Infighting and turmoil have been Frank Underwood’s go-to tools when he begins his machinations. Barely moments after he is sworn in, Frank has resumed the task of undermining both Garett Walker and Raymond Tusk. Walker remains as malleable as ever but it is abundantly clear that Raymond Tusk will not go down without a fight. Elsewhere, Jackie Sharp puts the dirt she has on the front runners for Frank’s replacement as Whip to good use but her true test lies at the chapter’s end. Whether she passes it or not depends entirely on the audience’s generosity; do we respect her ruthlessness or do we mourn the birth of another Francis Underwood? For all the usual political manipulation and thinly veiled hostilities, it is Claire’s stunning revelation that seems to take centre stage and while it is yet unclear what direction the show will take her story this season, it seems her importance to the show’s end-game has not been diminished.
It is business as usual in Washington for the most part; Frank whispering in the President’s left ear while Tusk whispers in his right, but unbeknownst to either, a firestorm might be brewing in Lucas. It is hard not to pity Lucas – he is incredibly close to the truth but he will neither be heard nor taken seriously. Neither is surprising – Frank’s actions have been covered up a fraction too well for Lucas’ version of events to gain traction. It would be harsh to suggest that Lucas should have seen the predictable responses to his claims from a mile away – after all, a girlfriend’s murder can be taxing on anyone – but at the same time, he really should know better than to kick up such a visible ruckus, given that Doug might be watching. Lucas avoids detection for now and might find that the internet, with its seemingly limitless appetite for government conspiracy, is his greatest ally.
Allies, coincidentally, are in short supply in the Oval Office. Caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between the behemoth of Raymond Tusk and the insidious relentlessness of Frank Underwood, the question here isn’t whether or not Walker will fall but rather which side will get to claim his corpse. It is fascinating how the theme of money versus power has carried over into this season. Frank offers the President the power of political popularity by suggesting strength when confronting the Chinese while Tusk offers the monetary benefits of caving to the Chinese. Neither has Walker’s best interests at heart, let alone the country’s; Frank wants Walker reliant only on him and Tusk wants the deal with China to go through. Tusk doesn’t yet seem entirely aware that Frank is actively undermining him, partly due to the way Frank uses proxies to insulate himself. However, Tusk is far too intelligent a character to remain ignorant for much longer and when he does connect the dots, Frank had better hope he is far enough ahead that he can avoid the entirety of Tusk’s fury.
To press his advantage fully, Frank needs Jackie Sharp as Whip; we have seen last season how much damage a Whip can do to the Presidential Administration. It’s something Frank is more aware of than anyone and hence his efforts in ensuring his successor’s trustworthiness. For her part, Jackie had remarkably few qualms about slinging dirt at the two front-runners, but her true test this episode comes when she is asked to betray someone who is effectively her family. Her betrayal is justified, to her at least, in the questionable morality of the man she sells out, but that should not distract the audience from the simple truth that it took remarkably little assistance from Frank to convince Jackie to break faith with the man who helped her get to where she is. The truly heart-breaking moment in this sequence of events was how Havemayer instantly knew what she did and could barely muster a protest. What a twisted thing politics must be for friends to so casually commit and accept such betrayal. It is indubitably a low thing Jackie did here, but one can’t help but wonder if this isn’t how Frank Underwood first set out on his grim path of results above principles – it starts with petty personal politics and next thing you know you’re murdering Congressmen.
The episode’s shocking reveal however, was news of Claire being sexually assaulted in her youth. The episode doesn’t harp on it, but the revelation does bring up some sensitive questions about Claire’s past and could potentially help us understand her character better. Claire has always been a little aloof – we know that she can let her hair down from time to time, and between her and her husband, she is still the warmer, but combined with the little we know of her childhood, the sexual assault and her difficulty in reporting it, might explain the emotional distance she keeps. It is all too easy to attribute too much importance to even something as life-changing and traumatic as sexual assault, but at the same time, Claire’s character, unless spectacularly poorly written, is not about the assault, but instead the assault in another event in her life. Sure enough, we can see Claire and Frank already begin to think about the political capital of the incident and using it to get ahead. Despite such detached sentiment, it was good to note that Frank’s fury was very much authentic and a much needed reminder that even a heartless bastard like Frank Underwood has some standards, warped as they might be.