[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 26 (S2E13)

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The ascension is complete. In the space of a few years, Frank Underwood has risen from a lowly minor league politician to become one of the most powerful men in the world. Watching his rise from Congress to the White House to the leader of the free world it’s interesting to note that not once was a vote cast in his name, a testament to the sheer efficacy of his wheeling and dealing. His movements in this episode exemplify everything about him that makes him such a terrifying opponent; beyond his ruthlessness and cold practicality, Frank has an amazing instinct for understanding what toes he can trample on and what toes are sacrosanct. There is much to say about Francis Underwood but the short version is that he has a keen understanding of his and his opponents’ strengths and weakness and knows just how to leverage that knowledge to his advantage. Given how this season ends, we ought to also spend some time looking at just how the various characters played out from the political fall of the mighty Raymond Tusk to the moral and physical fall of Douglas Stamper. This season ended up being one that was more defined by its endgame than it was by the sluggishness of its middle – in light of all the shocking twists and turns of this episode, the relative drudgery of the trade war and politicking of the middle section seems much more forgivable.

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[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 25 (S2E12)

Season 2 posterPolitical exile can be a funny thing. When Garrett Walker effectively banished Frank from his inner circle, he must have thought that he was done with the Vice-President who had so insidiously undermined for so very long, that Frank would be barred from any further political influence. In a display of short-sightedness that has become his personal brand, Walker failed to realize that Frank’s exile doesn’t mean that Walker himself has gained any political capital but instead that Walker has effectively removed his last chances of holding on to any political weaponry. With all of Walker’s friends removed from office or disillusioned with him thanks to Frank’s efforts, the President finds himself being battered from all sides but the confrontation with Frank didn’t slow the scheming second in command down at all – instead, it liberated him. Every aspect of Walker’s life is being hammered. His marriage is being torn apart in the media, his foreign policy is being rewritten by his State Department and as of this episode, it looks like impeachment is being considered by both parties. Frank has played this all almost perfectly but it has not come easily – Claire has had to finally take the last step and throw Megan Hennessey under the bus and let her own Bill wither and die. Meanwhile, Rachel continues to suffer indirectly as Doug continues his descent into an abusive psychopath. He is yet unaware of the firestorm brewing in the hacker Gavin who is finally off his leash.

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[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 24 (S2E11)

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The double edged sword that Frank unsheathed in the previous episode is beginning to cut into him. Special Prosecutor Dunbar has found out certain irregularities that Frank would prefer that she didn’t and it falls to Team Underwood to cover everything up. Luckily for Frank, obfuscation, misdirection and bare-faced bluffs are second nature to him but it is becoming increasingly clear that Frank is playing with fire and some of his clothes are beginning to get singed. The episode redirects its focus to the other stories in this tale; Claire’s Bill breathes its last but more than Claire herself, it is poor Megan who suffers, just another discarded pawn in Claire’s political manoeuvres. Meanwhile, Doug has been compromised both personally and professionally – his obsession with Rachel Posner is making it almost impossible for him to do his job properly, something that Frank has noticed and expressed concern about, while professionally, Doug has become the weakest link in Frank’s team and the focal point of the corruption investigation. Likewise, Remy Danton too must find some balance between his personal and professional sides as his unwillingness to sell Jacky Sharp out lowers his standing with Raymond Tusk. Finally, Frank’s relationship with the President is becoming strained as well as every one of Frank’s suggestions have been engineered to compromise Garrett Walker, rather than reinforce him and it seems like Walker is only just becoming aware of it.

