[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 5 (S1E5)


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“Friends make the worst enemies”, Frank Underwood says at the episodes beginning. He is referring to Marty Spinella who we’ve seen two episodes ago as he dutifully kept the teachers’ unions at the table while Frank handled the Gaffney affair. Still, Frank’s quote could apply to any number of characters in this episode as Frank’s control over the situation begins to waver, despite what he claims. Once again, more than the plot itself, it is the relationships between the characters that fascinate me.

We will talk about all the usual suspects; Frank and Zoe, Frank and Claire, Frank and Peter, but before we touch on any of those, I want to take a look at just how Frank treats his ‘friends’. I use the inverted commas because it’s not very clear that Frank and I mean the same things when we use the word. Spinella is introduced to us as Frank’s friend two episodes and he seems to be Frank’s team by every reasonable measure. Yet, Frank shows no loyalty (though after the previous episode, it would have been very naïve of us to expect otherwise) to his friend and proceeds to lie to him. I hadn’t really made note of this lie when it happened last episode but I suspect it makes no matter now. I look at Marty and Frank’s relationship because Frank has no other friends – Zoe he is using (though, I have some reason to question the exact nature of their relationship, see below), Claire he is married to (though the same applies) and Peter he has essentially blackmailed into a corner. Stamper is his employee and Freddy can’t really count in this case. I think this episode makes it clear that being Frank’s friend is no protection from his if you happen to be standing in his way. He did mention in the first episode that he will no longer let loyalty (nor ethics, I’m assuming) hold him back any longer. It’s a shame only Stamper heard.

 

It’s a bigger shame that Zoe didn’t hear it. I’m now intrigued by the nature of her relationship with Frank because I had assumed that their affair was something of a power trip for him and I’m sure that I’m not entirely wrong but there seems to be some genuine affection there as well. It’s really difficult to tell because Frank has so many masks on at any given time and Spacey is so good at portraying them that I can’t really tell what exactly the dynamic between him and Zoe means. He seems to wish her well since he gives her seemingly good advice on where she should move her career but that could just be because he wants a better placed mouthpiece. For what it’s worth, she herself seems to be taking the affair fairly seriously and again, I’m not sure if it’s because she is actually attracted to him or because she wants to sink her claws in deeper. It doesn’t have to be one or the other either; both characters are practical enough that something that serves both purposes would be just fine with either of them.

Speaking of practicality though, it was honestly mind-blowing seeing how well Claire and Frank work together. There was a segment of the episode, perhaps only 5 or 10 minutes in length were it seemed like they had the entire city at their fingertips, to say nothing of the way they navigated the potential fiasco that the protest could have proven to be. It really reinforced the message that this was a power couple that could get shit done. Stamper, though, gets my vote for the most efficient badass staff member of all time. It’s getting to a point where I can’t imagine him ever losing his cool over anything. He always has the necessary information on hand and he always gets whatever is needed from him done right away. Without Stamper, Frank’s plans would run out of steam incredibly quickly. What really impresses me about the character though, is that he isn’t just some hyper-efficient office drone – he is clearly intelligent and capable of some serious manipulation in his own right, a perfect right hand man for Underwood.

Then, there’s Claire herself. We talked a little about her relationship with Frank and the interesting dimensions it had taken and these dimensions are explored a little further in this episode. Claire definitely knows of her husband’s affair with Zoe and the fact that Frank feels comfortable enough to say that it may continue seems to indicate that Clarie basically understands Frank’s motives behind the affair. I would say, from Robin Wright’s performance more than the script, that Claire doesn’t fully approve of the affair and the fact that she might soon be seeking similar comfort from Adam Gallaway seems to show this. Yet, by the episode’s end, the couple seem blissfully happy together having taken on a tropical DC shitstorm and survived. I think the idea here that while their marriage isn’t conventional by any means, they are a team beyond anything implied by a marriage ceremony. Their goals are aligned and they seem to be on exactly the same wavelength. Frank respects Claire deeply and I think it’s been carefully shown that he doesn’t patronize her – her problems are his and they take decisions together. It’s refreshing to see but at the same time I think it could become a problem. Jealousy is a powerful force and not always a rational one – Frank has seen her with Gallaway and she has seen him with Zoe. Could things blow up in their faces?

And then, we have Peter Russo whose fifteen minutes of fame seem to be approaching. Russo spends most of the episode in the gutter emotionally. Christina is gone and any hope he might have had for re-election is evaporating very quickly. More than that, he shows himself to have a stronger moral conscience (at least, as far as his constituents are concerned) than we had been led to believe previously. Corey Stoll is doing a great job showing just how heavily Russo’s burdens are lying on his shoulder but for all the strength of his moral core, it is still not a very strong. Russo’s devils are a powerful force and it doesn’t at all possible that this man can stay a full month away from them. Frank is a master of emotional manipulation and he knows all about Peter’s demons. If Frank needs someone to take a fall at some point in the future, Peter is just one line of coke away from a total fucking meltdown.

I’ll end this episode’s discussion by talking about that powerful final scene. Corey Stoll totally killed it – there was a discernible difference in the actor physically when he entered and exited the Underwood residence. The final shot of Peter shows that the flame has been relit and the fire is burning strong in Peter, but it is still a flame that belongs to Frank, now more than ever before and it is thus still a flame that Frank can snuff out any time he wants. I really liked the sinister overtone of the bathroom scene; I didn’t foresee Frank goading Peter into suicide and the idea came out of nowhere to me but it really did enhance that scene. You got to love how unfazed Claire was by all of it, though.

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