Our coverage of House Of Cards‘ second season continues with episodes seven and eight. In these episodes: Francis (Kevin Spacey) and President Walker (Michael Gill) bond and the affair comes out.
Let’s bitch it out…
2×07: ‘Chapter 20’
This episode sees Francis closer to the President than ever before as Tusk (Gerald McRaney) is completely on the outs. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that Tuck has lost any of his power or influence – as demonstrated by the attack ad targeting the White House senior staff that unsurprisingly turns out to be funded by him. It takes the majority of ‘Chapter 20’ to discover, but Francis and Stamper (Michael Kelly) learn that Tusk has been doing lots of things with his considerable fortune, including secretly bankrolling Congress through casino owner Dan Lanagin (Gil Birmingham) via his Chinese business partner Feng (Terry Chen). It’s a rather round-about bit of financial subterfuge that takes longer to emerge than it should (particularly since it’s not overly shocking or entertaining). Thankfully this latest development brings Feng back into the mix; his conversations with Stamper, although not as good as last time, remain a highlight of the episode (even if Beijing does look suspiciously like California).
Francis, meanwhile, is cozying up to the President. After an awkward start that sees the two trading angry barbs (and a literal punching bag), Francis orchestrates both a candid late night conversation as well as a double date with the wives. The result = all of the sudden the two are like old pals. Obviously it’s all an act (hence Francis’ casual murder reference when discussing the dinner menu), but it works like a charm. By episode’s end Tusk has been thoroughly discredited and Francis is firmly in Walker’s good books (for now).
The same sadly can not be said for Christina (Kristen Connolly), whose proximity to the President raises warning signs in the First Lady (Joanna Going) – at the behest of Claire (Robin Wright), of course. In a cruel move, Claire and Francis play up the strength of their marriage during the joint dinner to not-so-subtly shame the other couple. After dinner, while Francis shows Walker his latest hobby (Civil War models), Claire continues to suggest that Christina is a threat. Claire needn’t have bothered; her prompts have already caused a pre-dinner spat between the POTUS and his wife. At this point it just seems like a matter of time before Christina gets the axe, another victim of the Underwoods’ scheming.
- I’ll admit that based on Feng’s initial introduction, I wondered if he might make a move on Stamper when the concumbines don’t succeed. Alas no…
- Stamper does, however, call Rachel (an unseen Rachel Brosnahan). Of course, rather than admit that he’s thinking of her, he just leaves her a terse voicemail. Between his post-coital reaction to sleeping with the casino waitress and this, Stamper’s a bit of an emotional mess.
- The same can be said of Jackie (Molly Parker) who mistakenly continues to sleep with Remy (Mahershala Ali). I initially thought that these two have a Romeo & Juliet vibe, but it seems clear now that Remy is just playing any angle he can to find dirt on Francis. Why did I think they might actually like each other?! It’s as though I forgot what show I was watching!
- Speaking of Remy: we learn that he’s behind the actions of ambitious communications officer Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil). The potential turn-coat elects to stick with the Underwood’s, though, which effectively seals Connor’s (Sam Page) fate. Before episode’s end, Connor is gone. It’s probably for the best – had he stuck around long enough Claire probably would have unhinged her jaw and swallowed him whole.
- Finally, Freddy (Reg E. Cathey) reaps the rewards of having Francis as a client when he’s interviewed by The Star. The result: a franchise offer, a line of rib sauce and a cool $95 grand. Plus he gets to serve the President to boot! Go Freddy.
- Walker (telling Frank off): “You’re scrambling from fire to fire instead of preventing them.”
- Francis (when Claire asks what to feed the Walkers): “Cyanide?” Claire: “We’ll feed them that for dessert.”
2×08: ‘Chapter 21’
The cards start tumbling down in the eighth episode as the attacks get increasingly more vicious. Francis goes after Lanigin by supporting a rival clan with casino ambitions, but the ploy doesn’t work, leading to a delightfully bitchy encounter in Missouri between the two and Tusk. When Francis gets upset and throws his $200 steak into the pool, it’s a great display of bravado and childish frustration (the childish tendencies are reinforced by his sudden affinity for little toy soldiers, which not so subtly reinforces his love of playing God). Francis comes to realize that Stamper’s promise to Feng to build the Jefferson bridge is the only move he has left, but opposition comes in the form of Linda (Sakina Jaffrey) who frets that his “obsession” with the bridge goes against the President’s best interests.
