The experiment that is House of Cards from Netflix has ended and, all in all, it was a resounding success. Despite curbing myself to three episodes per week, it is still an engrossing time sink with broadly fleshed out characters and a dynamite cast wrapped up in extraordinary circumstances. Well at least to me they are extraordinary. The more I think that this could be the way things work in our nation’s capital, the more I’m damn glad that I am four hours removed from the city. It is far scarier than I expected, because House of Cards is not the glossy West Wing show. It is a raw, filthy business that can frighten someone not used to this amount of lies, double-talk and backstabbing. Then again that is what makes it such great TV.
Last we saw of these whirling cards, Pennsylvania Congressman Peter Russo had just ruined his political career by drunkenly bombing a radio interview. This was all orchestrated by Frank’s hand, as well as by his number one minion and fixer, Doug Stamper. They set Russo up with the former prostitute Rachel Posner, who more or less conned him into falling off the wagon. Now, the blowback has started and Peter backslides into his demons that lie at the bottom of a bottle. Or should I say bottles. Frank has premeditated the demise of Russo’s life with pinpoint accuracy, counting on the weakness of the congressman from Pennsylvania’s first district. It is truly sad to see, considering when sober Peter is a charismatic and competent public servant. It sucks that his ultimate purpose was to be a pawn in Frank’s game; and the time of his sacrifice has come. Russo is in a free fall as he attempts to binge drink himself into his own grave. It is genuinely sad, because it reflects modern day politics so very well.
While under the influence, he drives to his ex-wife’s home where his two kids are. When his daughter answers her cell phone, she tells him that their mother won’t let them go to school for the rest of the week. He asks to speak to his youngest son, but the boy does not want to speak with his father. All that Peter had is gone now, including his beloved children. He throws his phone on the suburban blacktop and speeds away from the life that was on the said phone crushed amongst the glistening asphalt.
Corey Stoll is brilliant at playing the fallen from grace congressman that for a few minutes almost touched greatness. Had it not been for the bottle and his taste for prostitutes, he could have made a damn fine governor. Frank has naturally been waiting for this to happen since his broad ruse started in the pilot. Vengeance for being over as Secretary of State will be his!
Frank is still a very likable as a protagonist, but he is an incredibly despicable man. Then again, that is what makes him such a damn good politician. Washington has no room for people that cannot hold their liquor in both the metaphorical and literal sense. Meanwhile, Frank is convincing the vice president to step down from his post and return to his home state of Pennsylvania as governor. He is sure to win by a landslide but, more importantly, he will leave the VP job vacated for Frank. This is what the whip has been working for all along.
When Stamper tries to track down Peter, he only finds his abandoned smartphone and no man. The congressman has gone to the precinct under the influence to turn himself in for driving drunk earlier in the season. The police try to explain to him that he cannot just ask to be put in jail for a charge that was already dismissed. Desperate, he even tells the cops that he drove there drunk just now, as well. He is begging to get the help he needs but with Frank as the puppeteer, there is that sinking feeling that this is not going to end well. When Stamper and Frank pick Peter up from the police station, Frank offers to drive him back to his apartment building.
On the way there, Russo is combative and angry while answering Frank’s questions. It is in this moment that I realized what was going happen. When they get back to Peter’s private garage, Frank finds an open bottle of booze and both men take a slug. In a paternal nature, Frank goes on about how much Peter is loved by his children, Christina and all of the people that believed in him in his short run for governor. As Frank continues to talk, Peter is being lulled to sleep by the whip’s Southern drawl. As soon as he is passed out in his own passenger seat, Frank does the unthinkable: He wipes down the bottle of booze with a handkerchief before using Peter’s hand to push the ignition. Frank wipes down the rest of the car before calmly closing the garage door, sealing Russo’s fate in the fumes of his car. From a legal perspective, I imagine that it can be called murder. Yet, another might say it was mercy.
When the story breaks the next day, it appears that Congressman Russo has committed suicide. Frank plays the part of an upset friend exceptionally well, but he is more concerned with the president approving his idea for his vice president to leave office and return to his home state as governor. During all this maneuvering, I felt mostly horrible for Christina, as well as the others that were close to Peter. It was a heartbreaking end to a run that seemed very possible. For Frank, Peter’s death was strictly business.