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[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 23 (S2E10)

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One of the things that Frank Underwood does better than anyone else in this show is taking calculated risks. They don’t always work out but even when they don’t, they rarely end catastrophically. This week Frank takes some big gambits – he opens himself up to investigation while simultaneously promising the President that he will go down with the ship. There is a lot at stake but at the same time, the stakes are exactly what Frank has always played with: everything. The upside to the gambit could be huge; it could eliminate Raymond Tusk as a threat once and for all and at the same time keep Walker on the defensive for the rest of his term in office, if not beyond. Meanwhile, the conflict and trade war with China is escalating and there is talk now of a military dimension to the whole thing surfacing. There is conflict within in the Congress as well as Jackie decides that her true loyalties lie with Remy Danton instead of Frank Underwood. That too will have consequences but only if Frank is in a position to make good on his threats. He will be in no such position if Gavin finds out just how deep the rabbit-hole he has just discovered goes.

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[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 22 (S2E9)

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The war of attrition between Frank Underwood and Raymond Tusk moves away from the political arena and firmly into the personal one. There are two targets on the Tusk hit list – Claire’s affair with Adam Galaway and Frank’s association with Freddy, an ex-con with a volatile, temperamental son. There is something dirty about this episode, something far more twisted about the way things pan out as a result of these attacks compared to anything else we’ve seen so far this season. Previously, when the battle between these two men was limited to the political space, we could tell ourselves that it was just business as usual, that that’s the way that Washington works but even so, there was certainly a sense of loss when Linda Vasquez was essentially bullied into resigning as a consequence of this feud between Underwood and Tusk. This week though, there are more casualties but beyond that, we finally get a much clearer idea of just how warped this entire world that Frank operates in, actually is. The audience’s view of Adam Galaway might be somewhat mixed – on one hand, he seems like a genuinely nice guy but he was a willing party to adultery, and could have guessed that his actions could have political implications. Clearly, different people give that different amounts of moral mileage but Freddy, despite his history as a gangbanger, is seen almost universally as an innocent, especially in the context of the political battle going on and his ‘demise’ is much more poignant as a result.

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[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 21 (S2E8)

Season 2 posterAll is fair in love and war, they say, and Remy Danton is determined to put the saying to the test. Claire’s dirty little secret is out in the open but honestly, the timing could have been worse. Stamper and Frank’s manoeuvring and hustling has gotten the Administration out of the iron fist of Raymond Tusk but Tusk’s assault continues on its multiple fronts. On the professional front, Tusk almost succeeded in pressuring the President to cave by diverting money to his opponents while on the personal front, Tusk has proceeded to drag Frank and Claire’s dirty linen out into the public. Of course, Frank too is launching offensives of his own – slowly but surely, bit by bit, he is beginning to tighten his grasp on the most powerful man on the planet, all while the man in question thanks him for it. The plot in House of Cards has been somewhat more complicated this season, diving as it has more and more into the specifics and intricacies of politics rather than the manipulative elements of it. It’s not a change for the worse, not really, but it does require more careful attention from the audience. At some point though, it’s going to truly beggar belief that President Walker can be quite so easily fooled and controlled. Perhaps that’s the point, or perhaps not; it remains to be seen. Continue reading

[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 20 (S2E7)

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Things get complicated in Washington D.C. when Raymond Tusk goes on the offensive. Tusk’s attack is two pronged – he doesn’t just want Frank dead politically, he wants him buried personally as well. Politically, Raymond’s billions have the power to create enormous repercussion in Congress and this episode demonstrates exactly how. The withdrawn funding from big-ticket donors that Tusk had in his pockets is making President Walker incredibly antsy, especially when the withdrawn funding is going to the Republicans instead. Of course, what makes Walker antsy is going to, eventually, make everyone else antsy too and the blame, yet again, falls on Frank’s shoulders. Were Frank even marginally more likeable, we would feel some measure of sympathy towards him for always being the President’s punching bag (heh) but Frank has pretty much brought this on himself and now it remains to be seen whether he can find a solution. More and more, we see the various plots and schemes unravel as Remy Danton makes his influence felt and Doug manages to mitigate the damage that Tusk has caused. Throughout all of this, Claire continues her nefarious campaign of undermining the President’s marriage.

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