The episode opens with Frank discussing the details of his Education Reform act with the heads of the Union. There are some roadblocks that he needs to deal with but just then, the ever reliable Stamper brings his attention to what he claims is a more pressing matter – there has been a fatality in the congressman’s constituency and a rival politician, Oren, is pinning it on Frank. It’s a fairly minor matter really – some stupid teen was texting while driving and got into an accident while staring at a water tank shaped like a peach that was approved by Frank. I make no claim to under American politics or politics in general but honestly, I don’t know if something like this can even be spun into a big deal under any circumstance. Frank has an ally among the unions in a man named Marty Spinella who seems as reasonable as Donald Blythe, so obviously something horrible is going to happen to him. There is a fair amount of bickering over the details but it’s still quite organic to the episode and doesn’t clutter up the plot. Stamper is insistent that Frank go in person so that they settle the matter before it gets to court. Seriously, this feels a little forced – it’s like the show needs Frank to be stressed over controlling the Education Reform Act and settling Oren’s pretensions to Frank’s seat. If nothing though, it’ll be interesting to see Frank on his home turf where he is undeniably the biggest dog around.
Frank tries to get Linda to push the progress update speech back by a week but all her gratitude from the previous episode has gone for some reason and she won’t budge. More and more, I feel like the entire system just needs a bucket of cold water and a big dose of perspective, but that’s a topic for another time, I guess. Frank gets a favour from Marty and apologizes for having to leave in the middle of the negotiations with the union but promises him that they’ll get it done by the weekend. I’m going to assume that the ‘small ball’ crap as Frank calls isn’t supposed to take too long to fix but will end being more complicated than it appears because we certainly need our drama this episode.
Meanwhile, Claire meets a new employee, Gillian. It’s a short scene and I’m still struggling to see Claire’s relevance in the overall plot. I suspect that at some point it’s all going to come together and we’ll see the Underwoods work together to destroy Washington or something but for now, the two women meet in Claire’s newly empty office (see above) and talk about photography for some odd reason. Frank has a new driver and since I don’t know whether or not he will be relevant in the future, we’ll introduce him anyway – he is Ed Meechum, and he looks exceptionally green and unready for Frank’s intensity.
Zoe meets with the owner of the Washington Herald, who asks her how she knew that Cathy Durrant would be nominated as Secretary of State before she herself did. Zoe doesn’t budge though despite pressure from the owner – this pleases the all-powerful owner lady who then asks Tom Hammerschmidt to move Zoe’s piece to the front page. It seems like Zoe is moving up in the world at a pretty breakup speed. She’s gone from the Metro pages to the front page in pretty much the blink of an eye though if her source was a little less shady and potentially illegal, I wonder if she would have stood her ground against the owner the way she did. Gillian owns a non-profit that’s apparently merging with Claire’s but she is a little reluctant to let ownership go but Claire assures her that she won’t need to. Gillian raises some excellent points – first off, she wonders if they are a good match given that she (Gillian) can barely make ends meet while Claire can afford to hire high-end photographers for personal projects. She also mentions the mass layoff though Claire covers this up by saying that it was to make room for Gillian. I think this Gillian lady has Claire’s number but Claire is a smooth operator herself, she’s fully prepared and she launches her charm offensive. Gillian stands strong and asks for time. Having worked in a startup before, I can relate a little to Gillian’s dilemma. It’s always hard to turn away money and opportunity and stick to your belief that you’ll be better off on your own because you almost never know if that’s really the case. A merger means financial stability and the opportunity to grow and expand but if you stay independent, the next little rough patch could very well be your last.
Frank is back home in Gaffney, South Carolina, a place he describes as “bibles, barbeques and broken backs”. We learn a little of his story – he started from the bottom and now he’s…well, you get the idea. He seems to have a love hate relationship with the place – “everything gets a little sicker this far south. The air, the water, even me” yet he admits that it isn’t as suffocating as it once was except when he has to “deal with this kind of shit that makes [him] want to hang [himself]”. Frank tries to cut Oren a deal but Oren is bitter about a past loss and won’t have any of it. It’s a little ironic that Frank is giving Oren shit for using the dead girl for political leverage given the absolutely shameless way Frank would use anyone and anything for the same. Still, it doesn’t make Oren right and the man is pretty unlikeable to begin with (he didn’t even do the classy thing and invite Frank up for some iced tea, that bastard).
Claire is running and her route apparently takes her through a cemetery when a senior citizen yells at her for having no respect. Kids these days, I swear, they get less respectfully by the second. Claire is really shaken by this though but I have no idea what the significance of that was. Is she haunted by the guilt of firing her rather senior chief of staff the last episode? If so, this is an extremely roundabout way of dealing with it. I hope this clears up by the end of the episode. Frank is having a tough time balancing the two issues at hand – on the teacher’s union end, they don’t want any oversight at all, because apparently they’re a bunch of liberal yahoos who believe in the power of educational anarchy while in Gaffney, the town council is reluctant to pay a settlement (because it would mean that the town is responsible for the death) but is also unwilling to go to court because, as Frank rightly points out, the jury will only see a poor, dead (though incredibly stupid) teenager and they will end up paying damages. One man, Travis, is insistent that the go to court because of the principle – she was breaking the law after all. I am on Travis’ side but Frank, being a bag of icy practicality, points out that principles don’t matter if they bankrupt the town. I also don’t think he appreciated Travis’ accusation that he (Frank) was trying to swoop in at the last minute to save the day. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, for Travis, Frank does just that. He decides to put up billboards and set up a scholarship in the dead kid’s name as well as some other information that I don’t quite see the relevance of.
