[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 2 (S1E2)


house-of-cards-season-1-poster

The second episode picks up where we left the first – right outside an innocent looking ribs place called Freddy’s. Frank tips Freddy generously and realizes he’s late for a meeting with the House Majority Leader and the Speaker. He isn’t particularly happy about this.

So, a quick note before moving on – this little scene is short and just serves to setup the rest of the episode but I would like to point out Frank’s treatment of those who ‘work’ for him – Stamper is intensely loyal to him and there’s likely a good reason for that while Freddy seems fond of Frank too (and vice versa). I’m getting the feeling that Frank is the kind of mastermind that treats his sub-ordinates well if they are loyal and don’t try to fuck him over and that at the end of the day, he respects hard work and competence over titles and position. Also, a quick reminder to anyone reading to give me any feedback on the format of these posts (and the colour choices, which I always struggle with) as well as the content, of course.

Monday morning meetings suck

The Speaker and Majority Leader are anxious over the leaked document and it seems clear that Frank isn’t really a part of the discussion – they talk over him and for the most part ignore him. Frank’s former press secretary, Remy Danton, stops by the table – he is a partner at an illustrious law firm and his main client is SanCorp, a natural gas company – now he has the two Congressmen’s attentions when they realize he’s a lobbyist. The relationship between Remy and Frank is less warm behind the scenes – Remy wants certain drilling rights and other perks that Frank could have delivered if he was Secretary of State but now that that isn’t on the table, Remy threatens to fund his challenger the next cycle.

“Money is the big mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn’t see the difference.” – Frank Underwood

So, the plot thickens, just a little. It seems Frank has built up a fair number of promises that he has been unable to keep and the series’ title seems particularly fitting – Walker and Vasquez failed to keep their promises and so Frank can’t keep his and so the whole house falls like a pack of cards. Ok, that’s probably a little overdramatic, but I’m beginning to vaguely sense the theme here. Before we talk about Remy, I would like to point out that despite all his talk, Frank is still very much in the middle to bottom half of the food chain – the Speaker and Majority Leader speak over him and basically treat him like an up-jumped intern. It’s a good reminder of just where Frank is in the bigger scheme of things but it also shows us how someone even at his level can throw a spanner in the works.

The dynamic between Frank and Remy, played by Mahershala Ali, is interesting. Frank doesn’t seem too caught up by the fact that he’s now taking orders from someone who used to work for him – I guess he’s a bigger man than that. However, now that I think about it, it’s probably that he’s disappointed that Remy has chosen money over power and has lost a protégé. I’m just speculating on the protégé part but it does seem like Frank has a respect for Remy’s abilities and Remy certainly knows the way Frank operates so if any conflict between the two should arise, it’ll be interesting to see how the two navigate the waters around each other.

The education policy of the nation, left in the hands of interns

Frank’s next target is Michael Kern – Stamper comes up with something from Kern’s college past but Frank dismisses it as thin. He then is summoned by Vasquez who is upset that the bill leaked. Frank assures her that he has it under-control. Claire oversees the process of dismissing half her staff despite protests from her chief of staff, Evelyn. Frank gets a bunch of junior policy makers to handle the second draft of the bill.

I’m quite curious to know what Stamper found on Michael Kern but more importantly, I’m very interested in knowing if Stamper even sleeps. The man is like the epitome of efficiency and Kern would really have to be the most boring person on the planet if even Frank has to admit that the best that Stamper could come up with was ‘thin’. On a different note, I’m increasingly getting this feeling that Claire’s storyline is kind of irrelevant to the ‘main’ story of Frank and his quest for revenge. It’s like they don’t really need Claire around but they’re already paying Robin Wright and so they’re just throwing in little updates of what she’s up to. Then again, it might just be that she becomes relevant only later down the line in which case, this build-up makes sense. I also have to laugh at the poor junior policy makers who look so in over their heads.

Frank meets with Donald Blythe who is also unhappy that the bill got out. Frank says that Linda wants to point fingers and decides to ‘fall on the grenade’ for Donald, saying that he will take the hit for the bill’s leak. Donald, being the good guy that he is, feels bad that Frank has to cover up for his mistakes and instead offers to do it himself. Donald says he will step down and that Frank should take the lead on the education bill.

“What a martyr craves more than anything is a sword to fall on. So, you sharpen the blade, hold it at just the right angle and…” – Frank Underwood

Damn, that was pretty mean. This is the part of the story where Frank loses a lot of sympathy from me. People like Donald Blythe and Michael Kern are good people, Donald especially seems like a great guy all around and someone that the government should be lucky to keep around but unfortunately as he rightly says, he’s just not cut out for this kind of politics and Frank knows it even better than he does. It was a little painful seeing Frank play him like that – deceit of the kind that Frank used is fun to see when employed on those we dislike but Blythe deserved better. More than anything, Frank’s plan is becoming a little clearer to me now: by leaking the bill, he not only undermines the administration and Blythe but also creates a problem that he knows he can solve. Now, by presenting himself as the solution to a big problem, he will become even more important to the President. I didn’t really like Kevin Spacey’s acting in the scene with Blythe though – I think it was overdone and it’s a little hard to believe that someone who’s obviously as intelligent as Donald Blythe fell for something so very transparent.

