool: “Wow. You must really want to be president. I would never bring up your kids in a debate.” I think Jackie wishes she could pass Heather a note or something and tell her she didn’t really mean it; I think she respects Heather more than she respects Frank. Which is going to be a problem, to say the least.

It looks like Jackie might win — I thought this was going to be our twist here — but then Frank about-faces. “Don’t you send your own kids to private school, Congresswoman?”

Jackie is stunned, as well she should be; even if he was planning on playing the bad guy, couldn’t he have told her in advance? And this is Frank’s major flaw, one that could prove to be fatal: He treats everyone like dirt and expects them to fall in line, either out of fear, respect, or both. He is so focused on getting what he wants, he has no idea how to motivate other people into wanting it, too. (Other ruthless visionaries have been much better at this. Until the bitter end, Walter White knew just what to say to get Jesse to stay on the RV.)

Alan is surprisingly cool about how the debate went down and says his teenage kids are probably just excited they were mentioned on TV. He’s disappointed in Frank “for throwing you under the bus,” and maybe that’s the push Jackie needs to make her big decision.

She goes to see Frank in the Oval, and instead of taking the opportunity to win her over, Frank belittles her. She tells him that she’s “not comfortable with the dynamic we’ve established. The leash you have me on. How I’m supposed to roll over and do any trick you want. You’re taking me for granted.” Frank loses his mind. “This is not a partnership of equals,” he bellows at her. “If you are to be my vice-president, you will do what I ask.” My notes: Get out, Jackie. GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

Later, Remy interrupts while Frank is shooting the shit with Freddy. Frank, again, makes the mistake of treating an insubordinate like they have no feelings or self-respect. Remy tries to reason with Frank about Jackie, but Frank isn’t having it. “Do you remember when we talked about how you treat your staff?” Remy warns. “You want to win. You won’t do it without any of them.”

Freddy says that calling Frank out like that is “like blaming a snake for having fangs,” but what other choice did Remy have?

On TV, when she is scheduled to suspend her campaign, Jackie announces that she wants to “help elect Heather Dunbar to the White House.” Seth is watching and mutters “Judas bitch” under his breath; probably not the smartest move, since Remy was in the room. Remy hands Seth his fancy White House pin. He is OUT. Good luck on your, own, Seth, Mitchum, and Frank! Sounds like a real trio to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, Tom is following Claire around the campaign trail, and she makes the ill-advised decision to talk to him while she’s having her blood drawn. Why is she so unguarded with him, even before she gets all woozy? She’s a freaking politician, why would she tell the writer that she dyed her hair blonde because it polls better?

Tom bets she hates campaigning. “Everybody hates campaigning, except for the politicians. They feed off the energy.” Claire is wary of Tom and Frank’s closeness, but then she falls into the same trap, getting all lightheaded and telling secrets to the one guy you don’t tell secrets to. Every seven years, she says, she thinks about leaving her marriage. She’s thought about jumping off bridges. “What I hate is how much I need us, I didn’t jump, I didn’t step back,” she slurs, and then she passes out.

When Tom calls Frank to give him the update — against Claire’s wishe s —Tom completely betrays Claire’s confidence and reports back every single troubling thing that she said. Frank is so regretting every intimate detail he ever gave this guy.

Wouldn’t be a full episode without a dispatch from the Sadness Cave! All the phones in Doug’s place start beeping and buzzing simultaneously; it’s Gavin, obviously, because this is the story line that will never, ever go away, not even the perfect mic drop that was the return of Cashew. Rachel is still alive. Noooooo. “I know exactly where she is,” says Gavin, as images of Rachel pop up on Doug’s screen. Gavin wants the same passport-unlocked deal for a friend of his, and he’ll reveal her location. Great, awesome, looking forward to the never-ending adventures of Doug’s long-lost non-love, as always.

Doug waterboards all his electronics and then sits on the steps of his building to prove a point about control. This only kind of fazes his brother. Their bond seems legit, at least! Doug’s 60 days are up, and he tells his brother he loves him, and they hug. Some real quality hugging on this show, I have to say. There is actual light in the Sadness Cave. Does this mean Doug is stable enough to leave Rachel alone? I hope so, but I doubt it.