We’re into the final quarter of House Of Cards‘ second season with coverage of episodes nine and ten. In these episodes: the war between Francis (Kevin Spacey) and Tusk (Gerald McRaney) claims two more victims and loyalties are questioned.
Let’s bitch it out…
2×09: ‘Chapter 22’
Heading into this episode, there had been collateral damage as a result of Francis’ battle with Tusk, but nothing on par with what we see in ‘Chapter 22.’
Last episode Linda fell on her sword and now it’s Freddy (Reg E. Cathey) and Adam’s (Ben Daniels) turn.Following the release of the candid sleeping shot of Claire (Robin Wright), the Underwood camp goes into damage control, redirecting the story back onto Adam. Unfortunately the photographer is in between a rock and a hard place because Remy (Mahershala Ali) and Tusk are blackmailing him. It’s basically a no-win situation, and by episode’s end Adam has lost all of his professional credibility simply because he once loved Claire. The most powerful scene occurs when he finally realizes how much their affair has cost him and he confesses that he’s never hated anyone before her. Previous to this, Adam’s been her refuge, which means he’s likely never seen this hard, aggressive side of her before (consider the two photographs we see in the episode: both are soft and intimate – clearly this is the Claire he knows). I imagine that he’s much more aware of what kind of woman Claire Underwood really is as he records his fabricated confession to the camera.
The other victim that Task claims in ‘Chapter 22’ is Freddy. I’ll admit that for the majority of the episode I didn’t care about Freddy’s story with his estranged son, nor the potential franchise options for his rib joint. Clearly this is set-up for the PR nightmare to come when Remy and Tusk target his gangbanger past to hurt Francis by proxy. In truth I would be lying if I said I felt anything until Francis visits Freddy and learns that he too has lost everything. Their candid conversation about pride and responsibility works because of the nature of their friendship: it’s never really been clear whether they are friends or if Francis is, as Freddy intimates, simply a very loyal customer. Ultimately this is a connection that Francis can’t bear to be associated with and so they part ways; Francis weathering the storm while Freddy takes the loss.
The defining shot (and kudos to director Jodie Foster) is the striking symmetry in the opening and closing shots. The former sees Freddy heading to work in a world filled with limitless opportunities. The latter focuses on his slow walk home, his business and his life-savings both lost in just a few days. The underlying message is clear: doing business with Francis Underwood can take you to all the way to the top, but it can just as easily cost you everything.
- The race implications are more prominent in this episode than ever before. Freddy’s franchise deal calls for an “authentic” vibe, which means a worn down look designed to provide white diners the chance to experience the ghetto in the safety of surburbia. Of course once news of Freddy’s long ago conviction comes to light, the morality clause kicks in and the franchise deal falls apart. There’s apparently a limit on the desirable amount of authenticity people truly want…
- You can carry the race angle over to Remy’s conversation with Tusk when Francis eliminates their leverage against Adam. Remy reminds Tusk that he’s only his lobbyist, but Tusk dismisses this, suggesting that Remy’s only value is in his usefulness. A few episodes ago Feng called Stamper (Michael Kelly) an errand boy and the same title can easily be applied to Remy’s work for Task.
- Francis is pleased when Claire declares that they should make Tusk suffer. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want her to come after me.
- Speaking of Tusk, he’s got another problem: journalist Ayla (Mozhan Marnò) interviews him about his connections to the Chinese. He’s clearly worried by how much she knows because he blatantly threatens her and then immediately calls Remy. Trust me, folks, this is going to end somewhere bad.
- Finally, Stamper and Seth (Derek Cecil) butt heads over who wields more control in the Underwood camp. For the time being Stamper comes out on top. I love that even in the lower ranks, it’s dog-eat-dog levels of cutthroat competition.
- Claire (when they each suggest the other should be upset): “Wasted energy…for both of us.”
- Claire (to Adam): “I’m sorry I lied. I wasn’t trying to be manipulative.” Oh she’s such a liar.
- Stamper (to Seth): “Upwards mobility has a ceiling with the Underwoods. I’m the ceiling.”
- Claire (when Francis wants to help Freddy): “When we care too much it hurts us.”