While in New York, Claire has a fight with photographer Adam, letting her return to the D.C. digs with Frank. Clearly, Claire needed to get back to the capital as she realized that there is no real future with Adam. After getting back to D.C., Claire and Frank give a public statement about the death of Congressman Russo and Spacey is so damn believable that you almost forget that he is the one who killed him. No remorse, no regrets. That is Frank Underwood. While it is a little strange that there is no investigation into Russo’s death, one has to wonder how it was not seen by any of the garage’s surveillance cameras or the fact that Peter was in the passenger seat. I have a feeling that this will come back to bite Francis.
The president actually believes Frank’s idea to let the VP go back to his governorship is a good one. Now, it is time to vet new candidates for the job. He suggests “backwoods billionaire” Raymond Tusk (played with gravitas by Gerald McRaney) as a possible candidate for the job. Frank flies down to St. Louis to get a read on the billionaire and, for someone worth 10 figures, he and his wife live a very humble and quiet life. Even the appliances in their house are extremely modest for the mega-wealthy.
Over the next few days, Frank does his absolute best to try and get a read on the mysterious billionaire, but he barely gets any intel for the president. As it turns out, the complete reverse was taking place. Tusk is actually a close advisor of the president and is the man that put the kibosh on Frank’s power grab for Secretary of State. Now, it is Frank that they are eyeing for the VP position, the whip just didn’t know it. I did not see this coming at all and it was an impressive twist thrown into the mix. While Underwood does not appreciate getting played, he also realizes that he is now actually in the running to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Tusk promises Frank that he will recommend him for the VP gig, as long as he does him an unnamed favor. Hmmm. I know Frank does not like being toyed with, but he has only a few days left to think about his endgame.
Meanwhile, Zoe, Lucas and Janine are uncovering all sorts of dirt on these recent events. Janine contacts Russo’s childhood friend Paul, a blue-collar shipyard worker, to question his meeting with Christina Gallagher. And there is certainly a story there, as Christina asked Paul to take up the late congressman’s district. The three journalists are onto something, untangling the Gordian Knot of Frank’s good work this season. Whether it is the fall of Russo or the shipyard, the rabid journalists seem to need a story ASAP. Also, with Lucas and Zoe now sleeping together, the latter reveals that it indeed was Frank who was her source. Lucas is pretty disgusted by this, but declares his love for her anyway. Still, with a death already overshadowing the triumvirate’s examination, the Russo story is starting to get scary. Clearly, Frank is at the forefront of the investigation but fixer Doug Stamper is ready to put out any fires.
After the trip to St. Louis, Frank returns to D.C., bitter about Tusk’s ultimatum. What Tusk wants is not clear, but it is definitely making Frank uncomfortable. Frank gets in touch with Remy Danton to see if SanCorp can create a hostile takeover of some of titan Tusk’s holdings. However, Tusk flips the lobbyist and soon will own 10 percent of SanCorp. Frank knows that the billionaire has his number. For the first time in this freshman season, Frank has met someone that he does not know how to handle. For certain, Tusk is a slippery one but there is much more at stake here than the vice presidency.
Meanwhile, the reporting gumshoes are able to track back to earlier in the season when Peter was arrested with a hooker in his car. It was something that was easily handled by Frank and company, but now that Peter is gone for good, the journalists are finding that they may be in over their heads. The fact that no one was ever charged shows a gaping hole in the actual investigation or lack thereof. It is difficult to gauge just how this can effect what Frank is trying to do. In the end, it is something that we will have to wait and see about in Season 2. When Frank finally does get the official invitation from the president to become his vice president, it seems that it could not have come at a worse time. There is too much going on for him to really enjoy the moment. So much is at stake and Frank thinks that he is untouchable, especially now that he has gotten the nod from the Oval Office.
While it is definitely one of the better shows out there, it is hard to get a read on House of Cards in the end. It leaves us waiting with a cliffhanger that is multi-faceted. There are too many plot lines left dangling and I think that there should have been more of a succinct and compact ending to the freshman drama. I think that it is still one of the top new shows of the 2013 season and it is cast brilliantly. The layers are thickly ripe with intrigue and mystery that add to the everyday craziness of our government. Watching the show in bulk makes me wonder just how anyone in this country manages to get anything at all done. The intrepid reporters figuring out that Frank could possibly be behind Russo’s demise is something that I think will come back to haunt the administration in Season 2. For right now, I am just happy that I decided not to go to law school.
All this time, I thought Hollywood was a tough business; it’s got nothing on Washington, D.C.