Meanwhile, in the land of Russo, Peter is trying to make up for his stunt the other day. Christina has a job offer at another place and wants to take it. Russo realizing his office sex friend (because I don’t think he really thinks of her as his girlfriend) is leaving is unhappy about this but makes some of the right noises and gives her his blessing (which she didn’t technically need). Still, it seems he’s back on her good books, that poor girl and all is well in Russo land. Frank arrives at the vigil but has to get through Meechum who doesn’t really know who is boss is and tries to tell him he can’t go into the large crowd alone. Frank puts him in his place is goes off in search of the parents.
The parents are less than thrilled to see him though. The mother seems to be grieving but the father is just angry. The reason is revealed soon enough – Oren has been talking in their ears and encourages them to ignore Frank. I’m not saying Frank isn’t scummy but in this particular case, since I don’t think Frank should be held accountable for this whole mess in any way, I’m going to go ahead and call Oren a total fuck for manipulating the situation and playing the parents. Mind you, Frank is doing the exact same thing but I guess the main difference is that Oren is just using them to get ahead, Frank’s actions are more in the line of self-defence. Somewhat, proactive self-defence, yes, but self-defence nonetheless (apologies for the moral relativism). In any case, it pisses me off the way Oren tells the grieving family that they “shouldn’t have to put up with” Frank’s offer of condolence. He neglected to mention that they should also not have to put up with opportunistic asshole politicians either. Frank has an idea and asks the reverend for a favour.
Russo is at home when he finds a small packet of coke in his toilet kit (because he’s hardcore like that). In an exceptionally un-Russo display, he empties it into the sink and tells Christina that he wants her to stay. Our update on Russo and his affairs is basically there to show us that after his recent deals with the devil, Russo is intent on turning over a new leaf and becoming a good politician. Frank and Claire talk about nothing in particular. I haven’t always understood how their marriage works really – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of affection in it and honestly, given their personalities the affection would seem weird but more than anything it is little moments like this that indicate that it’s a partnership and a friendship more than anything. They have an easy rapport but there’s soon to be a wrench in the works – Zoe Barnes is feeling neglected after not getting any juicy insider news for a while. Claire can sense the danger in Zoe and I suddenly wonder how this is going to play out. Zoe’s intentions are clear but just in case they weren’t, she does everything but spell them out. Frank seems cautiously interested. I’m a little surprised actually, I didn’t think Frank would be the kind of guy who would cheat, especially after stating that he loved Claire more than sharks love blood.
Zoe is on TV again where she flatters her bitchy colleague Janine and praises Tom before saying that the Herald could do more online. Tom seems unhappy but I can’t imagine why – she hasn’t said anything remotely negative. Claire changes her running route (still don’t know what’s going on there) while Frank goes to church. He deftly riles the congregation’s emotions by opening with ‘I hate you God!’ to shocked gasps because often, congregations act like literal sheep instead of metaphorical ones. By the end, he’s won the bereaved parents over to his side and things aren’t looking good for Oren. We find out why Tom is pissed – “Your job is to report the news, not be the news”, he tells Zoe. Tom seems like the old school tough but fair boss but Zoe obviously doesn’t think so. I can understand why a manager wouldn’t want one employee suddenly stealing all the spotlight and revealing the inner office politics though I think a wiser man would ride the Barnes wave instead of trying to stop it. Anyway, Zoe is pretty adolescent about it and tries to accuse Tom of sexism but doesn’t have the spine to go through with it and Tom essentially bans her from TV for a month. Act like a kid, get treated like a kid, I guess.
Gillian is still sick but Claire insists that Gillian see her GP since the former doesn’t have health insurance. I guess Gillian wasn’t kidding about the hand to mouth existence. I wonder if Claire’s motives are altruistic as they seem – Gillian is Claire’s ticket to the big time and I don’t think she would want her to be sick. The negotiation are going poorly but Frank is about deal the finishing blow to Oren as the reverend and the dead girl’s parents sit in his living room. Apparently Gillian is perfect – she was Valedictorian at Stanford but then turned down a six figure salary at Google to start her non-profit. Claire seems genuinely impressed by her and I guess I was wrong about suspecting her motives earlier. I mean, she’s still looking out for herself in an indirect way, but it’s a nice gesture and one that Gillian seems to appreciate. Frank wraps up matters by offering to set up a scholarship but more importantly by understanding how his people think.
“What you have to understand about my people is that they are a noble people. Humility is their form of pride. It is their strength, it is their weakness and if you can humble yourself before them, they will do anything you ask.”
Frank stops by Oren to deliver the finishing blow. He has found a small piece of legislature that said that Oren was responsible for ensuring guard rails on the roads, a duty he neglected. Furthermore, a power company wanted to lay a line through Oren’s property and in the past Frank fought them off, but technically, under imminent domain, Oren’s house could get demolished. Frank has tulips for Claire and advice for Zoe – ignore Tom’s ban and go on TV anyway. Claire returns to the cemetery to find a pair of teens making out on a tombstone and she just smile. I still have no idea what that was all about.
On a final note, I don’t feel like this new format is working out. I’m going to revert to my old Hannibal style format. Even though there is a lot to comment on, I don’t think it’s necessary to go into this level of detail in every episode. I’ll do it when it’s necessary but not otherwise.