This episode begins with an attack ad, which is fitting because my recap starts with an attack. Unlike Doug on a weird side plot with prostitutes, I do not waste any time. How the hell did President Walker get elected in the first place? I find it hard to believe, in the dog-eat-dog (or I guess dog-gets-strangled-in-the-street) Washington in which House of Cards is based, Garrett Walker could even get elected class president at Sidwell Friends.
Given the opportunity to write a POTUS character who could actually keep up with Frank, House of Cards has given us Walker, a man whose voice has only one tone — it sounds like he is rehearsing a speech every time he opens his mouth — and whose only conviction is that he agrees with whoever spoke to him most recently. He has zero point of view, no vision, no ambition that we’ve witnessed except to keep his head above water. Meanwhile, Walker’s wife is frail-seeming, cripplingly insecure, and desperate, grasping at Claire for support like Gretchen Wieners panting at Regina George’s heel. How did this woman ever make it through the campaign?
Maybe this wouldn’t be so problematic if the president were given a real cause to care about, but one of House of Cards’ greatest weaknesses is that it takes place in some context-free, unrecognizable America. What is going on the country, down on the ground? We know the economy is bad and electric bills are high, but we never meet anyone (other than Freddy) who can’t afford to make rent. We know that the president and Frank are Democrats, but we have no idea why, or if either of them even believes in the broadest, most basic platforms of the party. All they talk about is power, but what is it they want to do with this elusive power once they have it?
Instead of tackling any number of legitimately interesting issues — education was an okay starter in the first season; where’s the conversation on health care, employment, gay marriage, equal pay for equal work, the environment, the housing crisis, I could go on — House of Cards takes on the funding of Frank’s Republican opponents in the House. Looks like Raymond Tusk (also conveniently lacking any discernible values, except for money and power) has started funneling his vast wealth to the other team through a labyrinthine path that involves Chinese billionaire Xander Feng, Daniel Lanagin, Lanagin’s casinos, a trip to St. Louis, and multiple trips to Beijing.
The worst part about this plot isn’t that it’s convoluted, although that doesn’t help; it’s that there are absolutely no stakes. The midterm elections? I’m supposed to get fired up about the Democrats losing the House in the midterms, which in the world of the show are still months away, because then we can “say good-bye to 2016” in two years? I barely care about the actual midterm elections. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that Frank, Tusk, and Walker do not care about anything except power, and without knowing what they want power for, it’s hard to get invested in whether or not these kids ever get it. And of course the kicker at the end of all this is, given the way this show is structured, Frank will never meet a foe that could really take him on. The only person as powerful as Frank is Claire, and they’re allies. Think of how much more exciting House of Cards would be if, instead of facing off against Tusk or Walker, Frank had a worthy opponent.
Anyway, Doug, on Frank’s assignment, heads to Lanagin’s casino, where of course he meets some Rachel-doppelgänger waitress who, of course, hits on him. (If you’re wondering whether a show is written almost entirely by men, just keep track of how often young, beautiful women make passes at balding, middle-aged men.) Then he heads to Beijing for talks with Feng, where we’re treated to one of my all-time favorite things: sloppy plot exposition through dialogue. Doug and Feng explain the narrative of this episode to us while sitting in a gazebo, and then Feng offers up how “there are many beautiful things to enjoy here.” That night, he sends two conveniently located prostitutes to Doug’s room in the middle of the night. Enough with the prostitutes, HoC!
Back on the home front, all is not well in the Walker marriage. Claire is masterfully sowing doubt in the malleable mind of the First Lady, all under the guise of female camaraderie. Frank is doing the macho version of the same thing, bonding with POTUS over late-night drinks and punching bags. He is not as successful while attempting to bond with Lanagin; looks like someone should have brushed up on his U.S. history before suggesting that a Native American across the table could be swayed by the promise of an alliance with the President of the United States. Still can’t believe Frank thought saying “I’m just like you” would go over well, either, a strategy that predictably backfired. “I’ll let you know when I give a fuck about your respect.” Duly noted.
And a few other things …
I like that, in a flip of the typical casual sex script, Remy is the one to tell Jackie he wants a serious relationship or nothing at all. I wish we knew more about Remy. He seems like someone who, with the right motive and arsenal, could pose a real threat to the Underwoods.
“What should we serve the Walkers?” “Cyanide?” “I was saving that for dessert.” Also: Claire wonders if serving Freddy’s food would be “gauche.”
Much as I wish Freddy all the franchise success in the world, I am not optimistic about this chain restaurant idea. The only person who seems to leave the Underwoods in a better position than when they arrived is Connor Ellis, whom Seth kicked out and up to a high-paying gig. Until next time, Dr. Harris.
Claire, to Mrs. Walker, on the secret to a happy marriage: “We’re honest with each other. We don’t sweep anything under the rug.” Except the people you’ve murdered, that is.
Even Ayla, the reporter from the Wall Street Telegraph who is vigilant, focused, and hypercompetent, walks into the White House wearing the deepest V-neck white T-shirt this side of American Apparel. Come on now, wardrobe department. Ayla is not Zoe! There’s no way she wouldn’t dress appropriately to hound Frank’s people.
Thank goodness we have Frank’s super-symbolic Civil War battle to help us understand what’s really going on here: “There was no clear winner, massive casualties on both sides.” And later: “It’s not broken. I can fix it.”