Last we met, I wrote that House of Cards is Claire Underwood’s story as much as it is Frank’s. The Mrs. has demonstrated on more than one occasion that she can be as equally devious as her husband when it’s required. So when Frank was locked inside the Capitol due to an Anthrax scare, leaving Claire to go on national television alone, my first thought was of course: Uh oh.
It turns out that my instincts were right, but I can also say I found just a bit more respect for Claire Underwood as a result of Chapter 17.
The broadcast journalist questions Claire on the question of children, a topic we know she’s been thinking about thanks to her trip to a fertility doctor earlier this season. Claire is essentially forced into admitting that’s she’s had an abortion on national television and during the ensuing commercial break, we see Claire trying to think of a way out. The fact that she allowed herself to be cornered by the reporter to begin with and then admitted to the abortion is out of character. We’re used to Claire being calm and collected, always one step ahead. She very rarely has emotional outbursts like her husband so it’s shocking to see her in this situation at all.
But what she does next is a triumphant return to form and I found myself rooting for her. Claire blames the aborted pregnancy on a military general, and is able to use the fact that she was raped as the political out she needs to explain the abortion. It is true that she was raped, we know that from an earlier episode, but of course her pregnancy occurred years later. Her ability to twist the situation in such a way as to take care of both a personal and political score at once is right in tune with what this show is all about. Frank seems to think as much, as he watches proudly from his locked down office with Donald Blythe. House of Cards makes it hard to feel good about cheering for the Underwoods, but just like Tony Soprano or Walter White, sometimes they do something so deliciously evil that you can’t help but smile.
While Claire’s story dominates the episode, let’s head back to that locked room with Frank and Donald. You’ll recall that Blythe was President Walker’s choice for education at the start of season 1. He was also Frank Underwood’s first political target. Underwood has a chilly interaction with Blythe as he attempts to get his vote and then the situation deteriorates when Underwood attempts to use Blythe’s Alzheimer’s inflicted wife as a political bargaining chip. It’s clear that though Zoe Barnes might be dead, there’s still plenty of other people Underwood threw under the proverbial subway in Season 1 that might come back to haunt him.
Jackie Sharp is able to save the day, but one wonders just how long she can remain “not Frank Underwood.”
Chapter 18 finds Frank at a Civil War re-enactment, much to his dismay. The war is clearly a metaphor for what’s happened so far in season 2. “It was butchery, not strategy, that won the war.”
That other war between Underwood and Tusk continues to escalate, much to the annoyance of President Walker. The introduction of Feng as Tusk’s Chinese billionaire counterpart is welcome. Feng carries a bit of a mysterious aura to him, and I don’t think even Underwood has the guy completely figured out.
I thoroughly enjoyed the baseball talk in Chapter 19, being a fan America’s Pastime myself. When Frank walked out onto the mound to throw the first pitch, it may have been the first time I’ve genuinely rooted for him this season. The episode spent so much time building up to the pitch that I suppose I should have seen the power outage coming. Tusk is officially taking the gloves off.
Meanwhile, Lucas’s quest to avenge Zoey across the last few episodes comes to a sudden and very predictable halt. It’s a shame, because I was initially pulling for him in the immediate aftermath of Zoey’s murder. But like his old managing editor, I must professionally examine all of the facts and determine that Lucas is off his rocker, regardless of the fact that he’s in the right. I’m sure we’ll hear from Lucas and Janine again at some point, but I don’t suspect it to be anytime soon.
Claire has a chat with Christina urging her to reach out to the First Lady. We know from earlier scenes that Claire has planted seeds of doubt with the First Lady as to Christina’s intentions with her husband. I wasn’t sure what the end game was here at first, but it seems clear now that while Frank is tied up dealing with Tusk and China, Claire, good wife that she is, is still pushing towards the primary objective of causing havoc for the President. There was a time during House of Cards‘ first season where I wasn’t sure just how much Claire was on board with her husband’s various schemes. But now, I think it’s safe to view virtually every action that she takes through the larger prism of Frank’s goals and not just what might be going on in the short game.
My favorite scene of episode 19 is the pow wow between Tusk and Underwood at the ribs joint. There are not many actors that can hold their own against Kevin Spacey but Gerald McRaney owns every scene that he’s in.
And then there’s Rachel and Stamper. We finally have some escalation in this storyline, with Rachel pushing Stamper’s buttons and eventually putting her hands on … other things. We’ve spent most of Season 2 dealing with new issues, but the close of chapter 19 could foreshadow some of the unfinished business from Season 1 coming back into the fold. Frank already has his hands full with Tusk and Feng. He seems to be safe from any fallout over the death of Zoe Barnes for now, but it will be interesting to see what happens if the ghost of Congressman Peter Russo should come calling.