We're now six episodes deep into House of Cards' second season, and things are already getting pretty repetitive. "Chapter 19" was dominated by the continuing conflict between Frank and Raymond Tusk, with the president stuck in the middle yet again. This time, however, the battle for who gets to pull the president's puppet strings was all about energy. Not China. Well, sort of China. See, the failed talks with Feng have led to a shortage of the all-important element samarium. You guys, I did so much research on samarium. Did you know that in its oxidized form, it's added to glasses and ceramics? It also kills cancer cells! We neeeeeed that samarium, and the schlong-measuring contest between Frank and Tusk led to the U.S. coming up short on the stuff.
While the Frank-Tusk scheming is at least somewhat played-out by now, particularly in how the series framed it in this episode and many of the previous ones—one guy says one thing to the president and then does another! The other one does that too! They both lie!—"Chapter 19" did two smart things to make the tension feel fresh-ish. First, it carried one issue (the squabbles with Feng and China) into another (the energy crisis) in a believable way that took advantage of the show's serialized storytelling. Sometimes it feels like House of Cards just moves from one political issue to another, letting Frank pick up big weekly victories almost as if the character is part of a procedural where there's a problem and a solution. With "Chapter 19," the show made some progress in continuing the season's dominant story. The story itself might not be great, but this approach was sound.
Second, and more important, Frank didn't win! OMG. That makes "Chapter 19" a revelatory episode of House of Cards! Sound the alarm! But seriously, it was nice to see that, when it came down to it, Tusk took—or at least appeared to take—a ballsy stand against Frank, the president, and the American people by shutting down some of his energy plants, causing pockets of mass blackouts in the beltway, and threatening more of them in the south. Tusk didn't out-and-out admit that the failures were purposeful, but I'm betting they were, and President Walker sure seemed to suspect as much. Perhaps that's all that matters.
By the end of this episode, the uneasy alliance—if we can even call it that—between Frank and Tusk had come to an end. Their mutually beneficial relationship has nowhere else to go, especially with the nation trapped in the middle of crisis that has gone and pissed off the president. Whatever decision the president makes next is likely to define the relationship between these three men and the rest of the season; will he go running back to Tusk (and ultimately, China) in hopes of saving America's energy resources? Or, will Frank convince him to stand strong and give Tusk the full boot? Based on the nature of the show up until this point you'd probably guess the latter, but if there's one thing House of Cards has proven, it's that President Walker loves him some Raymond Tusk. So we'll see.
At the edges of the story defined by energy crisis and the trio of middle-aged white dudes were a couple of burgeoning sexual relationships, both of which gave "Chapter 19" a tiny jolt. I'm bummed that the show introduced Molly Parker's Jacqueline Sharp but hasn't really given her that much to do yet, which makes the possibility of a romantic relationship—or at least an ongoing sexual relationship—a little disappointing. However, Parker and Mahershala Ali display the kind of fun chemistry that allows us to escape from the monochromatic iciness of the Underwoods, so for now, let's call that a welcome development. If anything, it could mean that Jacqueline will find her strong ideals tempted by Remy and his lobbyist charm. And as was made clear a few episodes ago, my dude Doug is going through some stuff, part of that stuff being he has a thing for Rachel. She finally picked up on it in this one, and I'm sure it'll only be a matter of time before she tries to use Doug's crush as a way to get out of her crappy situation. Chances are high that Mr. Stamper ends up in a bit of trouble, some way or another.
And let's pour one out for Lucas, whose truth crusade came to a screeching halt, as both Tom and Janine sort of tried to help him in their own ways (Tom by writing a draft of Lucas's "truth," and Janine by agreeing not to rat him out to the feds), but ultimately, it didn't really matter. Though Lucas got screwed, he acted pretty recklessly, and now it's time to cop a plea. I said in my previous review that it appeared as if this story was wrapping up, and it feels even more like that now. Surely neither Tom nor the terrified Janine are going to have a change of heart and run with the story later in the season, right? That's just too repetitive and those characters just aren't super compelling, at least for me. The lesson for Lucas, as for all of us, is don't mess with Stamper. Unless you're a stripper with a heart of gold.
– Frank was tapped to throw out the first pitch at an Orioles game and spent a good amount of time practicing. I loved the story about how he screwed one up all those years ago in South Carolina, and I loved Kevin Spacey's terrible throwing motion even more. Couldn't we see him attempt one from the mound, please?
– I see you Claire, trying to plant that seed about Christina in the first lady's mind. You cold, Mrs. Underwood, you cold.
– Freddy's refusal to give Tusk some ice tea on a sweltering day was one of my favorite moments in the season to date. More Reg E. Cathey.
– Nobody had a three-way with a bag over their head in this episode. That's odd.
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 3/4/2016
Season 4 : Episode 13