House of Cards
Turn off 40 percent of the lights in your apartment for that David Fincher effect, stick a flag pin in your lapel, and start talking directly to the camera: It’s time for House of Cards. Season two of the Netflix original series debuts on Friday — all episodes at once, just like the first time. Are you currently getting up to speed on season one and looking for someone to talk it out with? Well, all week, we will be recapping three episodes a day (four on Friday) for those of you who are new to HoC or just want to brush up before Valentine’s Day. You can find our recap of episodes 1-3 here, 4-6 here, and 7-9 here.
As if we needed him to clarify, Frank tells us that he has “zero tolerance for betrayal.” Zoe, whose Slugline access apparently means she’s allowed to lurk in the halls of the Capitol so she can jump out and startle her Congressional fuck buddy, corners Frank to out Claire as the reason Frank lost the watershed bill vote.
Frank silences the rogue Congressmen (no action figures required) and then lays into Claire. Oh, boy. I think crossing Claire is an even bigger mistake than crossing Frank; she just has this cool way about her, this unshakeable demeanor. Frank’s temper is long gone: “You encouraged them to defy me!” Claire, ever-consistent, insists that “I can’t operate based on plans you haven’t shared with me,” an echo of her claim in Chapter 1 that every time Frank shuts her out, the Underwoods are “in free fall.” She is so right about everything here: They haven’t made decisions together for a while, Frank has been using her like he uses everybody else, and how dare Frank storm into her office to point fingers when he is the one who exposed them. Frank says the too-true thing he never should have said: It’s not as important for Claire to get what she wants for CWI as it is for Frank to get to the White House.
Then he says perhaps the dumbest thing of all: “Is it the hot flashes?”
NEVER SAY THAT, FRANK. Even if you’re right ( … obviously, he’s not), this is always the wrong thing to say.
Peter Russo is also angry and a little too drunk. (On power! Not on alcohol, at the moment.) He threatens to go public with the Kern editorial. His pitch is that it’s mutually assured destruction. Peter’s not afraid of Frank anymore. Sounds like a mistake to me. Frank is a scary guy.
INT: Zoe’s apartment. In walks Claire! I love the look on Zoe’s face when Claire arrives, as if she is seeing for the first time how disgusting her apartment really is, realizing how it must look to someone like Claire. Zoe is standing there in her blue pajama shorts and see-through sweater like a teenager as she learns that Claire has known about this fling from the start. What’s so fascinating to me about this sequence, and the one right after it, is how quickly Zoe rebounds from being made to feel weak, childish, and threatened with Claire to acting confident, victorious, and calm with Frank, who shows up shortly after Claire leaves. I admire Zoe’s ability to turn a loss into a victory with five little words: “Tell Claire I said hi.”
Yet again, Frank fumbles by underestimating the women in his life. Now he’s smoking in the window alone. “Rebellion on all fronts.” He does sneak in a win by having Gillian, Stanford valedictorian, make a call to get Linda’s kid into college. How much of a screw-up must Linda’s kid be to not even be able to get into school even after his mom, POTUS’s chief of staff, makes an in-person visit to campus? Sorry, one well-deserving, high-achieving Stanford applicant! Have fun at UC Somewhere.
Claire goes to Adam and his ludicrously gigantic loft space. He took photos of Claire while she was sleeping — that is not romantic, you guys! It’s like Angelus leaving Buffy that sketch that time, which was ominous and threatening! — and his only excuse for this act of creepery is “the light was perfect, I had no choice.” The one good thing about this little jaunt is learning about Claire’s mom, who always told Claire to smile more: “Just so long as I looked beautiful and happy, that’s all she cared about.” Pretty hurts, ya’ll. Adam wants to know what Claire is thinking and feeling and somehow this desire, which normals refer to as empathy is, in the eyes of sexy-aloof-artist-man, “sad.” Later, Adam hosts a cool bohemian party, like that lakeside scene from Chocolat poured itself into his apartment. Someone is literally playing the bongos. Claire, who brought no luggage, is wearing Adam’s clothes. They look amazing on her because everything looks amazing on Robin Wright.
Frank meets with Remy (at Freddy’s! What a show of good faith) to see if SanCorp would support bringing a refinery to Philly to get jobs back in Peter’s home state, thus quelling at least one insurrection. Remy meets with Peter, who promises to declare his refinery-loving ways on a radio show the following morning. But that night, at a fancy gala Pete must attend, Rachel shows up in a dress with a hem up-to-there and a neck cut-to-there and all of the theres, essentially, and I guess for the sake of the plot moving as it needs to, I should not ask vital questions, like: Doesn’t Pete have an AA sponsor he can call in exactly these moments, or Christina, at least?
