And we're back! Sorry for the brief delay in these reviews. I had to take a trip to Kansas City, then immediately fly to China before returning to D.C. in a hurry.
When we last left House of Cards land, Raymond Tusk—who was fed up with Frank's growing influence on President Walker—had pulled out the big guns and screwed with America's energy resources. Things were so bad that we didn't even get to see Frank throw out what would have absolutely been the best first pitch in the history of baseball. As things tend to go with this show, the energy crisis was brushed aside in "Chapter 20" (I assume that everyone in the South has power again?) while the conflict between Tusk and Frank continued onward, with the president no longer stuck in the middle but now a target for Tusk's subterranean political maneuvering. Thank goodness President Walker has Frank Underwood on his side, right?
If there's one thing that the never-ending tussle between Tusk and Frank has proven, it's that House of Cards isn't really interested in ideology, or at least in traditional political ideology. Frank is nominally a democrat, but he doesn't actually care about the liberal agenda in the way we might imagine it. Tusk is nothing but a shrewd businessman with a whole lot of money that he hopes he can convert into influence. And "Chapter 20" only further emphasized the men's "values," as Frank discovered that most of the $25 million funneled into a republican Super PAC had come from Tusk, through a long-time democratic supporter in Kansas City, casino owner Lanigan. Although Frank immediately wanted to smack himself for not questioning the source of the Lanigan money when it going toward the democratic party, it wasn't as if he was angry because of any sense of political justice or party loyalty. Frank has never been interested in what politics can do for the people, but Season 1 often put him up against fold who did care about that stuff. Now we're just dealing with a bunch of political mercenaries who are worried about power. That's not a bad thing, especially when Gerald McRaney and Kevin Spacey face off, but it reveals the topics that House of Cards is actually interested in, narratively and thematically.
However, even my minor complaints about the emptiness of some of the Tusk-Frank tension were assuaged in this episode, because it was a big hour for my dude Doug Stamper. Still clearly in a haze over what happened with Rachel in Maryland, Doug was dispatched to Kansas City to investigate Lanigan's casino, leading to a one-night stand with a fellow recovering alcoholic. Then Frank zoomed him off to China to pull some information out of the returning Feng, which also happened to involve an aborted three-way that Doug simply wasn't into. Because, as Rachel claimed in "Chapter 19," Doug is totally into her. The character isn't that expressive, but Michael Kelly is very good at bringing some of Doug's frustrations and struggles to the surface. Doug reached a point here where he couldn't hide his interest in Rachel, but I also wonder how long it's going to take for Frank to blame a big failure on Doug as well. Though the breaking point hasn't been reached yet, I sense it coming around the corner.
As Frank tried to sniff out Tusk's involvement in the Super PAC in secret and Doug offered promises to Feng in China to achieve the same result, the Underwoods did a big number on the Walkers. Claire's long con on the first lady continued to pay dividends as Mrs. Walker grew even more frustrated with her husband's relationship with Christina. Meanwhile, Frank buddied up to Walker in a way we haven't really seen before, presenting him with joke gifts and trying to convince him to take it easy. Of course, this all came to a head at an Underwood-Walker dinner catered by Freddy, with both Walkers divulging personal details as Claire and Frank nodded along understandingly. I've said it before and I'll say it again now and then I'll probably continue to say it: It's just flat-out silly that Frank and Claire are so much smarter than everyone else and that we already know that every one of their plans, at worst, is mostly still going to work. But Spacey and Robin Wright are simply too good to not enjoy the moments where Frank and Claire exchange glances behind glasses of wine. I no longer really care that they're always winning, and I still think it's stupid. But it's supremely enjoyable. So you win, show.
On the fringes of this episode, a couple of slow-developing stories found traction. Connor has appeared to be nothing but a good dude up until this point, so it was only a matter of time before Grayson, the Underwoods, and House of Cards' entire outlook chewed him up and spit him out. Still, I wish the show had provided more substantial material for Connor from the beginning, and especially once Grayson was introduced as his more cunning foil. When Grayson arrived, he told Claire (and us) that after a while, he'd push Connor until the guy left for greener pastures. The problem is that all of that happened in one episode. I know that House of Cards loves stories where everything falls into place for its schemers, but couldn't Connor and Grayson have spent at least a couple episodes butting heads? Maybe Connor comes back into play later, but if not, what was the point of the character? I'll give it to the writers that Grayson is a better "asset" to have in the show's world, particularly now that we know Remy hired him to dig up dirt on Frank but he prefers to work for Frank instead (or so he says). But at this point, House of Cards really needs a prominent character who isn't just a ruthless political operative.
Finally, just in case you need a House of Cards ship to get behind, this episode suggested that Jackie and Remy might be a long-term pairing. Remy claimed he wanted more than sex and Jackie spent the rest of the episode considering that possibility. However, it's hard to buy Remy's proposition; there was something very pat about it. And if Jackie's weird actions with regard to Claire's sexual assault bill are any indication, she has some proverbial skeletons in the closet she doesn't want to bring up. This is pure speculation, but Jackie was in the armed forces; perhaps that experience is informing her response to Claire's allegations and the bill? Or maybe she was assaulted as well? It's worth keeping an eye on in the coming episodes.
We've reached the halfway point in Season 2. With the Walkers suddenly eating out of the Underwoods' palms, no doubt remains that the show is building to a large-scale Frank-Tusk war. I don't know how exciting that is, but it will likely be ruthless, cold, and calculating, in typical House of Cards fashion. So at least the show continues to be true to itself.
– Freddy is famous! And now some sleazeball wants to give him a chain of rib joints and a sauce. Capitalism, am I right?
– The Telegraph reporter Ayla Sayyad kept after Tusk, Feng, and the money trail. No idea what the value of that story is yet, but it could be a place for Connor to get involved in future episodes, considering he leaked the info to Alya to begin with. Or, House of Cards just really, really loves that newsroom set.
– Frank, after rage-kicking his meticulously-produced model of a Civil War battle: "It's not broken. I can fix it." I wonder if that statement has multiple meanings?
– Frank had zero time and interest in Linda Vasquez's proposal to combat the Super PAC. She's a very effective chief of staff, huh?
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