Previously on House of Cards, ‘‘Chapter 40’
State of the Underwoods
Claire holds up her end of the bargain by attending the SOTU. She even wears a pair of Frank’s mother’s earrings, which he, albeit insincerely, offered in a gesture of peace. Despite this, Frank derails her campaign for Congress by promising to fund Doris’ breast cancer clinic expansion, and officially endorsing Celia in her run for the seat. Claire appeases Frank by telling him she’ll back off for now, but his power plays only motivate her to think bigger than a seat in Texas.
Frank finally addresses the audience to tell us a story from his youth. A story of Walter, the boy who didn’t know how good he had it. Walter hid in a tree on the Underwood property, and when Frank became impatient waiting for him to come down, Frank took an axe to that tree. If only Frank had stopped there and let us connect the dots to Claire, but no, House of Cards decided to play it right on the nose. Oh well, it was nice to finally be acknowledged.
Acting as though she’s falling in line, Claire follows Frank on the campaign trail to his hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina. She plays nice with her husband and the Jones’s, and even goes so far as to share a bed with Frank; something they haven’t done in quite some time. She’s laying it on thick but making it look genuine; all the while playing a side game with Leann.
On the day of the South Carolina primary, a billboard in Gaffney is covered with a giant photo of Frank’s father shaking hands with a Klansmen. Frank thinks being honest about the photo – his father made a deal with the KKK in a last ditch effort to save the family farm – is the best route to take. The damage is done though, and the Jones’s decide it’s best to separate themselves from the Underwoods altogether. “When we stop getting beaten and shot, you’ll have my goodwill, Mr. President.”
I really hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Cicely Tyson.
Frank quickly discovers that Oren Chase played a part in the scheme and forces him to make a statement to the press, which may inadvertently help to frame Dunbar as the perpetrator. Of course, the real mastermind was Claire and she doesn’t mince words when explaining her actions: “I can be a part of your campaign, or I can end it.” The Underwoods have been running mates in life for nearly 30 years and she wants to make it official, she wants to be Vice President.
Though he’s obviously far from keen on the idea, Frank is taking Claire’s threats seriously. Of course, they’ll have to direct the narrative away from nepotism and convince people that they would want The First Lady, who has no real experience, to be America’s second in command. Perhaps if they offer Leann a highly lucrative job as campaign manager, she’ll agree to dissuade Claire from running. For Leann it’s a hard pass, unless they agree to Claire’s one condition: publicly announce their divorce, on Super Tuesday. Claire is firing on all cylinders right now!
Before she can make a move, Claire finds herself on lockdown in the Texas ranch, unable to leave the premises or make contact with the outside world.
That same day, Frank speaks at a college in D.C. The mood inside is celebratory, but a swarm of heated protestors, hilariously chanting “Blunderwood,” awaits the President outside. Frank makes a promise to meet with these dissenters and hear them out, cause even the haters deserve to be heard. Tensions are high as he makes his way through the crowd and in what feels like less than a second, Frank has been shot and Meechum has died. Though it takes the police and press some time to find out the identity of the shooter, we know right away that Lucas Goodwin is responsible. When Frank’s injuries are assessed, it’s determined that even if he survives the bullet wound, he’ll need an organ transplant to replace his shattered liver.
While Frank is in the hospital, Donald Blythe will be acting President. Claire has promised him all the support he needs and the two of them are fast friends, ignoring good advice on the Milkin situation from well-seasoned White House staff. Claire is taking advantage of Blythe’s incisiveness and has become his right-hand man in a matter of hours; an opportunity Claire couldn’t have planned better herself.
The Attempted Assassination
The direction of this scene was fantastic. The growing tensions of the protestors gave you the idea that something bad was about to happen, but the abruptness within which it did, left you no time to truly ever prepare. Robin Wright deserves a ton of credit for making the sequence feel eerily real. I was genuinely shocked and absolutely moved as I watched the events unfold. Shit. Got. Really. Really. Real. Meechum’s death is devastating, and not just for the fact that there will never be another Threechum*. At the time, Frank tracing Meechum’s hand on the wall felt fun and sweet, in hindsight it carries immeasurable emotional weight.
*The threesome between Frank, Claire, and Meechum.
