[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 10 (S1E10)


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Rebellion on all fronts. Claire, Zoe, Russo. I must not lose my resolve. I will march forward even if I have to do so alone.

After Russo’s pet watershed Bill was narrowly defeated, it is time for Frank to take stock of his personnel and their loyalties. To say that his forces are in disarray would be an understatement; last week Zoe finally realized that she is just another pawn to Frank and that he will not relinquish his control over her easily while Claire’s resentment at having her career and aspirations take a hit for Frank boils over leading to the Bill’s defeat. This week cleaned up Congressman Russo joins the rebellion by demanding Frank make amends for the promises that he made Russo and all of a sudden, the fraying threads that held Frank’s plans together seem to have finally snapped and all hell has broken loose for Congressman Underwood. This episode will test his resolve – he will have to show that all those strong words about taking what is rightfully his are backed with action.

I think it’s fair to say that this is the strongest blow that Frank has been struck since the start of the season. Sure, the education bill got a little tense for a while but the fact that it actually went through meant that the damage done to Frank was limited. However, this week we see that there is no way for Frank to weasel his way out – the President is unhappy that the Bill was so openly and publicly defeated and its political implications. Frank is walking a fine line; the credibility that he earned with his victory in the education Bill bought reprieve for this disappointment but it feels like he’s expended all his brownie points with the President. For the first time, Frank seems helpless. We’re used to seeing him plotting and pacing and making things happen but this week he’s just scrambling for cover, trying to get his troops to behave but in the end, he has to guess and hope and is unsure of how it’s all going to fall out.  It’s refreshing to see him go up against real challenges and the rising stakes makes for very compelling television. We’ll look at each disobedient in turn and see/speculate how Frank will lay down the law and get them back in line.

From a plot perspective, it looks like Peter Russo’s political career has run its course. It looks to me like Russo never really understood just how dangerous Frank is. Appearing drunk during a public interview is going to destroy him – the narrative of his absolute and unwavering sobriety has come to a sudden and abrupt stop and on top of it, Frank now has Rachel’s testimony to throw in Russo’s face should he attempt any more shenanigans. I wonder if Russo will ever realize that Stamper and Frank set him up and whether that even matters anymore. If Zoe announces Russo’s return to alcohol and the story gains traction, nothing Russo throws out about Frank will seem credible, though it remains to be seen if he will even try. It’s a little heartbreaking to see just how easy it was for Team Underwood to destroy Russo’s life. While I understand that in the end the man has no one to blame but himself, I had hoped that his honest efforts at improving himself wouldn’t have been for nothing. On hindsight, it was pretty clear that Russo was never going to be able to outrun his demons but I didn’t expect him to cave in so easily. His sudden disappearance at the end of episode makes me wonder if he’s going to end up killing himself – the idea was brought up for a brief, chilling moment a few episodes ago and it would solve a number of Frank’s problems while giving Frank an emotional podium from which to forward his ambitions, though even now I don’t know what exactly those ambitions are, in tangible terms. Of our three rebels, the Russo chapter is already the shortest, starting and ending within an episode.

Then we have Zoe Barnes, who has been learning the hard way that there is such a thing as ‘too good to be true’. Last week, she tried to break things off with Frank only to realize that their deal was an ‘all or nothing’ kind of thing. No sex means no information and no information means that Zoe’s rapid rise up the career ladder might be undone relatively quickly. Still, she can’t be happy about the situation – her affair is utterly without warmth and it would seem like she suddenly discovered that sleeping around to get ahead is against her principles. I’m not sure why exactly Claire’s visit threw Zoe off so suddenly; sure, she didn’t see it coming but she definitely knew that Frank was married and I don’t how Claire knowing all about the affair changes anything on Zoe’s end, assuming that she sees her relationship with Frank as a transaction and nothing more. She too has been finding a spine these last few episodes and it looks like her relationship with Lucas is going to be everything that her affair with Frank wasn’t – warm, loving but a questionable career move. More to the point, having Lucas in her life will might give her the emotional strength to finally cast Frank aside for good and not worry so much about the consequences though given that Frank already thinks she was cheating on him might mean that he has made plans for such an eventuality.

The last holdout of the week is none other than Mrs. Underwood herself. Her anger has been building up rather consistently in the last few episodes and at the beginning of this week, it all comes to a head. Now, personally, I think it was almost a little unbelievable that Frank would be so unaware of why Claire was furious and blaming it on hot flashes was not only out of character, but also made him look idiotic. Still, it looks like Claire is going to take a break of her own but unlike Frank’s affair, she actually seems to enjoy hers. She is a very different person around Adam Gallaway – she laughs and smiles and makes jokes whereas with Frank, it’s like she is all business. There was an interesting line about how warm Adam’s bed is and it’s reflective of the dynamic of her relationship with both men yet I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks that she is actually going to leave Frank for Adam. Is this Claire choosing her career and professional happiness over her personal happiness? Can anyone really separate their happiness like that? I know I can’t but maybe that’s just how cold and rational Claire is. It’ll be interesting to see how Frank wins her back because unlike Zoe and Russo, Claire is not disposable. I’ve said again and again that Frank and Claire feel like a team more than a married couple and I think they both realize it – without the other, it becomes very difficult for each to achieve their goals.

It occurs to me that Frank might need new pawns to replace the ones he’s lost in these last few episodes. Russo is essentially compromised at this point, but Frank mentions that it is time for Jim Matthews to return to the forefront and after seeing the Vice-President open up about his past and his regrets last week (or was it the week before?), I’m curious to see what he will bring to this increasingly toxic concoction. The other development that has been progressing well is Frank’s friendship with Linda Vasquez. He seems pretty firmly in her good books but unlike Zoe and Russo, Frank has nothing on her, so he will have to tread very lightly if he is to avoid attracting the ire of the president’s office. It is interesting, in the light of all these developments, that a lot of the time Frank has little to no idea of what is happening on the ground – when Rachel was deployed to seduce Peter, Frank did not know the details and more than anything else, it shows the level of trust that Frank has in Stamper.

Stamper himself is an interesting man. I was certain that he had begun to warm up to Russo after their shared AA meeting and everything but it takes a downright terrifying amount of ruthlessness to use Rachel to throw Peter totally off balance and then appear right after to offer a shoulder to cry on. We’ve seen that Stamper isn’t totally emotionless and I think he had some qualms about making Rachel return to prostitution after helping her leave that life but Stamper is nothing if not practical. It is interesting that Frank thinks Peter can still be helped but it remains to be seen if even the almighty efficiency of Douglas Stamper can reel Peter in from this particular bender. In all of this, I really feel bad for Christina – it must suck being disappointed again and again after believing in someone.

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