Zoe, still reeling from her run-in with Claire, is having one of those twentysomething moments when you suddenly realize that everything you thought was “just fine” is nowhere near fine. Her apartment is a horror movie. Every crack in every wall is depressing as all hell. So she calls Lucas, tells him his drunk-stalking was “adorable” (I don’t know, depends on context; I don’t recommend trying that at home, would-be Romeos) and asks to sleep on the couch. Lucas tries to be a gentleman but she crawls into bed with him while he’s sleeping (I don’t know, depends on context; maybe don’t try that at home either, aspiring Juliets) and they start making out. It’s sweet! About as sweet as HoC ever gets, anyway.
Frank is playing chess against himself. “I hate being kept in the dark. Waiting. Speculating. Useless.” Meanwhile, Peter and Rachel are getting wasted (and having sex without getting undressed, somehow?) and Rachel throws the curtains open. THE SUN IS UP. Rise and shine, Peter. He slurs his words so badly during his radio interview that the interviewer asks him if he’s drunk. It’s even harder to watch than Frank’s AEIOU debacle on CNN, probably because Frank brought that travesty on himself, but Peter is just being played by everyone around him.
If you were ever onboard with Frank before, maybe this is the part that broke you. Frank didn’t capitalize on Peter falling off the wagon; he kicked Peter off the wagon and into the waiting arms of a very well-compensated call girl. Can Peter’s political career be salvaged? Can Peter?
This is where we start to see Frank’s endgame: He wants to be Vice President. For anything in this show to work, you have to buy this: that Frank believes being VP will get him both power and allow him to exact revenge. To which I say: seriously? All this trouble and effort and chaos … to be vice president. VICE president. To, as this fictional VP so eloquently put it, cut ribbons and attend funerals? I get that is Frank is playing a long game — to use being VP as a springboard to run in 2020 — but it all still feels a little anticlimactic.
Unless we are supposed to believe that Frank will spend season two plotting to have POTUS killed. In that case: Carry on, Francis. To One Observatory Circle you go.
The VP wants to be governor again, and Frank does such high-level Mean Girls—ing here, telling the VP and the president just what each needs to hear and dropping all these “well, you can’t tell him I told you, but he totally said this about you” rumor-bombs.
Claire — who is still with Adam, sigh — says “being afraid doesn’t accomplish anything,” an interesting thesis given Frank’s conviction that fear for someone like Claire is a kind of power. Then she and Adam fight, and Claire is all, “We’ve never spent more than 48 hours together, maybe there’s a reason for that.” Yes, Claire! Go with that instinct! She heads home, but not before turning a square of their girl-photo into a swan.
Zoe takes a break from scrubbing the sloth out of her apartment to visit Frank. She walks straight upstairs (keep in mind even Remy has never made it past the living room). Quite the chutzpah-haver, this kid. It’s all very unsettling. On the one hand, Zoe is flexing a muscle just by barging into the most intimate space in Frank’s home uninvited. She bosses him around in his own house. But it’s clear from the way she’s taking it all in that being there makes her feel so small. “It’s very tasteful,” she says, spritzing expensive perfume and touching this Restoration Hardware-y furniture, wondering if she’ll ever have what Claire has.
Zoe even plays dress-up in Claire’s clothes. “It’s like steel,” she says, as if we did not already know the thematic purpose of Claire’s gorgeous silver dress. Zoe says she wants to even the score, that Claire came into her bedroom first, but I think she just really wanted to know how Claire and Frank lived. Zoe sees there is something regal in Claire, something she can’t fake. Zoe’s the kind of girl who thinks there’s nothing more powerful than youth and its effect on other people, especially men. But the kind of strength Claire has is fundamentally adult.
Zoe tells Lucas she had an affair with an older, married man. “It was really — it was fucked up. The first night we spent together, he told me he was going to hurt me and discard me.” I hope these crazy kids can work it out; Lucas is like the best thing that ever happened to her.
Peter takes a break from trashing his apartment and drinking vodka from the bottle to try to turn himself into the police, but he can’t get arrested to save his life. Frank picks him up and drives him home. Peter says he’s making a statement tomorrow because “everything is a lie.” Frank’s reaction is just classic Underwood: “Well, let’s work together on the language.” “When has your help ever helped me?” Fair question! It never has, Peter, and now it never will.
Kevin Spacey’s face — the polar-vortex stare, the way he cases the car with a few glances, how he takes a swig with his eyes open — is absolutely captivating. This scene is beautifully shot. I love that image of just Frank’s mouth as he says: “We have all the time in the world,” and that last look at the smoke-filled garage as the door goes up. Fare thee well, Peter Russo.
Now everybody has to grapple with the role they played in Russo’s death. Rachel realizes she was part of something devastating; Christina is a wreck. Claire and Frank just hug each other. How much does Claire know, or suspect?
And what about you? Surprised? For me, this all goes back to that damn dog. Frank demonstrated he was capable of killing from the beginning. The show started so close to the end — the “Frank is a killer” end, I mean — this scene didn’t have that shock value for me. My reaction was, “I can’t believe it took Frank this long to realize Russo was a liability beyond saving.” Maybe I’ve been watching too much House of Cards.
