Our coverage of House Of Cards‘ second season continues with episode five. In this episode: Francis (Kevin Spacey) blows up the trade talks with China and Claire’s (Robin Wright) dirty details get dug up.
Let’s bitch it out…
Setting aside the Civil War reenactment that serves as a backdrop for the episode for a moment, ‘Chapter 18′ is basically all about Francis’ desire to torpedo the President’s (Michael Gill) relationship with Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney). Francis’ plan, however, seems a little half-baked; I’m not sure why he thought the breakdown of the talks with China wouldn’t reflect poorly on him. He doesn’t seem incredibly fazed by the President’s anger at the end of the episode, commenting about how the metaphorical first shot in his war with Tusk has only “grazed” him, but it seems clear that Francis comes out looking as bad as Tusk.
I also think that Francis underestimates Mr. Feng (Terry Chen), the Chinese delegate who is working the backchannels and may or may not be representing his and Tusk’s interests. The conversation between Francis and Feng is fairly cordial at first, but once Francis begins deliberately muddying the communication channels, the pleasantries quickly turn into veiled threats.My favourite scene of the episode is Feng’s chat with Stamper (Michael Kelly) – the wordplay (“errand boy”) and staging (Feng looms over a seated Stamper) quickly establishes Feng as a significant threat. I hope that we haven’t seen the end of this character, if only because I’d like to see Feng and Francis go head to head for a second round.
Back in D.C. Claire is trying to put out her own fires in the wake of her rape scandal from last episode. Publicly she’s leading the charge against sexual abuse in the military with the help of the First Lady, while she’s confronted with damning evidence behind closed doors. Without much effort the diary of her deceased doctor – a document that reveals she’s fudged the dates and details – is uncovered. The diary is either a CV or a blackmail tool (depending on how you want to look at it) of Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil), a communications officer who has eyes on Connor’s (Sam Page) job. Grayson is clearly shady, something that Claire quickly picks up on, but Francis would rather keep a loose canon close rather than let them go off unsupervised.
I expect we’ll get clarification about which Underwood is correct in short order.
- ‘Chapter 18′ feels similar to last season’s Sentinel episode (when Francis returned to his alma matter) because it ties into Francis’ past. Here he learns that his great grandfather Augustus Underwood died in the war (fighting on the losing side). Much is made of how Augustus has been forgotten by history, buried in a mass grave with no headstone. You could read this in several ways:
- a reminder of the casualties of war (which ties directly into Francis’ militaristic commentary to us through the fourth wall),
- a point from which to differentiate Francis from his ancestors (there are more references to his humble upbringing in Gaffney than usual); or
- a potentially ominous foreshadowing technique about where all of these political machinations will end up.
- Feng’s introduction – in an auto-erotic asphyxiation threeway – makes me uncomfortable. As the first glimpse of this character, this introduction clearly influences the way we see him in what I imagine is a very judgemental lens for most viewers. It could simply be to reinforce the kind of vices a billionaire can get away with, but it feels much more negative than that (particularly since we don’t even know who he is or what his name is at the time!)
- Like the moron he is, Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) falls into the trap and is picked up for cyber terrorism, despite Gavin’s (Jimmi Simpson) attempt to (stupidly) warn him. Side Note: I don’t condone violence against animals, but this is the first time that I’ve ever seen a guinea pig used as a threatening bargaining chip and while I certainly didn’t want to see it stepped on, it was still a bit silly.
- Finally, with Lucas now effectively neutered, is Connor’s reporter friend Ayla Sayyad (Mozhan Marnò) the new Zoe Barnes?
- Francis (when Tusk realizes it’s the first time the President has hung up on him): “Oh, I feel for you.”
Your turn: what did you think of Francis’ plot to drive a greater wedge between the President and Tusk? Will Feng return? Is Claire right not to trust Grayson? Does Lucas deserve a potential 30 year criminal sentence for being a moron? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers from future episodes.
House Of Cards is available in its entirety on Netflix. See you tomorrow with a review of 2×06 ‘Chapter 19’.