- Freddy (after Francis confirms someone is trying to take him down): “Whoever it is they stepped on the wrong motherfuckin’ rattlesnake.”
- Francis (to us, when Claire suggests Tusk should suffer): “I don’t whether to be proud or terrified. Perhaps both.”
2×10: ‘Chapter 23’
The tenth episode of the season spends a lot of time pondering who works for who. It’s an exceedingly well balanced episode that provides everyone except director Robin Wright something significant to do, in particular Jackie (Molly Parker) and Stamper.
The floodgates that will drive the remaining episodes open after Ayla’s digging pays off. When she connects Lanagin, Feng, Tusk and Francis, the dirty money story breaks, throwing the White House under suspicion of impropriety. President Walker (Michael Gill) is understandably furious, unwittingly going with Francis’ suggestion that an independent inquiry is the best response, but as Francis tells us, everyone’s head is now on the table. That means that the pressure is on and with only three episodes remaining in the season, there are bound to be casualties.
The likeliest sacrifice is Jackie. Thanks to a little pressure from Seth, Nancy (Elizabeth Norment) spills about Jackie’s affair with Remy – something that Francis presses to advantage when Jackie refuses to support Claire’s bill on sexual assault (for reasons that haven’t been satisfactorily explained). All we know is that Jackie is hurting – my masochist comment from earlier in the season has proven to be true – but her position has made her an island. Francis is pissed at her, Remy is charged by Tusk to go after her and her seat is in jeopardy going into the mid-terms. At this point it just seems like a matter of time before Jackie falls.
Doug Stamper’s position is more secure, but that’s not helping him feel like a valued member of the team. He’s feeling particularly insecure about the free rein that Seth has been given. We’re clearly meant to align with Stamper (remember that Claire was also uncertain about Seth), but the way that he voices his concern is all wrong. Stamper ought to know better than raise the issue with Francis because he just comes off as insecure (last episode Francis intimated that rivalry brings out the best in them, so he’s not going to care that Doug wants to be top dog).
Stamper’s impotence is reflected in his interactions with Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan). At first he tries to control by bullying her into kicking out Lisa, but ultimately he relents. As is becoming par for the course, ‘Chapter 23’ begins and ends with complimentary scenes, in this case Rachel reading to Doug. The difference is that when he feels in control, Stamper grants Rachel the freedom to read from her choice of text (the Bible) whereas when he grants her the freedom to make her own decisions, he selects a text of his own, A Tale Of Two Cities (another unsubtle nod from House Of Cards‘ writers considering the novel’s backdrop of revolution against the aristocracy). Book ending both scenes is Gavin (Jimmi Simpson) who has zeroed in on Stamper via Rachel, promising bad news to come for both.
- The situation with China has become even more volatile as Chinese destroyers move into Japanese waters. Will the season end with war between the two countries (and the US caught in between)?
- The ick factor is high in a B-subplot featuring Francis and bodyguard Meechum (Nathan Darrow). After Claire is targeted for assassination due to her public stance on abortion, Meechum volunteers to switch to her detail. What follows is a very uncomfortable series of interactions between Meechum and Francis: first when the bodyguard catches Francis watching porn and later when Francis tells him how much he misses his company. I honestly expected Francis to make a move (and half expect that it may happen before the season is over).
- Claire (when Francis suggests a run instead of a cigarette): “No more runs until the death threats die down.” The Underwoods lead different lives from us
- Jackie (to Remy, insisting she works for no one but herself): “Unlike you, I don’t peddle my goods for whoever can pay the highest retainer.” Politics has made whores of all of these characters.
- Francis (when Claire asks what she can do): “Come and visit me when I’m in prison.”
Your turn: what are your thoughts on scandals and news stories in the last few episodes? Are you more or less convinced that Remy’s intentions towards Jackie are legitimate? (I think the writers want us to believe he likes her, but I personally don’t buy it). Will Francis make a move on Meechum? And what is Gavin up to? Speculate away below, but please refrain from posting spoilers from upcoming episodes.
House Of Cards is available in its entirety on Netflix. See you tomorrow morning for reviews of episodes 11 & 12, and in the evening for the finale, episode 13.