One month later, and everyone’s headhunting. Frank. Linda, and the president are interviewing potential VP candidates. The pickings are intentionally slim — Frank says one contender “could put a crack addict to sleep” — because Frank and Linda want the president to leap at the opportunity to tap Frank. But the president tells Frank he wants to vet Raymond Tusk, some multibillionaire who has never held public office.
Why slow the momentum down with this St. Louis jaunt, HoC? This whole digression feels like treading water too far from the part of the story that everyone watching is actually invested in. Hello, Frank just up and murdered a congressman. No one cares about bird-watching.
As seems to be the trend when Underwoods go out of town, we learn more about Frank’s parents. His father was a failure of a peach farmer but Frank can’t help but hold on to a few of his old man’s habits, like knocking his ring on the table for “preparation and luck.”
Turns out Frank is being played: Raymond is vetting him, not the other way around. Raymond was also the one who advised the president not to make Frank Secretary of State. Look out, Raymond.
At Slugline, I’m so relieved to see Janine be outstanding at her job (this is just more evidence in the pile of “reasons Janine didn’t need to sleep with her sources for her character to make sense”). She has impeccable instincts. She doesn’t cower when powerful people intimidate her. She digs. Even Frank admits that Janine “knows the right questions to ask.” Zoe says Frank is dangerous; Janine understands that this is exactly why they have to keep going. “If you weren’t afraid, you wouldn’t be doing your job.” With Janine’s guidance, Zoe is finally doing real reporting. She tracks down Crazy Roy’s girlfriend, Echo, at a strip club, and finds out that Russo visited Roy and was at least partly responsible for the Kern editorial getting out.
Gillian is all holier-than-thou about CWI taking SanCorp’s money. She is such a poorly developed character. Are we supposed to believe someone this academically and professionally successful, who rose so high so fast that she’s already on Claire’s radar, doesn’t understand that even the cleanest nonprofit organizations have to get their hands dirty? And did Gillian honestly think Claire wouldn’t catch her bush league attempts at stonewalling the SanCorp film crew? Gillian quits/is fired (this vague type of job termination is very common on HoC).
Lucas knows Zoe’s “older man” was Frank. Also, he loves her. “Probably.”
Gillian, that do-gooder minx, has a lawyer and wants a trial. She’s accusing Claire of firing her for being pregnant and saying things like “Go focus on your baby.” (That’s the best she could do? Gillian is so JV.) Gillian is rounding up troops: Evelyn, other ex-CWI employees. I just don’t like seeing someone use such a cheap ploy to get the upper hand with Claire, who is so out of Gillian’s power-league.
Zoe and Lucas-who-loves-her are together, sort of, but Zoe needs to work on not asking for favors immediately after sex. Maybe shower first, Zoe. Later, Lucas comes over to her apartment and closes all the windows, turns out the lights, and puts Zoe’s phone on the fire escape. It’s pretty hot, even though I think that is not the point of this exercise. Lucas thinks Zoe may be being followed. Dun dun dunnnn!
Zoe goes to Rachel’s hometown (again with the shoe-leather reporting; quick study, this girl) and learns about Rachel’s abusive past. Lucas goes to the District Grand to pick up prostitutes — for work, though, it’s cool — and finds Rachel. Zoe meets her in the pouring rain, like something out of a Taylor Swift song, but Rachel doesn’t cave. She drives away with Doug, who I think is the scariest character on HoC. (How do we think Doug got to be so loyal to Frank? Does Frank have something on him?) But Zoe, Janine, and Lucas are onto Underwood: They realize that he wanted to get tapped for VP all along.
In a rare moment of insecurity, Claire asks Frank what they’ll leave behind when they die. It’s exactly what Frank was worried about at the Sentinel, but he doesn’t reveal that to her. Looks like the Underwoods, always so synchronized before, are starting to grow apart. Claire, for all her ruthlessness, cares about what the world will be like after she leaves it; Frank cares only for himself, for Claire, for now. And those ambitions are going to clash.
In the meantime, though, Frank has just what he wanted. He’s left his enemies in his wake and he’s got the second-highest office in the land. “It would be a great honor.”
And a few other things …
* What do you all make of Claire’s visit to the ob-gyn? At first I thought a few personal experiences — Gillian’s pregnancy, going through menopause, meeting Peter Russo’s kids, being betrayed by Frank — made her decide she wanted to have children after all, under the wire. It sounds like the real reason she never did is that Frank didn’t want them, and she doesn’t want to cater to Frank’s wants anymore. But there is a part of me that thinks, maybe she just wants to be pregnant so a jury will find her sympathetic.
* When Frank tells Peter about his unhappy childhood and that he considers himself “cowardly” but Russo is “far braver than me,” do you think he’s telling the truth? He is about to off the guy; it’s not like he has a motivation to lie.
* Of course Zoe’s awful editor at Slugline’s reaction to Pete’s apparent suicide is, “Why didn’t we break this?”
* “Decisions based on emotions aren’t decisions at all.”
And with that, it’s time to move on to Season 2. Read Vulture’s recap of the first episode here.