House of Cards "Chapter 15" Review: Welcome to the White House

By Cory Barker

Feb 14, 2014

House of Cards S02E02: "Chapter 15"


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.

S02E01: House of Cards "Chapter 14" Review: Happy Birthday Mr. (Vice) President

S02E02: House of Cards "Chapter 15" Review: Welcome to the White House

S03E03: House of Cards "Chapter 16" Review: We Have a Quorum

S02E04: House of Cards "Chapter 17" Review: Quarantine My Heart

S02E05: House of Cards "Chapter 18" Review: Beating on that Backchannel

S02E06: House of Cards "Chapter 19" Review: Power Play

S02E07: House of Cards "Chapter 20" Review: A Tale of Two Families 

S02E08: House of Cards "Chapter 21" Discussion

S02E09: House of Cards "Chapter 22" Discussion

S02E10: House of Cards "Chapter 23" Discussion

S02E11: House of Cards "Chapter 24" Discussion

S02E12: House of Cards "Chapter 25" Discussion

S02E13: House of Cards Season 2 Finale Review: New Desk, Same Frank


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  • Hungry_Homer111 Feb 24, 2014

    I thought that the first episode was better, but at the same time I'm kind of glad they toned it down from the first episode, and really enjoyed it in its own way.

    I liked seeing Frank going back to his more calculating self, rather than the more hands-on approach he had with dealing with his problems in the previous episode. Both the China situation, and Frank grooming his replacement were very interesting stories IMO, and I'm excited to see how they play out in the rest of the season. I also loved the scenes dealing with Claire's rape, and the different reactions from both her and Frank. It was great seeing a more human side to two cold and calculating characters.

  • ben45tpy Feb 22, 2014

    So episode 2. I'm not surprised that it had less wow factor than the premiere. It felt a little thin at times but the China story kept it going. I was going to say after episode 1 that I liked Cory's comment about the weakness of the President character. Watching this episode I was acutely observing the President thinking did I believe this guy actually could be President and did I think the character was strong enough for the show. Well for the first question I'm thinking barely (he did okay at the press conference) and the second question I think he has a ways to go. If he's intended to be primarily weak then that will hurt the show. FU steamrolling hapless victims will get old fast. The rape story was very weird and seemed a little too arbitrary to be anything other than a forced character outburst catalyst. I'll have to suspend judgement on that as I've read in the comments below that the rape story will recur later on. I liked the episode, it was about average for the show. It suggests that Season 2 won't be paced substantially differently from Season 1, which could be seen as disappointing (I can't decided if I am or not) given the eventual premiere.

    2 down 11 to go. Can't wait.

  • No1Slayerette Feb 18, 2014

    I actually enjoyed this episode more than the premiere. As with you Cory, I find the series primary problem being Frank's constant and continued success at everything he does, but I actually didn't mind it here, but perhaps that's just because it's still early in the season.

    Jaqueline Sharp is a wonderful addition to the series, and I hope to see a whole lot more of her. Her relationship between her and her mentor was crafted so well in such a short time that her storyline was surprisingly emotional for such a newly formed character. I wouldn't necessarily call her a Zoe replacement, but she definitely provides that spark that will be fun to watch Frank with, and like you said Cory, when she inevitably starts to turn on him.

    Speaking of Zoe, I have to say, I didn't miss her all that much. I've pretty much been indifferent towards Lucas at this point, but he seems crazy/ desperate enough for me to really be invested in his goal to uncover the truth about Zoe's death. Although the deep net stuff seems very farfetched (or perhaps I'm just very naïve) I love the fact that the illegal route Lucas is following to find answers is also a primary concern for Underwood and the government. A great linkage between the separated plots.

    I don't ever recall Claire's rape being mentioned before, and while I don't deny the scenes were well acted and powerful, I couldn't help but feel the whole storyline was introduced to make audiences feel sympathetic towards her. She's not a nice character, so I understand that doing this would be difficult for the writers, but for me introducing the idea that a character has previously been raped is a easy and unnecessary guarantee to garner sympathy. Surely there are more creative ways to make her likable over that?

  • borgsblueyes Feb 20, 2014

    I'm with you on Zoe, don't miss her at all. I was finding her increasingly annoying at the end. Claire's rape is interesting because while I would feel for anyone that that happened to, I still think Claire is a total b*tch and for me it didn't create sympathy for her character in the way it would for other characters in that I'm fully aware of what Claire is capable of. I always find it more disconcerting when a woman is cold and calculating than a man. The way she dealt with the pregnant lady's lawsuit, going as far as starting to try to have a baby to look less like a baby hating monster was extreme to say the least. This Claire wasn't shown in the first series, I didn't know whether she was the female Frank or naive to his ways. I do now though. She didn't bat an eyelid at Zoe Barns death knowing that Frank had been sleeping with her, so she probably has a fair idea that Frank did it. The funny thing is I do like Claire, so I don't need the writers to try and make her more likable, in the conventional sense. It's her hardness I like, I find her fascinating.