Of course we know that Linda isn’t wrong, but Francis turns it into a game of chicken – an opportunity to demonstrate that he’s the President’s favourite. Ultimately Linda can’t handle the shenanigans and resigns, which gives Francis an easy win. Adding insult to injury he even talks Walker into accepting her resignation to ensure his staff know that he can’t be “leveraged.” Poor Linda – she never stood a chance. And so off into the sunset she goes, leaving Francis on top and the bridge a “go”. But Francis’ inability to just be satisfied (and his tendency to be a sore winner) prompts him to leverage his advantage and force Feng to cut ties on the power plant project with Tusk. It’s that little extra FU that pushes Tusk into the point of no return and, in the final scene of the episode, he and Remy go after the thing that hurts Francis the most: his partnership-style marriage with Claire.
This episode really reinforces how little depth Remy actually has. I’ve tolerated him (enjoyed is too strong a word) until now because I have a residual affinity for actor Mahershala Ali from his time on The 4400. My issue with Remy is that he’s a cipher: he doesn’t do anything aside from other people’s bidding and we still have no understanding of the real back story between him and Francis. You can say the same of Stamper (and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong), but at least Stamper’s growing obsession with Rachel is intriguing. Remy’s ongoing whatever with Jackie feels tangential, especially now that Jackie has been shuffled off to side to make room for all of the other subplots. Oh sure, she’s advocating for Claire’s ‘sexual abuse in the military’ campaign and that’ll end up effing her over later in the season, but for now it’s a) so infrequently raised and b) so completely unmemorable. At this point Jackie is a bit of a wash and Remy is just dull. House Of Cards is so much better when it focuses on the people making the power plays, not their errand people.
- Grayson comes clean to Remy about switching sides and Remy is not too pleased. But really, when Remy accuses him of being a lazy investigator, it makes you wonder if Remy even tried to dig up the dirt himself? It sure seemed easy to find lots of dirt. Also, wouldn’t all of this stuff have been dug up when Francis became VP?
- Before her own personal life is splashed across the front page, Claire worms her way deeper into Tricia’s, providing her with the number of a Reverend who can provide spiritual support when the Presidential marriage hits the rocks. Great care is taken to ensure that no one suspects there are marital problems for the POTUS, which is ironic when juxtaposed with the final image of Claire’s cheating bed head on the front of the newspaper.
- That other woman, Megan, who was raped by Claire’s General, has a panic attack and decides not to testify. Do we really care?
- Bet Claire really wishes she hadn’t run off to New York last season. Or, alternately, I bet she wishes that he lover wasn’t a photographer. (Side Note: It’s fun to see Claire’s former disgruntled staffer, Evelyn, who hasn’t appeared since ‘Chapter 2’, but why don’t we see Adam? Was actor Ben Daniels too busy?)
- Surprise, surprise, Rachel totally hooks up with Lisa (Kate Lyn Sheil) when they begin living together. The pillow talk is filmed in a series of close-ups that reinforces the intimacy, but yeah…the inevitability just makes this feel like it should have happened four episodes ago. Hands up if you didn’t see this coming. Anyone? Bueller?
- Finally, reporter Ayla (Mozhan Marnò) is still digging into the connection between Francis and Tusk. Expect this to play a big part in the final episodes of the season. Either that or it’ll amount to absolutely nothing.
- Evelyn (describing Claire to Remy): “Loyalty isn’t really her thing.”
- Francis (to us, when Walker reveals Linda thinks he’s obsessed with the bridge): “The backstabbing, vomit-inducing bitch.”
- Francis (throwing the steak into Lanigin’s pool): “Dogs are so predictable, aren’t they?”
- Grayson (when Remy calls him a parasite): “So are you, Denton. Just in a nicer suit.”
- Francis (when Claire asks if Tusk is a dangerous man): “We can be dangerous, too, when we need to be.”
- Francis (to us, after Linda resigns): “I’ve never thought higher of her than I do right now. She lost, but she fought to win.”
Your turn: what did you think of the twists and turns? Is Tusk playing dirty or has he just risen to Francis’ level? Do you like Remy? Has Jackie totally receded as a character? What’s going on with Stamper and Rachel (creepy? Kinda hot? Creepy and hot?) And would you eat at Freddy’s rib joint if it were franchised? Comment away below, but please refrain from spoilers for upcoming episodes.
House Of Cards is now available in its entirety on Netflix. See you tomorrow with our review of episodes 9 & 10, ‘Chapter 22 & 23’.