The binge viewing delight that is House of Cards is like drinking on a first date. Have a drink or two (or three) but remember to keep it in moderation. Otherwise you will not have a second date because you were a drunken mess on the first outing. Like having a cigarette after years of being nicotine-free, I lit the filtered smoke that is House of Cards and took a deep inhalation, sat back and just enjoyed as I exhaled my drag. Although you may have forgotten how good the smoke is, you are old enough to know that it is not good for you. However House of Cards is the equivalent of a reformed smoker having a carton in their home at the ready should you need a fix immediately. That is the wonder that is Netflix’s original series; watching just one episode does not satiate the need to see more when you know it is readily available. House of Cards has become my nicotine as I dive into my TV version of nicotine exhaling in delight as I get the buzz I craved.
When last we saw Frank, he was just about to bed the spunky reporter Zoe Barnes fresh off of leaving her job at the Herald. Showing the sex scene between Zoe (who I have a major crush on) and Frank would of have been overkill and it is far more enticing to think about just how the little minx was in the sack. She is not sleeping with Frank to advance her career; she is smart enough to do that on her own. It is the equivalent of a young college co-ed falling for her favorite English lit professor that is dazzled by his worldly knowledge and roguish manner. Frank takes what he wants and Zoe abides as a hearty meal after their tennis-like flirting escalated into a sexual relationship. It feels organic and right despite their age difference. Zoe is finding her footing in the cut-throat world of Washington, D.C. and who better to show her the ropes than a seasoned power broker like Frank? The forbidden fruit always tastes the best.
What I like best about their May-December romance is that there is no room for B.S. in their non-sexual repartee. They talk passionately about their respected work and if a third party were to walk in on them, you would not for a second think they are romantically involved. Zoe has taken a job at “Slugline.com”, a Politico-like website that pounces on scoops, rumors and breaking stories. The job is far more Zoe’s speed than the slow pace of The Herald and the show goes out of their way to let you know that print is indeed dead.
When Frank returns home to his wife Claire, I was surprised at how casually he discloses to her that he slept with the feisty young reporter. Claire and Frank’s relationship is a business partnership but despite that they are still very much in love. They both need their dalliances to function in their world that is filled with backstabbers, double-talk and people that lie right to your face. When Claire asks Frank just how serious his liaison is, he has no problem telling her the absolute truth. The endgame for the two of them is just what exactly Zoe can for them as a team. It really is a fascinating dynamic under the guise of a monogamous marriage.
Teacher’s Union leader Marty Spinella that Frank is normally on good terms with is in a major bind after collective bargaining is added to the initiative. Although seemingly amicable in earlier episodes about Marty’s union, Frank favors performance standards from Spinella and that turns out to be just the thing that ignites him into a raging bull. Claire’s big Clean Water Initiative fundraiser has been building for several weeks but when visiting the hotel space where the gala is to be, the manager refuses to accommodate them.
It seems that the hotel is on the side of the teachers and Spinella and does not want to host a stuffy event. Frank takes this undercut move as a personal affront aimed directly at his wife. Claire and Frank decide that if the hotel is not going to allow them inside then they will throw the gala outside right in front of the inn. With the help of Freddy, the surprise event is a hit with ribs and kegs and generous donations coming in left and right for the CWI. However across the street Spinella and his striking teachers are demonstrating nonstop with new cameras squarely focused on them. However, striking sure can make you hungry and soon Claire and company are bringing the picketers free ribs and a keg of beer. So much for solidarity. The evening was no doubt a success, even if it was put together on the fly.
Back at the office, Frank and the Democratic National Committee are coming up with names to fill the vacant Governor space in Pennsylvania. Frank floats Congressman Peter Russo’s name and right away I believed this to be a bad idea as the politician has already gone down the rabbit hole this season with drugs, booze and prostitution. Frank consults his number two Doug Stamper and together they concoct a positive spin on Russo as a story of redemption. Peter reluctantly joins A.A. to try and prove to Frank that he can be a worthy candidate. Russo’s story is that of reclamation and he is forced to go cold turkey on the cocaine, the scotch and the hired help.
Peter is haunted by closing the shipyards in Pennsylvania and the loss of thousands of jobs. He is racked with guilt over his decision to do exactly what Frank advised he do without compromise. At one point, Peter actually shows up at Frank & Claire’s townhouse to make certain that he is sober for what is to come next. Russo’s subdued ire is aimed at Frank for forcing him to extricate some of his best friends from their shipyard jobs. Ever the good hostess, Claire brings Peter to the guest room where he sleeps it off but he is still overwhelmingly guilty for the irreversible choice he made.
