House of Cards
Remember when Cathy told Claire she didn’t drink hurricanes at Tulane during the most glamorous boozefest this side of the Potomac? “We weren’t barbarians,” she scoffed.
Well, somebody in the HOC writers’ room is not a fan of hurricanes, because another one is headed toward the East Coast. The disaster-relief fund has been depleted by a third for AmWorks, and even minimalist prep would require $8 billion. (Of all the times to take a minimalist approach, “while preparing for a hurricane” would not be a good one. When readying for a hurricane, like when eating on Thanksgiving or decorating the inside of a seventh-grade locker, too much is never enough.) FEMA, fortunately, shares my view on these matters, and says they need to prepare for the worst.
Frank meets with Senator Mitchell, Mendoza’s replacement — Mendoza wronged the wrong people, obviously, or no one would’ve cared about how he didn’t declare a few paid speeches as income — and Birch. Birch and Mitchell are oh-so chummy (“Isn’t this a little lovefest?” Frank sneers) and tell Frank they’re prepared to allocate $10 billion. Just one catch: no more FEMA funds, or any funds like it, for AmWorks. They tell Frank he took that money illegally: “You don’t get to break the piggy bank, then ask us to glue it together and put in more pennies!” Frank says, “There’s no reason we have to turn this into a pissing match,” which is odd considering we know the Underwoods love a good power-pee.
In a Cabinet meeting the following morning, one brave voice states the obvious: “Hey, here’s a crazy thought, you megalomaniac: Have you thought about just signing the damn bill?” (I’m paraphrasing here.) Frank is all, “I think too often the people in this room are afraid of upsetting me, and that’s my fault.” You think, Frank? No one wants to end up in no man’s land with Paul. Where did Paul go, by the way? Did Remy ever send his things to the lobby? I doubt it. I hope Paul is somewhere pleasant and safe, cradling Cashew in his arms. Claire raises her hand, a disingenuous gesture to trick Frank’s opponents into feeling safe enough to raise their hands, too.
Out on the campaign trail, Heather is (against Doug’s advice?) criticizing Walmart for having a starting salary for employees that’s below the poverty line. Unfortunately for HOC’s efforts at some verisimilitude, this is pretty much the opposite of what’s happening in reality, where Walmart just raised employee wages to at least $9 an hour, effectively raising the federal minimum wage.
Doug takes a break from lying in total darkness staring at the surveillance feed of that one intersection he thinks Rachel may have passed through that one time to give Heather a call. He tells her to meet with Jackie someplace discreet to talk about suspending her campaign for the hurricane. Heather does, revealing to Jackie that she’ll be encouraging her supporters to donate to the Red Cross, and that she’ll be going east to volunteer. She invites Jackie along, though Jackie is skeptical. When Heather asks if Jackie has kids, Jackie’s all, “I have a husband, he has kids.” I thought one of those stepsons wanted Jackie to teach him how to drive! Is there trouble in pizza-sex paradise? Heather tells Jackie that having kids grounds her: “What if we didn’t have the money and advantages we do? What if they were in harm’s way, what if they needed help and didn’t have it?” I believe Heather is a fundamentally good person, so I am prepared to watch her suffer and/or die; HOC has ruined me.
Then Doug calls up Seth with a message for Frank: Tell POTUS about the meeting, “Tell him I’m the one who told you.” So Doug is going to all this trouble just to get his ex to notice him again. Sigh. It’s all very Social Network. I wish Doug could just be all in on Heather, my candidate of choice. Seth delivers the news through Remy but says he got it from Jackie’s communications director, so tough break there, Doug. Happy stalking in the Sadness Cave!
Remy and Frank are on the outs, but there’s nothing Frank can do about it. “Oh, it’s like you want me to fire you,” Frank says, but Remy knows Frank can’t follow through on the threat. “Seth and I are the only two soldiers you have.” Claire and Frank’s marriage, though, seems strong as ever. She’s giving him shoulder rubs and bringing him boiled peanuts; he’s telling her that the U.N. peacekeeping mission is all due to her hard work.
Frank calls Jackie about this little off-the-record chat she had with Heather, and Jackie stands firm. “May I offer you some advice, sir? Sign the bill. If you don’t, and the storm hits, you and I won’t have a campaign.”
Frank wants to know why what he’s heard of Tom’s book doesn’t mention AmWorks once. Are we seriously still asking this question, Frank? Who would ever buy a book about your unemployment program? Does that sound like book-club material to you? Duh, the book has to be “the story of your life” with carefully planted themes and tropes as to convey the right message to the world about who you are and why they should vote for you. Tom’s like, “I don’t even care what you want, the whole thing is going to be vignettes that sound like something Guy in Your MFA would tweet.” Frank, for some reason, seeks political counsel from this man who makes a living reviewing video games and taking credit for a book he didn’t write. Tom tells him to sign the bill, too. “People can’t work if they’re dead.” Were truer words ever spoken?
Two voice-overs weave through this episode, and only one confirms for me that the person providing it is as good a writer as everyone says she is. Kate’s done her reporting, and she’s able to connect the dots: Underwood’s had “a career’s worth of unilateral moves.” Tom’s schlock is a lot of heavy-handed symbolism about how Frank tried to swim really far that one time (a nautical adventure that, we eventually find out, never even took place). Gee, Tom, will Frank drown? Will he turn around when it gets too hard? The suspense is too much to bear!
But Kate is onto something, even though her editor tells her he can’t run it as a straight story. She’s ready for a column anyway, so her editor sends her out to get one quote from anyone who’ll call themselves “a source close to the White House.” Naturally, this turns into a few drinks with Tom, who tells her nothing, which turns into a cool, grown-up slumber party. Tom rolls up to the Oval Office the next day wearing the same shirt Kate slept in: BOSS MOVE, TOM.
Frank signs the bill. “It was out of my hands. I can’t control the weather.” Frank, admitting there’s something in this world he can’t control! This scenario in which Frank finds himself reminds me of my favorite line from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar: “The very rich are enormously resentful of bad weather. It is the one discomfort that their money cannot do anything about.
He passes out in his clothes and wakes up to find out that the hurricane didn’t make landfall. As one newscaster reports, “The biggest casualty was not life or property but Underwood’s America Works plan.” Kate says there’s no way her story will get printed now because of her whole hurricane metaphor. Really, Kate? You’re going to kill the piece because your metaphor fell apart? Been there, KB, but don’t you think all that reporting you did on the president of the United States is, oh, I don’t know, crucial for the American people to read? I get that you’re sad you’ll have to kill that “Hurricane Faith / Hurricane Francis” parallel, darling, but come on, now.
Tom thinks this means he’s out of a job, too, but Frank has other plans. He’s going to announce his candidacy for 2016. “It’s the only way to get AmWorks back on track.” He gives Tom the pen he used to sign the bill he wishes he’d never signed. Do with that symbol what you will, Tom.
This episode brings the return of Freddy, whom Frank saves from unemployment by hiring him to work at the White House. He puts Freddy in the kitchen, assuming that’s what he wanted, but Freddy requests to be a groundskeeper instead. Later, in a weirdly depressing conversation, Freddy tells his grandson that he’ll never be president, despite what Frank says is possible. “Oh, that’s never gonna happen. Listen up, boy, he lied to you. The truth is, you’re never gonna be president … No, boy, this place ain’t for you and me. It’s good to have dreams, just as long as you don’t have fantasies.” Way harsh, Tai.