Previously on House of Cards, ‘Chapters Forty-Four to Forty-Six’
The leadership’s top pick for VP is longtime friend of the NRA, Senator Dean Austen. The party would like to keep his involvement in the campaign under wraps for now, but the Underwoods have plans of their own. While Frank meets with Austen, Claire meets with Kate Baldwin and, deliberately of course, brings her right past the room Austen and Frank are meeting in. Though the senator had previously been assured he wouldn’t have to openly support Claire’s bill, everything changes once the news of his involvement is made public. If he wants the spot as VP, Austen’s loyalties are gong to have to shift.
Claire’s bill is gaining momentum, too. Aidan – who can’t resist a good shirtless dance in his office after a successful day – has been sifting through data to identify people who are interested in buying guns, but haven’t done so yet. Claire uses these people as targets for her robocall recording – for which she pulls out all the stops, crocodile tears and all. It’s sometimes easy to get lost in Claire’s performances and forget she’s a complete bullshitter. We know all too well that the Underwoods are playing the long con, though.
Austen’s public support for the bill, which they got, wasn’t even close to their endgame. Claire had promised an NRA representative that the bill wouldn’t even pass in the senate, if Austen could be persuaded to drop out of the race. Under the threat of them ruining his and his wife’s careers, Austen maintains his loyalty to the NRA and withdraws from the election. Frank pretends to be annoyed when sharing the news with the leadership, but quickly offers a new candidate: Cathy Durant. They’re on board, and even agree to have the party “choose” Durant during a national convention in Atlanta.
The convention kicks off to a surprising start when a Kentucky Senator, at Frank’s behest, places a vote for Claire. The First Lady is gracious for the honor but reiterates her support for Cathy. Blythe is also backing Durant, at least on the record. Privately however, he tells a journalist that Claire is the better option because of her work at the G7 summit. It’s doubtful that this was also orchestrated by the Underwoods – Blythe is gaga enough over Claire to do such a thing on his own – but it certainly worked out in their favor. Claire is earning some legitimacy in her abilities to lead, and the seed of the idea that she could become VP has been expertly planted.
Cathy plays it cool when the same journalist confronts her on the issue, but she’s definitely caught off guard. Her concern is only worsened when Texas places ALL of their votes for their “native daughter,” Claire. Celia Jones, working with Leann, secured those votes in exchange for two million dollars in donations. It’s a shame this didn’t warrant more screen time for Jones’. Again, Claire feigns surprise for the cameras and assures Cathy that this isn’t the goal. Realizing this move may have been too much too soon, Frank and Claire agree to let Cathy in on their plan; at least a little bit, before she turns on them.
It might be too late for that, though. Cathy has watched the Underwoods for long enough to know how to play someone. And that’s exactly what she does to Frank. Making him believe that she’d be perfectly fine with staying on as Secretary of State, if support for Claire continued to mount. “Claire would do an excellent job.” It’s disappointing to see Frank completely underestimate Cathy. There’s always a backup plan though, which Claire secures with Senator Baker, another contender for VP who hates Cathy. In exchange for all of his votes, the Underwoods will appoint him Secretary of State.
Meanwhile, Conway is quickly learning just how boss the Underwoods really are. Between the press conference for Danny’s mother and the theatrics of the convention, no one is paying an ounce of attention to Conway. Even the fact that General Brockhart resigned from the White House to run as VP has been completely overshadowed. When someone steals your thunder, Hannah reminds her husband, you have to go and take it back.
Immediately upon arriving in Atlanta, Conway and Brockhart go on the offensive. They attack Frank’s lack of response to the ICO situation, and announce that they won’t go back to campaigning until something is done. Frank calls their bluff, inviting Conway to meet with him and discuss a strategy. Once they’re in a room alone together, the pretense of ICO discourse flies out the window and it quickly becomes a pissing contest. Who can insult the other one better? Who has the better metaphor?
The men do rest their egos for a moment to play an iPhone game, but when Conway excuses himself to answer a call, Frank loses his grip on the upper hand. I mean, you only take a call during a private meeting with the POTUS if you’re trying to display some power. Though he couldn’t get Leann to tap Conway’s call – a smart move on her part – it doesn’t take long for Frank to discover who was on the other end. During the next round of voting in the convention, Louisiana gives all of their votes to Cathy, but not for VP, they want her to be President. Of course, it doesn’t work that way, but another seed has been planted. And even if she doesn’t win, she’s secured her job under a Conway administration.
Remember Tom Yates? The guy who was supposed to write about America Works but ended up writing a “fiction” book about the Underwoods? Well, the Conways have tracked him down and they want him to publish that book, before the election. In return they can offer him the cover of and a story in Vanity Fair – Hannah is BFF’s with the editor – and he’ll have support from Pollyhop; whatever that means. Tom decides to play the field, first. He meets with Doug and gives him the same excerpt the Conways got but it comes with an ultimatum: Tom gets a meeting with Frank or he’ll publish.
Though the people in his book no longer reflect who Frank and Claire are, they both agree that Tom is someone who sees them clearly, which is highly rare. Like Meechum, he’s shared intimate moments with both of them and they need someone like that in their inner circle again. So they offer him a job as their speechwriter, which comes with the privilege of following them around so he can get the better ending for his book that he so craves.
Almost instantly, Tom proves Frank and Claire right. Not only does he know that Claire initially went to Texas to get away from Frank, but he can see they’re maneuvering for Claire to be VP. He realizes, before the Underwoods even do, that Claire will “need the speech to end all speeches.” So when Claire leaves Atlanta for Texas, to get out of the spotlight, Tom accompanies her.
