Despite his forceful heroics last week, Frank once again finds himself in a corner. With the government threatening to shut down, Frank must woo a former comrade in Donald Blythe. Blythe has toughened up in the months since Underwood mercilessly used and discarded him and he is no longer an easy nut to crack. The deadlock between Frank and Donald gives Jackie Sharp to show the audience whether she has what it takes to keep the Democrats in line. Her methods differ from Frank’s but given what we know of Frank’s methods, that’s probably for the best. An anthrax scare gives the show an excuse to have what looks suspiciously like a bottle episode, trapping Underwood and Blythe together. Blythe gets fleshed out considerably but the star of the episode is undoubtedly Robin Wright and her portrayal of Claire Underwood. Her entire interview segment was absolutely riveting and easily shifted the audience’s attention from the thoroughly bland political fare being offered in other sections of the episode. While events in Washington D.C. continue at a leisurely pace, Lucas finally realizes that he has entangled himself with someone more desperate than himself.
Goodwin’s ongoing crusade to find justice for Zoe has been Season 2’s least compelling storyline and this episode is a perfect example of why. Here we have Lucas Goodwin, a man we know to be right, chasing after not just Frank Underwood, but effectively the United States government, with barely a clue as to what he’s doing. The reveal that David the hacker is an FBI agent comes as absolutely no surprise but it drains Goodwin’s own story of any immediate urgency and tension while also filling it with a sense of hopelessness; there doesn’t seem to a single plausible way for him to extract himself from his current situation. Frank’s wariness of Lucas is overstated as well – compared to Zoe, Goodwin knows next to nothing and in any case, Goodwin’s skulking is far from intimidating. If the FBI catches Goodwin, this plotline will end even before it begins.
Like the Goodwin story, Jackie’s political journey hasn’t been quite as fascinating as might have been hoped. This episode took long strides towards fixing that; we finally see some of the edge that her family must have been named for. She is beginning to separate herself, if only in methodology, from Frank and in doing so, is becoming a much more interesting character. Jackie and Remy make an interesting team; between Jackie’s tongue lashings and passion and Remy’s effusive charm and confidence, it was almost a foregone conclusion that they would secure the votes. It will be interesting to see how Jackie operates in situations that require more political nuance and a delicate touch but for now, her forthrightness is very entertaining to watch. On a related note, Remy makes a reappearance and his loyalties are still very much to Team Tusk. The antagonism between him and Frank was touched upon last season and continues to persist through this one. Fortunately for everyone involved, whatever their personal dispute, both men are able and willing to set those matters aside and work together. Still, Remy isn’t doing Frank a favour – he was instructed to help by Tusk and it isn’t hard to see that at some point in the future, Tusk will set Remy on Frank.
For now, however, Frank has more than enough on his plate. Donald Blythe returns after a season-long absence and this time, he brought his political savvy and wiles with him. It is virtually impossible to hate Donald Blythe – the man seems to be the only person on the entire show who has the public’s best interest at heart and beyond that, his dedication to his passion is admirable. In many ways he is the antithesis of Frank Underwood, a man who sees public office as a path to power instead of a chance to serve. The revelation of Blythe’s wife’s Alzheimer’s gave Blythe’s character much more depth; he was no longer just the naive fool that Frank so easily duped but instead has his own troubles and motivations. Blythe’s return isn’t so much an indication of his importance in events to come so much as it is a chance to see how Frank is able to repeatedly screw over so many in DC and get away with it. He offers some apologies and takes the moral high ground and the next thing you know, you’re having seltzer water with him in his office. Despite what Frank might say, it was clear that he was looking for a way past Donald’s defences throughout their confinement but at some point, it did seem like Frank wanted to make amends for his previous actions. Was it conscience? Was it just another power play?
Regardless, it was Claire’s major revelation that reconciled the two men, somewhat at least. The interview went from being yet another forgettable part of Claire’s agenda to one of the most gripping scenes involving her character. Robin Wright played the scene almost to perfection, full of the poise and dignity that one might expect of a Vice-President’s wife. Her decision not to dodge the questions or run from her past (although she did omit several potentially scandalous details) was very admirable. What was especially touching was watching Frank support his wife’s decisions despite the potentially cataclysmic effect it could have on his career. Did something in Blythe’s tenderness to his wife change him? It’s unlikely and lasting change is unlikelier still; men like Frank Underwood don’t remain the way they are if they bend to the first instance of humanity they encounter. Nevertheless, it seems like the Underwoods will somehow twist this episode to their advantage – they are nothing if not resourceful and adaptable. Claire’s confrontation with her past is an engaging plot line but the show needs to be careful that it doesn’t totally change her character or who she is fundamentally.