Frank meets Zoe again, passing her an article that was run in Kern’s university paper while he was the editor. Zoe is reluctant since Kern didn’t write the article himself but Frank pressures her into using it. Meanwhile, Claire has bought a rowing machine for Frank who she thinks could ‘be in better shape’ (‘That sounds both passive aggressive and condescending’, Frank replies).

This show is trying very hard to push the image of Frank as the devil – when Zoe meets him, the entire scene and the accompanying music seems to evoke the image of a deal with the devil, something I’ve talked about in the previous episode as well. More specifically, that particular image comes up when Zoe tries to resist Frank’s insinuations and stick up for her own morals. It’s like the devil (Frank) is saying that he owns her now and that any further resistance on her part is futile. I bothers me a little that Zoe is that intimidated by him; she’s supposed to be this firebrand that doesn’t take orders from anyone but she is clearly the subservient one in her relationship with Frank. The home scene with Claire and her amusing insistence that Frank could be in better space is almost absurdly normal. The Underwoods are not a family that I would imagine having conversations like this but it’s a nice change of scene to remind us that when he’s not playing the devil or acting like one, Frank does have a ‘normal’ side to him too.

Well, this should be an interesting visit

Zoe has some difficulty running the story through Lucas but he eventually agrees to talk to Tom. Frank and Stamper watch an interview with Kern which takes an unexpected turn when the interviewer asks him to comment on the article (which Kern hasn’t seen yet) in which Kern calls the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip an ‘illegal occupation’. Kern tries to laugh it off when he comes under pressure from the interviewer and handles the situation rather poorly and Frank knows he has him. Peter Russo is at home with Christina when he gets a call from Stamper to fly out to Berkshire, Massachusetts on an errand. He departs right away, leaving behind a fairly confused Christina.

So, I’m not entirely convinced that that one little slipup on television was enough to ruin Kern’s career. What I’m also not getting is why Kern couldn’t just say that he respects different opinions in his newspaper and editorials and believes in the freedom of speech and so on. I was all on board with Zoe when she said that there really wasn’t much of a story here but I think Kern’s reaction made it one. Between him trying to laugh it off and losing his tongue in the middle of it, what was supposed to be a pretty simple question ended up becoming a disaster.

Russo’s deal with the devil is coming back to bite him in a big way and I guess that’s kind of the point but I guess I don’t see why Russo doesn’t tell Christina everything. I mean he doesn’t even need to admit that he was with a hooker the other night, just that he was arrested for drunk driving and now he is Frank’s little bitch. Maybe there’s more to it that I’m not getting but if there isn’t, then this is kind of a plot-hole. Stamper is also showing a more evil side (though in all fairness, he’s pretty evil looking most of the time anyway) as he incinerates any last vestiges of delusion that Peter might have had about what it means to be Frank’s bitch.

Yeah

The kids are making progress on the bill, unhappily. Kern’s interview is making rounds and several people have spoken against it publicly – ‘It’s too easy’, Frank says. Peter is on his way to Berkshire to meet with a crackpot who was also an editor for the college newspaper Kern was involved with. They meet, do some coke, have some drinks and then Peter, seasoned party animal that he is, gets down to business. Meanwhile, Stamper has tracked down the prostitute that Russo was with previously and pays her for her silence and for other services rendered.

I would really hate to be those kids. Imagine working that hard with such a massive deadline hanging over their heads and you can bet that they aren’t going to be getting any overtime for it. This meeting Peter is going to should be interesting – this Roy guy is pretty much as much a degenerate as Peter himself is and I mean that in the best way possible. What I’m actually kind of impressed with though is that Peter is able to get this guy to open up. It feels like one of Russo’s strengths is that he is very much a personable and charming man, a real people person and that particular skillset is showing itself to be very valuable here. There’s something about Corey Stoll that makes his performance as Peter Russo feel almost abnormally natural. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Meanwhile, Stamper is showing a more human side of himself – if you can call it that. Call me old-fashioned, but having sex with a woman whose silence you just bought is kind of fucked up but for some reason I can’t pinpoint what exactly about it is messed up. Also, Rachel Brosnahan is all kinds of hot so that would explain some of it. I guess more than anything, I pictured Stamper as being married to the job and him doing this somehow qualifies as cheating. I’m weird like that.

