House of Cards
What does power look like in Texas? It’s a clutch of rich old white ladies, sipping tea and gossiping under the supervision of Elizabeth Hale. We arrive in the middle of things, when Elizabeth is describing Frank in the most generous terms she can muster: “He is a classless, graceless, shameless barbarian.” Lest you think she’d be this indiscreet about all Underwood matters, she lies to her coven about the state of her daughter’s marriage.
But no matter, the floodgates of hate are open, and these biddies are all, “He doesn’t deserve to be president.” Elizabeth agrees, of course, and insists that these women open their checkbooks to Heather Dunbar. The grand vision: Frank loses and Claire focuses on her own career. Elizabeth is wearing pearls around her neck, wrist, and finger.
All of Claire’s clever machinations in this episode fall apart. At least in the short term, her careful strategies come to nothing. But she gets where she gets by her savviness; Frank can only halt her with his muscle. He can’t outthink or out-maneuver her, really. He can, say, stop her from going to Texas because he’s the president and the motorcade will do a 180 on his command. But that’s exactly his problem: His power is borrowed from an office he doesn’t deserve to hold. And yet, he seems to be operating under the delusion that his power is somehow intrinsic to his person. It is so obviously not. Frank and Claire both are evil geniuses, but with Claire, the emphasis is on genius. With Frank, the emphasis is on evil.
So Claire returns to the White House for the State of the Union, as she promised she would, calmly pacing about the Restoration Hardware chic that is the First Couple’s bedroom. She makes the oh-so-symbolic choice to wear ivory instead of black, even though her mother tells her to go with the darker color. “Even with your figure,” Elizabeth says, ivory “will accentuate all the wrong places.” She also makes a play for Claire to use her maiden name for her run for office, then suggests the HRC-style option of “Claire Hale Underwood.” Which does sound very presidential. Look, I know Elizabeth is kiiiind of a bitch, but can you say that she has been wrong about anything in the entire time we’ve known her? (We’ve known her for 63 minutes.)
Jackie and Remy, the HoC OTP, are still meeting up for illicit trysts in a hotel. They are a great team and I am worried that they’ll break up again. Later, Remy reveals that he has never actually been to D.C., because he refers to the State of the Union as the SOTU — not the initialism, but like, “so-too.” It is probably this gaffe, more than anything else, that alerts Leann to his ulterior motives.
Leann, by the way, is proving to be quite the mover and shaker, sniffing out Remy’s intentions, staking out his affair, and leaning all the way into a $1.5 million salary for an as-yet-untitled role in Claire’s to-be-determined campaign efforts. I love a lady with some hustle.
Frank promised to do right by Claire, but he knows she’s up to something. Because his masculinity is so fragile and he is incapable of truly supporting Claire in any actual way, he sabotages her — in public, on live television, where she has to keep her poker face and cannot, as I imagine she would have loved to do in private, set his hair on fire and then light a cigarette with the flames as they flicker around his inferior brain.
Frank blows Claire a kiss on his way up to the podium, which is soooo tacky. Like, are you a human emoji? Get your shit together, Frank. I know you don’t have the will of the people behind you, but for some reason that will never be totally valid even in the world of this show, you are the president of the United States. In this episode’s moment of peak implausibility, Frank spends 8,000 hours of his State of the Union address detailing the relentless efforts of Doris Jones to open that cancer clinic and how it’s has inspired him to move land and sea and HUD to find the federal funding to make it happen. And then, putting a cherry on top of that bullshit sundae, he says he can’t wait to support Celia, Doris’s daughter, in her run to fill Doris’s seat when she retires. Celia looks stunned but also gleeful, and I feel for her, as I feel for all pawns in the Underwood game. Claire and Frank glare at each other with death-daggers in their eyes.
Elizabeth watches the SOTU from bed — A+ choice — wearing head-to-toe black, as she implored her daughter to do. This is a woman who practices what she preaches.
Claire is supposed to head straight to Texas after the speech, but Frank has her rerouted back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which is some borderline-abusive stuff — controlling her movements, trapping her in a prison of his creation — because he needs to mansplain politics to her before he goes to bed. “Where did that get you, looking out for yourself instead of looking out for us?” he asks her, in the most condescending, patronizing tone imaginable. Claire knows how to play this, and him. She goes soft and gentle, tells him she needs time to think, and then delivers the magic words: “Maybe you’re right.” Now that she needs space to contemplate how right Frank may be, he is happy to send her back to Dallas. He chuckles as she leaves.
The hypocrisy here is astonishing and hilarious, even for Frank. And that’s saying something: The man who wanted so badly to be president that he littered his path to the Oval with corpses is telling Claire to be patient? She has waited long enough. All she’s done is wait. And she’s done it for Frank.
Frank breaks the fourth wall to tell us a long and winding anecdote about a boy back in Gaffney who used to run away from home. “Is this an allegory for what’s happening with Claire?” we ask ourselves 0.03 seconds into this interminable story, and then, hours later, when he wrapped it up and said he hopes Claire “comes out of her tree before I have to bring out my ax,” our hunch is proven right. We will never get those minutes of our lives back, you and I. They are gone forever, like Cashew.
Claire returns to Texas. Her mother is still awake. They simultaneously admire and mock the earrings from Frank’s mother. (“No doubt she stole them from someone,” Claire says.) Claire, having just told Leann it’s time to “think bigger” than the 30th District, now needs her mom to think bigger too. Like, $1.5 million bigger. Elizabeth balks at the tab, and Claire turns into a bratty teenager: “Daddy would’ve done it, no questions asked.” (Not even Claire Underwood is immune from the back-in-your-childhood-home regression that plagues us all.) Then, she threatens to sell the estate out from under her mother who, in case you’ve forgotten, is dying of cancer. “Oh, you are such a disappointment,” Elizabeth sneers, before whipping off her headscarf while scream-yelping, “I AM THE MOTHER.”
To this, Claire smokes another cigarette — outside, in the dark, alone.
Also, that Russian dude who was maybe/definitely trying to overthrow President Petrov (remember him?) is seeking asylum. Frank’s advisers say that if this man is sent back to Moscow, he’ll be killed. Frank is like, “… so the problem is what, exactly?” and that would have been the end of it (it = this dude’s life), but Petrov thinks Frank orchestrated the whole coup. So we’ve got a marginally interesting international situation on our hands. As for that Russian guy? He will now be sent to a “detainment facility” in America, which, considering the state of our nation’s prisons, might just make him wish he’d been deported.