It looks like my dream of seeing a whole lot of Claire Underwood in House of Cards's second season is coming true, huh? This is a show that has a lot of dumb stuff going on, but there's a huge benefit to hiring powerhouse actors, in that if it allows you, a few times a season, to just let them deliver extended moments of tremendous acting (duh-doy). Although I don't yet know if Robin Wright deserves to win an Emmy for this "Chapter 17," I would say that she absolutely deserves the nomination she's going to get. And heck, this was only Episode 4. If she pulls out something better than this, I won't feel too bad if she grabs that trophy come August.
What an interesting choice the show made with Claire's CNN interview. Claire is a character who we still know very little about, one who constantly keeps her emotions and her intentions close to the chest while her husband is out there slingin' it on Capitol Hill, and one who makes choices with rational and pragmatic thinking in mind. For both viewers of House of Cards and the American people within the show's world, I'm sure Claire seems "cold" and "calculating." And while those descriptors are absolutely true, Wright works pretty hard to fill in the blanks a little bit, even when there isn't much information on the page. And in a lot of ways, keeping Claire's history in the dark and then revealing it in this sort of fashion made everything we learned that much more powerful. Sure, it was a whole lot of exposition about Claire's family history and the early days of her relationship with Frank, information that we probably could have obtained earlier, with a less "HERE'S EVERYTHING" approach. But would the interview sequence have had the same kind of impact now? Probably not.
On a narrative level, the glut of information that came out during Claire's interview with CNN's Ashleigh Banfield was quite the bombshell. Not only was she forced to admit her pregnancy, but she so cunningly turned that admission into a story about her experience of being raped and how that altered her perspective on children. Of course, that second part wasn't really true—she didn't get pregnant when she was raped—but it was a damn fine story, and one that turned the attention away from the Underwoods' disinterest in children and toward the scumbag who assaulted Claire in college. So, Claire took what could have been one of the worst moments of her life, and a big problem for her husband's political career, and transformed it into a crusade against a high-ranking military official. That's how you change the message, y'all.
Everything regarding the interview came together wonderfully. The episode built up to it very well, having Frank trapped in his old office due to a white powder scare and subsequent quarantine, all while Frank kept underscoring how he didn't want to do the interview. While there wasn't a sense that Claire couldn't handle the interview on her own, I got the feeling that something big was going to happen, otherwise it would've been a bit silly to focus on it so heavily. And with Frank forced to watch the interview unspool on TV, just like everyone else, the episode allowed both Underwoods to show a vulnerability that we rarely ever see. Wright was fantastic as Claire worked through the emotions of the interview and her plan to change the subject, and Kevin Spacey was similarly strong in the moments where Frank had no choice but to stare up at the flatscreen as his wife got grilled on national television. I don't think "Chapter 17" was meant to show us that Claire and Frank are less calculating than they are, but it did work hard to illustrate that they aren't just calculating politicians. Their personalities and their relationship is different than those we're used to seeing on TV (or Netflix), but as this episode showed, there's a fascinating bond and a history there, and I hope House of Cards keeps exploring it in Season 2.
And while Claire was putting rapists on blast on cable news, Frank, Jacqueline, and the returning Remy hustled to ensure the entitlement bill would succeed in the House. The quarantine kept Frank stuck in a room with his old rival from the education bill, Donald Blythe. Unsurprisingly, Blythe wasn't interested in Frank's conning, but the quarantine forced an opening between the two of them when Blythe began to talk about his Alzheimer's-suffering wife. Those scenes were also very strong, mostly because the writing and Spacey found some middle ground between Frank's attempts to use Blythe's ailing spouse as a bargaining chip and the tangible sympathy and respect he felt for Blythe's situation. It's always nice to be reminded that Frank isn't a complete sociopath. Remy and Jacqueline working together was pretty wonderful; Mahershala Ali and Molly Parker have a fun chemistry. House of Cards needs to give us more of Remy in action, as Jacqueline is quickly making her mark as the whip. Her idealism makes her the Not Frank Underwood the show needs in the political sphere, especially if she and Frank are eventually going to be opponents (which I'm sure they will).
Over on the DEEP INTERNET, Lucas got slapped around by the hacker, who we now know as Gavin Orsay. And wouldn't you know it, Gavin is actually working as a FBI asset. This is why you never, ever touch the Deep Internet, dude.
This was the strongest episode of season to this point, by far. In fact, this might be my favorite episode of the series overall. If House of Cards can continue to deliver some more emotional beats like the ones we saw in "Chapter 17" and not simply focus on the political maneuvering, the show will be in good shape for the remainder of Season 2.
How'd you feel about this one? And how awesome was Robin Wright?
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.
AIRED ON 2/14/2014
Season 2 : Episode 13