House of Cards "Chapter 15" Review: Welcome to the White House
In my review of the Season 2 premiere, I wrote a bit about how Frank always wins, either by political manipulation or murder. "Chapter 14" showed us the latter, in all its bloody, shocking glory. But already, Frank has returned to practicing the former, and that's what drove much of the action in "Chapter 15." That's not necessarily a bad thing; Frank can't kill off compelling supporting characters in every episode (or at least I don't think he can). Nevertheless, without the murdering, this episode returned the show to its more familiar rhythms and introduced us to some of the players who are likely to play a prominent role in Frank's latest—and surely eventually successful—power-grabbing plot.
The big introduction here was Molly Parker's Jacqueline Sharp, a former war vet and current up-and-coming congresswoman. Frank brought Jacqueline into his circle, convincing her that she could—and should—try to take his place as the Majority Whip. Shockingly, Frank thought this would be a good idea because two other, more senior congressmen would be gunning for the spot, and would eventually either split the votes or destroy each other's chances through subterfuge. And you know what? That almost immediately happened. But this being a Frank Underwood plan, Jacqueline was also forced to bury her mentor and bankroller (played by David Clennon) in exchange for momentum in the race to win the position. So, in a very short time, Frank hand-picked his replacement and railroaded three senior members of congress, and still managed to seem like a non-partisan bystander throughout the whole process. If you thought that moving into the VP role would cool Frank's momentum, you'd be wrong. Remember, he always wins.
Because this story was more focused on reminding us that Frank Underwood can still pull strings (as so many of them are), Parker didn't get too much to do as Jacqueline, but she's a great presence to have on the show, and the character's history means that she likely won't be as easy to manipulate as the younger Zoe was throughout much of Season 1. It's not a one-to-one comparison just because Jacqueline's a woman, but I appreciate that, in some way, House of Cards replaced that female threat to Frank's power, even if Jacqueline isn't technically a menace yet. However, she was very aware of what Frank was doing with his plot to get her to Whipdom, and also very, very willing to sell her mentor down the river to earn the spot. That tells us that Jacqueline's got the same kind of cold-blood pragmatism as Frank does, which is bound to create fireworks in the coming episodes.
Frank also wasted no time disrupting the balance of power within the White House itself by immediately inserting himself into a dust-up with China over cyber security. Although I will continue to bemoan House of Cards' reliance on letting Frank outsmart everyone always and forever, I have to admit that it was kind of fun to watch him speak out of both sides of his mouth, depending on who was in the room among President Walker, Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), and Secretary of State Durant (Jayne Atkinson). He told everyone what they wanted to hear at every turn, ultimately convincing the president that it was best to stand his ground against the Chinese in the timely debate over cyber security (though I guess in this show's universe, it's not our government doing all the spying, so... cool?). At this point it's unclear why Frank is doing this. Is he trying to drive a wedge between the President and Tusk? Is he hoping to make Durant look like a fool since he didn't get the Secretary of State job originally? Does he want to start World War III with China? Maybe all of the above.
Elsewhere, Lucas, as expected, took up the crusading investigation against Frank, only to come off like a complete crazy person to anyone who would listen to him. Apparently there were only two witnesses at the scene when Frank killed Zoe and the assumption is that she tripped, so Lucas doesn't have much to go on, even if he can loosely prove Frank's involvement in burying Russo's DUI. Good news, though! Some rando writer turned Lucas onto the DEEP WEB, so things could get really dark very quickly. Kate Mara and Zoe were already missed here, but keeping Lucas around does mean that Frank won't be off the hook completely—at least not yet. There's a chance, if House of Cards is willing to go there, that Lucas works off the grid a bit this season and eventually blindsides Frank. That'd be cool enough. And Sebastian Arcelus did a solid job of balancing the character's whirlwind of emotions, which ranged from the draining despair of losing a friend to the adrenaline-fueled moments where he could pull himself together to explain the conspiracy.
The episode's most powerful stuff came out of far left field, but continued to fulfill my hope that this season will include more of Robin Wright's Claire. It turns out that she was raped in college by a man who's now a big shot in the armed forces, and when Frank unknowingly dragged her to a celebration of the man, things got emotional. Well, as emotional as they do between the Underwoods. Frank considered murder (surprise!), while Claire shut down and suggested that they use the rage for inspiration later. It's sometimes difficult to watch two characters who are so calculating and emotionless interact with one another, particularly when the show dives into more complicated territory, but that's who Frank and Claire are, and this was good stuff. Low-key but solid work from Wright in the scene in the bathroom at the event, and later in the Underwood bedroom.
"Chapter 15" definitely had less going on than the premiere did, but it does seem like House of Cards has figured out how to move stories along a bit faster than it did in Season 1. Frank's moves to pull Jacqueline into his web and manipulate the president happened in an efficient manner, and if the show keeps giving us good Frank-Claire stories, those more familiar political machinations will go down even more smoothly.
HOUSE OF NOTES
– Despite his new role, Frank refused to move out of his house. So, they just refitted it with all the best Secret Service protection detail and technology. I loved the moment where Frank realized that he couldn't play his video game online because the contractors and Secret Service messed with the internet. It will be interesting to see how he and Claire operate now that their home has been so clearly invaded, whether they refer to it as a Fortress or not.
– The low-key swearing-in process was a nice touch. Turning to the camera during it? Meh.
– Rachel Maddow with those sick burns on Frank for being a boring choice for VP. He's no Joe Biden!
– Has the show referenced Claire's rape previously? I honestly cannot remember.
– I really enjoy Frank's whiteboard that maps out the congress floor. Does every congressperson have those in the real world?
How'd you feel about this one? Do you miss Kate Mara's Zoe already?
HOUSE OF CARDS SEASON 2 REVIEWS ON TV.COM
Note: Due to waning reader interest in our episodic coverage, after Episode 7, we skipped ahead in our reviews to the finale. However, the discussion pages for Episodes 8 through 12 will remain active for anyone looking to chat about those installments individually.
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