Previously on House of Cards
The constant air travel involved in campaigning is threatening to cause liver failure for Frank. Despite trailing Conway by about 12-14 points, the Underwoods decide it’s best for Frank to stay at home. While Claire continues on as the face of their team, he’ll stay behind to focus on the ICO situation. Which winds up helping the campaign in a different way; his plan to use Russian troops, instead of Americans, to retrieve the ICO leaders, starts to drive a wedge between his opponents.
Conway knows it’s a good plan. A large part of their campaign is being run on he and the General’s military background though, so he doesn’t want Frank getting any good press for something like this. Understandably, Brockhart thinks the country’s safety is more important than the election, and is livid with Conway when he pushes to block support from the Republicans for the idea. Once Frank realizes the pushback to his strategy is from them, he signs an executive order to send in American troops.
ICO leader, Yusuf al Ahmadi, is captured, and in retaliation an American family is taken hostage. The captors – who are American with Islamic loyalties – make several demands, including Ahmadi’s release, and will only speak with Frank’s “successor,” Conway. It’s easy to consider Conway himself might be behind this move – though he’s not –especially when he pushes to release a video offering his prayers to the captive family. Again, Brockhart disagrees with the approach, but Conway believes the family is sure to die anyways, so why not milk some press out of it?
With his own interests at heart, Frank allows Conway to be a part of overseeing the hostage situation. During first contact with the captors, Conway goes off script and admits to being ashamed of his service in the war. He regrets killing so many innocent people, and often has nightmares about his own family being in the same situation. The admission winds up buying them some time with the terrorists, but this can’t be good for the military heavy campaign he’s running.
As usual, team Underwood had a couple of side plans in the works the entire time. Firstly, Doug had been bullying George Wellock, a republican on the House Intelligence Committee, to admit that Conway swayed people against Frank’s Russian troop strategy. This doesn’t play well with the public since Conway forced Brockhart to lie about their involvement on national TV. With that, Conway is no longer necessary to the hostage situation. Secondly, Ahmadi has been taken from Gitmo to a safe house in the U.S., where Claire meets with him.
While Frank attempts to secure the release of the mother and daughter hostages, Claire works on the exchange for their release: a live video chat with Ahmadi. She’s also hoping he’ll persuade them to release the father. Though there’s quite a lot of affecting dialogue – particularly chilling was Ahmadi explaining how bombs and death are essentially all he and his family knows of life – these scenes seem to drag on for far too long. In the end both Claire and Frank are successful. The video chat goes well at first too, until Ahmadi has a change of heart; he tells the terrorists to kill the final hostage and release the video.
In a rare moment of weakness, feeling the weight of the hostage crisis and the looming release of the Hammer’s exposé, Frank wonders if it’s all over. Thankfully Claire hasn’t lost her edge and she gets her husband back on track. In a national statement, Frank announces that Ahmadi will never be released, that they will not negotiate any further with the captors, and America is officially at war.
In the Situation Room, the Underwoods and their staff watch as the captors slit their final hostage’s throat. While everyone else either looks repulsed or averts their eyes, Frank and Claire stare straight on, completely calm. Frank addresses us for the final time this season, and then, Claire too graces us with her icy, chill- you-to-the-bone gaze.
“We don’t submit to terror. We make terror.”
White House Sleepover
Conway’s obvious love of the spotlight was something Frank used perfectly to his advantage. Being apart of overseeing the hostage situation, and therefore becoming complicit in all the decisions, meant Conway could no longer publicly blast Frank on his military strategies. Not only that, Frank knew the added pressure and attention on Conway would be a great opportunity for him to crack. Though Conway saw his conversation with the captors as a win – acting as though he was already living in the White House helping himself to beers – and taunted Frank with the idea that he’ll soon be forgotten. But Frank had a much better read on Conway, telling him he’s nothing but a pretender who’ll become an outright fraud should he be elected. Which certainly shut him up.
It’s only a brief moment, but Hannah and Claire had a worthy face-off of their own. When Hannah gets a little too personal by asking if Claire ever regrets not having children, Claire doesn’t skip a beat throwing it back in her face; “do you ever regret having them?” Putting the Underwoods and Conways all under one roof allowed for some excellent interactions between the four of them. And it effectively put to rest any ideas that the Conway couple was the new, younger version of the Underwoods.
Aidan may have been able to confirm the success of this angle with data, but it’s Tom who first pinpoints what truly attracts the American people to the Underwoods. It’s the idea of Frank and Claire the married couple who happen to be running for office, not the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates who happen to be married. Tom taps into that well, crafting speeches for Claire that talk about love, and partnership in every aspect of the Underwoods’ lives. As the two of them grow closer though, Claire becomes uncomfortable using that word, love, while Tom is watching. Not wanting to hold her back, Tom quits his job and separates himself from Claire.
At first, Frank is concerned this could mean Tom’s book will be published. After meeting with the novelist and seeing how he truly cares for Claire, Frank is relieved but also slightly deflated. Realizing he cannot be everything to his wife, he encourages her to bring Tom back. It’s possible he’s reflected on Freddy’s words, “I don’t know how Claire does it” because this type of selfless act is so rare, I’m not sure we’ve seen anything like it from Frank. As we watch the three of them share a silent, yet entirely intimate breakfast, you can’t help but wish Meechum were there too.