  • alexbatbee Feb 17, 2014

    Frank Does Not Always Win.

    The series began with him losing the VP job. He loses Zoe(Mattie); killing her is not a victory, it's an enormous risk because he made a mistake. If, as so far, the long story arc follows the UK show and no reason to believe otherwise; what we're watching is the unstoppable rises which sows the seeds for the inevitable crash.. We think he always wins because he tells us he always wins, but objectively his schemes go awry, the small mistakes add up ("delete the texts, delete the contact" / "deep internet"). Think Stringer Bell, he seems so rational, strong and in control, but no-one can control everything. The tragedy lies in the "great" man coming to believe his own myth of invincibility.

  • ben45tpy Feb 22, 2014

    There's no point in talking up future plot points that may or may not level out the FU win/loss meter. To this point he's lost nothing since the beginning of the show (no, killing someone does not count as losing). The show has to be judged on what's happened so far, not the British show and not what you think will likely happen in future episodes.

  • alexbatbee Jun 03, 2014

    I'm not saying that they are following the original show I am merely drawing the parallel. I am judging that killing Zoe is a mistake, a result of missteps, which itself has created problems that need to be solved, or are you suggesting that he intended to kill her in the first place? We know that he "deleted" the texts and that was part of the motive to kill her; and we also know from episodes to date that those texts continue to exist in the "deep internet". So those texts are no longer just evidence of a conspiracy, but there deletion evidence of murder. Oh what a tangled web we weave...

  • ben45tpy Jun 03, 2014

    Mistakes aren't losses until they have consequences.

  • dh4645 Feb 18, 2014

    there was a UK show?

  • alexbatbee Feb 20, 2014

    Assume you're joking... But just in case:
    http://www.amazon.com/House-Cards-Trilogy-Original-Remastered/dp/B009Z59ZNE/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid;=1392909111&sr;=8-4&keywords;=house+of+cards

  • dh4645 Feb 20, 2014

    i was not joking. never heard or saw of it before.

  • alexbatbee Jun 03, 2014

    Fair enough, they mentioned it a lot in the publicity, so I figured wrongly. No offence meant.

  • Tjsmooth0 Feb 17, 2014

    I personally thought Jacqueline seemed much more like this season's Peter Russo than this seasons Zoe. Maybe I'm wrong? I don't know I'm only on 4 (or 17, whatever) so far.

  • dh4645 Feb 18, 2014

    i think she's more Zoe than Peter, but she kinda replaces both

  • No1Slayerette Feb 18, 2014

    Interesting thought, but I definitely hope she doesn't end up like he and Zoe did!

  • Motore Feb 15, 2014

    I just wish, Frank will go on winning forever.

  • agarres Feb 15, 2014

    "sigh" - web traffic is too high to watch - keep getting "loading, please wait" even on the weekend. Guess the snow is keeping all the nerds inside playing WOW. While the death of Zoe wasn't the Red Wedding it was still great theatre

  • marcusj1973 Feb 15, 2014

    "Kate Mara and Zoe were already missed here"

    Agreed. Molly Parker was good but a little puppy dog'ish. Sure, she showed how cuthroat she can be, but with Frank, her fangs were as small as Zoe's when the first met. I hope you're right in that going forward, she becomes more formidable.

    Robin Wright...you're awesome! That is all.

    So, Lucas discovers the "dark web" which has all the tools to potentially recover the only piece of information that might lend weight to his theory right after his last and only potential ally tells him he sounds like a crazy person. That seemed a little too easy. Though I'm going to have a hard time embracing Lucas in memory of Zoe.

    While I'm sure Lucas will eventually take his shot at Frank, my money is on Tusk coming out guns-a-blazin'. This is not a man to be trifled with. And while "Frank always wins" is a pattern that has been established...Tusk has the smarts, money and connections to do some serious damage.

    On to episode 3

  • sroberts461 Feb 15, 2014

    I'm pleased Lucas found a way through all his obstacles to continue investigating Frank. Until that point his scenes reminded me of that phrase about 'all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing.' (or something like that)!

  • MarlboroMagpi Feb 14, 2014

    I wrote in the comments section of the first episode that I expected more of Molly Parker as a replacement for Kate Mara and looks like it is going in that direction. I am a fan of Molly Parker's work so I am pleased.

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