A Stacked Deck
It’s easy to see how Goodwin was driven to the level of desperation where he would resort to attempt an assassination. He’s been working on exposing the deaths of Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo since back in season 2 and he’s been to hell and back while trying. With every step forward though, he’s been pushed back two. When he manages to secure the time and means of transportation to get to a Dunbar event, he’s blackmailed into having sex with a fellow male coworker. He’s able to fake his way, with a stolen press pass, into a meeting with Cynthia and Dunbar, but when she realizes he’s the journalist who was released into WITSEC and knows she’s breaking the law, she nopes out of the situation, fast.
It was heartbreaking to watch him cry out in agony, “please, believe me,” but perhaps even worse to watch him lose his life so meaninglessly while trying to take the President with him. At least the seeds of his story were planted with Dunbar before he died. Though she dismissed him initially, she can’t shake the effect of their meeting. Now that both the Attorney General and Seth know about it, these stories surely won’t be buried with Lucas.
Liz the-lizard-killer Hale
Learning more about Claire’s relationship with her mother has been both hilarious and enlightening. While there’s clearly bad blood between the two, Elizabeth still wants her daughter to succeed, especially without Frank. She’s more than willing to ask her ladies-who-lunch gal pals to make discreet donations to Dunbar’s campaign; because once Frank fails, Claire can have a career of her own. When it comes to her own money though, she’s not as charitable. Claire is immediately denied when she asks her mother for financial aid. Luckily for Claire, the estate is in her name, and she won’t hesitate to sell it.
These two women are in a constant state of battle. An insult hurled in one direction, is effortlessly returned in the other. Elizabeth has the upper hand on the petty one-liners though and it’s all in the delivery. Ellen Burstyn makes statements like, “you’re a disappointment” or “I hope he (Frank) dies” practically ooze with spite.
The New Dynamic Duo
Claire & Leann have become quite the formidable force in their short amount of time together. Most impressive is how they expertly crafted and carried out a highly disastrous scheme against Frank. This type of well-plotted bombshell is typically reserved for the Underwoods to maneuver alone; seeing Frank on the receiving end has been a fresh and welcome experience. It was especially intriguing to know only part of the plan as it was unfolding, making it so we were stunned right alongside Frank. Particularly because of the loyalty she’s shown, Leann is like Claire’s Doug, except with more confidence and stability.
In the Background
- Jackie & Remy – these two are still hot and heavy, but they need to be careful about their affair. Someone is watching and snapping photos of them leaving the same hotel, on multiple occasions.
- Frank’s Visions – what the hell is going on in Frank’s psyche? The dream he had about violently battling Claire is repeating itself in his conscious mind, and now he’s seeing blood pour from the tap instead of water. Being at odds with Claire certainly has him on edge.
- Seth’s Betrayal – the press secretary leaked a photo of Frank with a civil war re-enactor who was dressed as a confederate soldier, right after the KKK photo came out. Doug has his suspicions and Seth needs to watch his back.
- Russia – Igor Milkin, a Russian traitor, is on U.S. soil and Frank must decide between giving him asylum and sending him back home. When Petrov won’t confirm a safe return for Milkin, Frank sends him off to Estonia. Plans change when Frank is shot. Under the guidance of Claire, Donald Blythe (as acting President) sends Milkin to China, effectively pitting the Russians against the Chinese.
House of Cards S4E2-E4
Wow. Season four just delivered more action in three episodes, than we saw in all of season three’s thirteen episodes combined. There were at least a dozen WTF moments, a few developments that forced me to pause and reflect, and of course, the biggest shocker since Zoe was thrown from that subway platform: the attempted assassination of the President, resulting in Meehcum’s death. This is a huge game changer, and just the kind of jolt this series needed to start feeling fresh. I have a feeling I’m going to need a bigger scale to measure all the juicy, political fuckery.
The one thing I can honestly say I’m not enjoying is the Russia/Milkin plot. It feels more than secondary at this point, and it’s SO heavy on the exposition. I feel as though I’m drowning in dialogue during these scenes. I’m not even sure we needed to spend as much time on it as we did, because in the end, Claire convinces Donald to take a completely new direction. It’s possible this will start to come into focus as we move forward, but right now it’s dragging down an otherwise fantastic season.