I’m in absolute awe of the new dynamic; this evolution of their relationship makes complete sense. If anything, the official addition of Tom has only made the Underwoods stronger, which is heavily evidenced by their dominant position at the close of season four.
Outside of the now closed down Freddy’s BBQ, Remy meets with Hammer. He’s not willing to go on record, but he does advise the journalist to pay attention to the “where” in his story. What subtlety! Hammer doesn’t get much out of Freddy either, except a thorough ass beating and a smashed recorder. Unfortunately, he just chose the wrong day to confront the President’s former friend. His luck turns around when Remy has a change of heart, sort of. He’s still not going on the record, but thanks to the strangest game of Never Have I Ever (where Remy drinks if Frank has,) Hammer has another lead: former president Garrett Walker.
Before approaching Walker, Hammer secures himself a staff of underlings from The Washington Herald. He swears them all to secrecy but believes a security detail is unnecessary; Hammer is still foolishly underestimating Frank’s willingness to murder. When he does approach Walker, it doesn’t take much convincing for him to turn on Frank revealing, among other things, that Jackie was the one forced to whip the votes for his impeachment. Jackie uses the news of this leak as an opportunity to come clean to her husband about her affair. With that out in the open, there’s nothing stopping her and Remy from going up against Frank, and finally being together.
At long last, there is enough solid evidence to properly expose Frank’s countless transgressions. Hammer reaches out to the White House for an official comment, and though the President is absolutely livid with his staff for allowing this to get as far as it did, he agrees to sit down with him. Frank admits to having a mutually beneficial relationship with Zoe and that’s all, but Hammer doesn’t buy it. He releases the story immediately, hoping the shit-storm of the hostage situation combined with the fallout of the exposé, will be just enough to bring Frank down. Hammer’s decision to release the story at what he thought was an opportune moment for him, may have backfired. It’s certainly one of the driving forces, if not the main one, for Frank and Claire declaring war.
I wonder what kind of impact this plot line has on viewers who haven’t seen seasons one and two since they came out, which feels like a lifetime ago with all the other great TV going on out there. It’s hard to recall every single machination or enemy that Frank and Claire made, because they seem endless. Of course the most important takeaway is that Frank and Claire have done a lot of very, very bad things, and they are starting to be exposed. But, when you can’t remember all the intricacies of those bad deeds, it leaves a little something to be desired. The reaction is more of a calm “well, that can’t be good” rather than an excited “aw, shit!” That said, his story has been a long time coming and he’s carrying the legacy of several fallen reporters. You can’t help but root for him.
Doug Stamper, Chief of Creeps
Laura Moretti calls Doug to thank him for the generous donation and invites him out for coffee. Instead of responding like a normal human being, Doug listens to the voicemail, several dozen times, while looking at her picture on the Internet. When they finally do meet, it’s awkward as hell. Doug brings her flowers, which feels highly inappropriate and almost suggestive. She’s courteous, thanking him for the strange gesture, but can barely meet his gaze. As they chat, she fidgets with her wedding ring under the table, and can’t help but talk about her late husband.
For some reason, Laura doesn’t get any bad vibes or notice any red flags – despite all of us screaming “run, Laura, run!” at our TV’s – because she continues to spend time with Doug. She likes having someone to take care of, which Doug is without a doubt taking advantage of. He has some serious mommy issues; remember when he used to ask Rachel to read to him in bed? There’s a small chance this could be different though; Doug would rather be with Laura than at Frank’s side when the ICO hostage is killed. By the end of the season she’s asking him to move in with her, so it’s likely only a matter of time until she finds out just how frightening this guy really is.
In The Background
The surveillance and data plot line felt very shoehorned into this story. It’s definitely supposed to be important – there were unquestionably some huge risks involved in keeping the operation afloat when the hostage situation was worsening – but there’s very little effort being put into making it enjoyable. It’s taken Leann’s character in a disappointing direction, and those scenes in the stairwell and jazz club were just plain hokey. The “beyond marriage” insights were intriguing, but more because of how it relates to Claire and Frank’s current relationship status, and less because of how it impacts their campaign. Perhaps this is just laying the groundwork to be yet another nail in the coffin in taking down the Underwoods, but it certainly leaves a stain on this season in the process.
Speaking of forced plot lines, I’m not sure we needed those scenes with Freddy. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy seeing him, because Freddy has always been great, but the material felt like it came from way out in left field. Sure, it’s nice to know that Freddy has found a new passion and that he’s happy. And yes, his incredulity at Frank’s suggestion that he should cook ribs for him one last time was absolutely warranted. I just don’t see what purpose it all served. It clearly wasn’t to show us why he might publicly turn against Frank; something the Hammer knows all too painfully well. I suppose you could argue that it was all worth it just so we could have this classic quote, “you a mothafucka, Mr. President.”
House of Cards S4E11-E13
After a less than stellar third season, these 13 episodes have been a breath of fresh air. While House of Cards may not be the best drama on TV, it’s certainly one of the most fun and indulgent. Season Four saw the show embrace its soapy texture and over-the-top plots, allowing it to flourish in not taking itself too seriously. Where some dramas may offer hours worth of metaphor to analyze, HOC admittedly stays pretty much on the surface, which works in its favor. For an exposition heavy show, it’s thoroughly more enjoyable to just enjoy the delivery of the dialogue rather than be left wondering if you’ve missed a hidden message. Instead of trying to figure out what each power play could be saying about the bigger picture, we’re allowed to sit back and enjoy the sheer deviousness of it all.