The question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object is an old one yet extremely pertinent to the first season finale of House of Cards. The challenge, however, is identifying who, between Raymond Tusk and Frank Underwood, is what. Despite this episode’s ending, it isn’t yet clear who has emerged from this altercation victorious. At first glance, it might appear that Frank’s nomination for the position of Vice-President, God save us all, would indicate that Frank has beaten Tusk. However, such a conclusion would ignore the fact that Tusk still very much has the President’s ear and that Frank had to fight very hard to get Tusk to budge, and Raymond Tusk does not seem like the kind of man to give in to the same person twice. Still, for all that, Frank got what he wanted from the man for the moment – a promotion he earned but doesn’t deserve and an assurance from Tusk that they will be partners rather than master and subordinate when it comes to manipulating the oddly weak-willed President Walker. Yet, just as Frank handles one crisis, it would seem another is emerging; Zoe Barnes is out for blood and Frank may yet rue empowering her as much as he did.
It is make-or-break for Frank Underwood as almost an entire season’s worth of scheming and soul-mongering comes to a head. Just when he thinks his path to the Vice-Presidency is clear, Garret Walker presents him with one final obstacle – billionaire Raymond Tusk. We haven’t met Tusk before or if we have, it wasn’t for long enough for us to find out anything about him. This week episode immediately rectifies that; we meet Tusk in his charming home in St. Louis and learn just why the weak-willed President wants Tusk as his right-hand man. Meanwhile, Doug, the ever effective superhuman fixer, has several fires to put out – Janine has been asking all sorts of difficult questions while Zoe Barnes is making strong progress at reclaiming her soul from the clutches of Frank Underwood. As far as episode structure goes, this was the perfect build-up to what promises to be an explosive and eventful season finale though I wonder if the show might not have been better served by bringing Tusk into the foreground slightly earlier; as things stand his sudden, critical importance in the season’s resolution feels undeserved and rushed. Still, Tusk and Underwood make something of a harrowing duo and an absolutely fascinating example of contrasting yet complementing ideologies.
Without me even really realizing it, we are approaching the end of Season 1! It certainly hasn’t felt like 11 episodes have already passed us, but they have and the season is certainly building up towards its climax. This week’s episode upped the ante in a way that I could not have possibly foreseen at the show’s beginning. The events of this week’s episode are difficult to digest right away but it’s clear that they will fully redefine the show’s complexion going forward. A line was crossed this week, the line that separates the Machiavellian from the truly evil. House of Cards has always involved the highest of stakes and whether or not that represents the reality of Washington D.C. is immaterial – each week were led to believe that the characters’ various trials and tribulations were matters of life and death but it was only this week that we learned how true that is. Before we dive in to the episode properly, a small administrative note: I’m aware that season 3 of House of Cards has been released but I’m still committed to my initial, one-episode-a-week schedule, which means that I won’t hit season 3 for a good long while yet. With that in mind, I ask anyone thinking of commenting on this to spare me any spoilers.
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.
After the slow pace of last week’s episode, we return to the main stage this week with implosions everywhere. On the home front, the tension between Frank and Claire manifests itself at the worst possible time and leaves Frank in a lurch that he would never have seen himself in before. Peter Russo’s stock has been rising pretty consistently these last few episodes with some strong wins in both the personal and professional department ever since his rock bottom near collapse at the season’s beginning. We see a rare sighting of the human side of Douglas Stamper in this episode as well though my character instincts tell me that this is not as good a thing as it might be in other scenarios. I’ve talked before of how fragilely Frank’s plans are held together and how they rely on everyone doing what their parts but in this episode we two critical threads snap and the results aren’t pretty. This episode was actually very well balanced between plot and character development and likewise, I’ll be talking equally about both aspects of the show today.
In most senses, this was a breather chapter. We take a step back from the plot developments of the last couple of episodes and instead, the primary plot concerning Frank and his master plan hibernates for a bit while we instead get small little peaks of who Francis Underwood was before he became Frank. There are a couple of minor plot developments, which could plausibly spiral out of control into major plot developments but for now everything is going according to plan. Given the relative stasis on the plot front, I’ll be using this time to take a look at what this episode tells us about the character of Frank Underwood while in the Russo part of the plot, we’ll look at how far our little Petey has come from his days slugging it out on the streets of the City of Brotherly Love.
House of Cards is like watching a full blown power trip in real time. In the short span of a few episodes, we’ve seen Frank rise from Linda’s butt-boy, the man that the President used and then shrugged out like an itchy coat, to become the President’s right hand man, if not in title then at least in effect. Yet, any hope that the power would not go to Frank’s head has been totally dash by the episode’s end. I’ve talked before about the fractures that could bring this whole scheme, and all the little schemes within it, crashing down but this episode has left me with the opinion that it isn’t just one fracture that will topple it but the combined force of all of them. The question is: will Frank be able to keep his pawns under his control, or will they begin to reaasert their independence and tear him down in the process?