Russo, coked up, slightly drunk and soon to be high, manages to convince Roy to play ball. Evelyn has dismissed half the staff on Claire’s behalf, only to be dismissed herself. Claire gives the remaining staff members a thoroughly bogus speech about the company taking a new direction and yadda yadda. Through Underwood, Zoe is able to use Roy to link Kern to the editorial, upstaging Janine once again. Kern is forced on the extreme defensive by these latest movements and Cathy Durrant is getting ready for a promotion.

How long till Kern bites it? I think by the next episode, we should have our next Secretary of State. I just hope that Catherine Durrant isn’t going to end being as shamelessly used as Zoe and Peter. Then again, Zoe and Peter have committed crimes and they know that Frank’s got them by the metaphorical balls whereas Durrant just took an opportunity as it arose. I’m still just not feeling Claire and her plotline but goddamn is Robin Wright the frostiest ice queen ever. There is this cold look of indifference permanently stuck on her face and it really suits the character because any small show emotion begins to really stand out as a result. It’s exceptionally despicable for Claire to fire Evelyn after making her do all the dirty work but it makes me realize just how much Frank and Claire have in common.

Russo returns to the office, still high and Christina is understandably upset. Frank meets with Zoe again, telling her the Kern has withdrawn and that Cathy Durrant will replace him. Like Frank predicts, as soon Zoe’s ‘claim’ hits the press, it is picked up throughout the media and the day that started with Durrant nowhere near the list of candidates ends with news channels asking why Durrant wasn’t already nominated.

Russo really, really needs to get down to talking to Christina about what’s going on in his life. At this rate, something calamitous is going to happen and all because of a basic miscommunication. I don’t really think that it would be a terribly difficult conversation to have either but it might just be that Peter’s character can’t really admit being someone else’s errand boy. I hope they figure it out; Christina deserves better. The way that the news of Durrant’s alleged nomination spread through the media like wildfire is a fairly accurate comment on the nature of modern media and their less than thorough fact checking. Essentially, the entire story was constructed out of thin air and substantiated simply because everyone believed it. It’s very frightening if you think about it, mostly because of just how lifelike it is.

The kids are done with the bill and Linda is very impressed that it was done and delivered. Frank waves aside her gratitude and gets down to the meat of the matter – Michael Kern and the Secretary of State. With all the media chatter around Durrant, the President is seriously considering her but Linda has reservations. Frank conservatively gives Cathy his support (“It’s not the worst idea in the world”, isn’t exactly a ringing nomination) and it seems Linda’s mind is set. Zoe prepares for her first television appearance.

Ah those poor kids. At least they get to go back home and shower now. I guess my theory was right then – Frank was basically creating a problem that he could take credit for fixing. I’m a little surprised that everything went so smoothly – it feels weird to me that a group of kids could do a better job in a couple of weeks than an experienced Congressman could after 25 years in the field. That aside, I really liked how Frank played Linda again by feigning indifference about the whole thing and then casually throwing out an approval for Cathy Durrant. The scene is much better done than the way he plays with Donald Blythe and is actually believable. Meanwhile, Zoe is moving up in the world – how much longer till Janine decides enough is enough and starts looking into Zoe and her all-too-juicy scoops?

Nothing will come of this, random homeless guy, because I’m big, scary Frank FU Underwood and you’re trash to me.

Frank leaves the office and ‘bumps’ into Remy who asks if Cathy Durrant will be a friend to SanCorp. “I would say that that is a very good bet, but I’m not a betting man”, he says. He sees a raging homeless man outside and has a few words with him: “Nobody can hear you. Nobody cares about you. Nothing will come of this” and just like that the homeless man is subdued. Claire returns home to see Frank rowing at the new rowing machine.

So, it seems that Frank has averted the crisis with Remy for now meaning that Frank will continue to be in SanCorp’s good books. From the way things are going, despite Frank’s insistence that power is more useful than money, it seems that SanCorp still has a high amount of influence over Frank himself. It would be nice to see what kind of havoc Frank and Remy could wreak together. Meanwhile, the scene with the homeless man is a little awkwardly done in my opinion. The first time you think about it, you think ‘Wow, Frank is such a badass, look at how he totally subdued that crazy guy with just his words’ but when you think about the scene from a more detached point of view you begin to realize that the scene serves almost no purpose. Sure, we get to see Frank exert his dark power over another human being but haven’t we already seen that? I feel like I’m missing something important here – is it a comment on the nature of loud protest? That they are pointless and ineffectual to those in power? I have no idea and I’d gladly welcome some thoughts on the matter. Likewise, I feel that there has to be some greater significance to Frank rowing at the machine after insisting earlier that he won’t be a slave to anything you can order online. What changed his mind and what does his changed mind mean for the show? Answers, I demand them!

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