They arrive to find Elizabeth has grown much weaker and requires the attention of a live-in nurse. She’s as cold as ever towards Claire, but warms easily to Tom’s charms. The nurse confides in Claire that her mother doesn’t have much longer to live, that it may be time to just make her comfortable. Elizabeth is ready for that too, but Claire can’t bring herself to assist her mother’s passing. Elizabeth knows her daughter well though, and persuades her with the idea of how her death could be beneficial to Claire.
“Do this for me and let me be a help to you, finally.”
Watching Claire oblige her mother and administer a lethal dose of morphine was one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever for House of Cards. Frank looking for Meechum’s handprint is definitely in the top 5. I’m fairly certain I held my breath for its entirety; the intensity of it all weighed so heavily on my chest. It was sad to see Elizabeth go and yet, it was strangely touching that part of her reasoning was to help her daughter at such an opportune moment. While some may question Tom’s presence during the event, this was a man who could make her smile, a man who filled her final days with laughter. Obviously, their connection had an impact on Claire because she and Tom end up having sex.
Back in Atlanta, Frank has postponed any further voting in the convention, under the guise of needing to be in Washington to deal with an ICO threat. Truthfully, he’s using any means necessary to confront Cathy, who’s been outright avoiding him. She’s ready for Frank though; she’s seen and smelt the Underwoods’ shit from up close for too long not to be. Either Claire’s votes move her way, or she officially runs for President. She’s not even concerned about the statement Petrov released revealing it was Claire who did the heavy lifting in Germany. If she backs Dunbar, that will be an even better story. Too bad she didn’t bank on Claire’s mother dying because that’s the story that ultimately wins.
If that wasn’t enough, Frank made sure Cathy was scared to her bones. He admits to killing Zoe and Peter, and that every one of Lucas Goodwin’s claims is true. Just kidding, Cathy! But even if he wasn’t no one would believe the story anyway because “that’s how good we are at making things disappear.” Between his maniacal laughter and the threatening manner in which Frank held the sharp end of a letter opener towards Cathy, it’s a wonder she didn’t piss herself. Frank Underwood is a terrifying man. Needless to say, Cathy fully understands who is in charge, and she announces her withdrawal from the running. She claims she has “more to offer” as Secretary of State, and she encourages everyone to support The First Lady.
As both Frank and Tom watch her with great affection, Claire – running as Claire Hale Underwood – delivers one hell of a perfect speech. In a damn near unanimous decision, an Underwood/Underwood ticket becomes a reality. It’s this unique and simultaneous feeling of admiration and horror that make watching Frank and Claire so thoroughly enjoyable.
Tom Hammerschmidt receives a call from Zoe’s dad, and it’s really weird and depressing. Mr. Barnes, who is drunk driving, admits that he and Zoe were never close so he doesn’t have much information to offer. Aside from reminding me about the time Zoe wished him a Happy Father’s Day while Frank was getting acquainted with her lady bits, I don’t know the purpose of this scene. Was it simply to tug on Hammerschmidt’s heartstrings so he would keep going in the investigation?
If so, it works. The Hammer visits Zoe’s old block, specifically the pizza place. Though the guy working there doesn’t remember ever seeing Frank, he does recognize Meehcum. In fact, he frequented the pizza place quite a bit. So, the Hammer starts mapping out several months’ worth of Frank’s travel records. His apartment is looking like a scene from The Wire when he invites Heather Dunbar to come take a look. She’s impressed; her team never thought to look into manipulated travel logs. The Hammer knows there has to be something more to this, but he needs another lead. Dunbar suggests Remy Danton may be the weak-link.
Doug Stamper, Chief of Creeps
This man has serious issues. His own insecurities leave him feeling threatened by Leann’s confidence and growing closeness to the Underwoods. It’s kind of hilarious because it’s so silly, but it’s also really annoying because Doug has been reduced to a whiny child, always on the verge of a violent tantrum. He forces Seth to dig up some dirt on Leann, but Seth outplays him by telling Leann exactly what’s up. Leann confronts Doug, telling him to put his personal shit aside and focus on winning the campaign. It’s solid advice, but instead of taking it Doug takes out his anger on a washroom stall door.
Just as he’s on the verge of drinking again, and possibly killing Seth, Doug channels his anger into finally hitting the donate button on the Anthony Moretti website. This is the guy who died after being bumped off the liver transplant list to make way for Frank. For a few weeks, Doug had been creeping the website and at first, if you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, it seems as though Doug may actually feel bad for what he did. When he starts looking longingly at the photos of Anthony’s widow, you remember you should know better.
House of Cards S4E8-E10
Robin Wright has brought her A-game to every scene this season. And while Robin is a fantastic actress, Claire is just as good if not better. From the teary robocall recording, to her mother’s final moments, to the “heartfelt” speech about Frank being her only remaining family, she just doesn’t miss a beat. Pair that with the fact that Frank is addressing the audience on the regular again, and it feels like we’re back to the same style and tone of season one. Which were some of the best days for House of Cards.
The only problems in this 3-episode stretch were the endless news segments. All the talk of who’s up or down in the polls because of this number of delegates, or how that state’s voting works, leaves the show feeling very dry. It’s a different way of presenting exposition and I appreciate the effort, but it just falls flat. In striking contrast, the surprise relationship between Tom and Claire, and the way in which she and Frank clinched the ticket, brought so much life to these episodes. The writing has been damn near flawless. All that’s left is to see if they can stick the landing.