While Peter takes a bath at Frank’s insistence, The Whip gives him a comeuppance after all of his bitching and moaning. Frank leaves a razor blade on the edge of the bath challenging him to either be a man or a coward by taking the easy way out. It is a remarkably well-orchestrated scene as Frank reiterates that he truly does believe in Peter. He wakes up the next morning with renewed vigilance and the deal is to be sober for one month before they start talking Governor.
After Frank’s usual Secret Service man is hospitalized, he is assigned a new one to keep an eye on The Whip’s home. With the education bill still up in the air, a brick is thrown through Frank and Claire’s window. The agent does not catch him but discharges his weapon on a residential street against his better judgment. Despite getting a tongue-lashing demotion by his boss, we learn that Frank is actually behind the whole brick throwing incident. It is just the right match to light the fire that is the teacher’s strike. However after meeting Spinella in a one-on-one interview, Frank shows a rare chink in the armor on live TV as the flop sweat builds and he realizes that none of the salient points he planned on making came through in any way.
Peter has finally gotten through a few weeks of sobriety and started attending A.A. meetings. It turns out that Doug Stamper (Frank’s right hand man) has been going to meetings since April of ’99. The education bill is finally put through after a young boy that should have been in school was shot and killed when he should have been in school. Emotionally detached from actual feelings, Frank sees this as a way to streamline his plan and get Spinella to retreat. I have to say that it was pretty cool to see Frank and Spinella go mano-a-mano and The Whip get deservedly slugged. Sometimes the loudest sentiments are through action and not the same old rhetoric. The brick was the inciting incident and as it turns out Stamper was the one that lobbed it through Frank and Claire’s window. Frankly I do not think that a swift solution would have come without the brick smashing through the glass. What’s the cost of window when you can settle a far larger and ridiculously expensive problem?
While Russo is psyched, sober and ready to make a run at the Governorship of Pennsylvania, the grilling begins and Peter seems to be crumbling under the pressure. He has to come clean about everything—drugs, booze, prostitutes, etc. This is not just a ten minute conversation and Russo cracks under the pressure. While Russo’s demons continue to chase him, all he really wants is to be with his children and get Christina back. She was his guiding light but he lost her to his substance abuse after leaving his kids alone unsupervised. Frank is on Peter’s side and believes that he most definitely can win the race but Russo does not have that same bravado. He is not so much concerned with becoming Governor as he is being a good Dad and a faithful mate to Christina.
Zoe is hard at work at Slugline and the job is way more in her wheelhouse than The Herald could ever be. She even has drinks with Janine, her old nemesis when she was still at The Herald. I liked seeing Janine letting her guard down for a few minutes and act a bit nicer for a change as she loosens up with a few cocktails. Frank is continually meeting the Commander in Chief and keeping him in the loop about the rising star of the party that is Peter Russo. Frank is happiest when he has the people he despises’ attention. Russo was caught with earlier in the season with a prostitute named Rachel that “fixer” Doug paid to stay silent. However, now she is back and wants more hush money. She has a shiner on her left eye and arranges a meet with Stamper where she demands some kind of payout or she will go public. The girl seems nice enough and Stamper is able to secure a room for her at one of Frank’s staffers spare bedrooms. What else can he do? She has the goods on some seriously powerful people.
After Frank meets with Christina, he convinces her that Peter really does need her back in his life. She learns that he has been sober for a month and is attending A.A. meetings, making going back to him much easier for her. I think that it lends to the on-going narrative that they are back together. Russo has been under a tremendous amount of pressure answering questions about pretty much everything from his past. He is divulging everything and trying to come clean. However, you do get the feeling that he is itching for a drink or a bump of cocaine. He is cracking under the pressure and the campaign has not even started!
Zoe and Frank have another rendezvous at her apartment where the veteran politician continues to give the rising star jornalist advice on how to live her political life. Somehow they are both filling a void in each other’s life. While I was ready to watch the remainder of the episodes, I tempered myself to three trying to show some restraint.
The multi-layered storylines that overlap continue to surprise and delight me even if it seems that a bunch of seriously eff’d up people are running our country. The need for fame and adulation is not just a New York City and Los Angeles thing; Washington D.C. is worse than both.