With only a few episodes of House Of Cards‘ second season remaining, the twists keep coming. In these episodes: everyone tries to insulate themselves (with varying levels of success) and Francis’ (Kevin Spacey) master plan is revealed.
Let’s bitch it out…
2×11: ‘Chapter 24’
The Department of Justice’s special inquiry into money laundering is in full swing as ‘Chapter 24’ opens. Presiding over the proceedings is Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) and it’s immediately clear that she’s a strong willed, no BS kind of woman. Francis won’t be able to worm his way out of this one easily and when Stamper (Michael Kelly) is caught in the crossfire from his adventures at Lanagin’s casino and Feng’s Beijing home, things look dire.
It takes drastic measures to once again shift the focus – this time onto President Walker (Michael Gill) and his marital counseling – but it appears that Francis has pulled off another narrow escape. I’m still worried that Stamper’s head is on the chopping block and judging from his description of losing control, it appears that he is, too. For me, Stamper has filled the role played by Corey Stoll’s Peter Russo last season: he’s the mildly corrupt, beating heart of the series. I really like Michael Kelly’s portrayal, so I hope that nothing happens to Stamper.
No one will identify Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) as the heart of anything, though ‘Chapter 24’ spends a good chunk of time trying to rescue the character, insisting that his love for Jackie (Molly Parker) is true. Tusk (Gerald McRaney) is fixated on using the Whip to bring Francis down, but Remy is conflicted, lying to the businessman and ultimately conceding neutrality to Francis. I’m unsure why Remy thinks that Francis would find his “standing on the sideline” approach worthy of recognition (does he honestly think Francis will reward him for that?), but it seems that Tusk has lost his henchman going into this final battle.
- As predicted, Meechum (Nathan Darrow) gets caught up in Francis and Claire’s (Robin Wright) open marriage. The sexual tension has been brewing for a long time now (reflect back to all of those beers Meechum and Francis have shared in the backyard). Admittedly, knowing that it’s coming doesn’t make it easier to watch and it seems likely that this will end badly for the secret service agent, but for now the romp appears to have helped Francis relax.
- Stamper gets no such release from Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan). He spends the episode trying to insulate himself from her “addictive” properties, but ultimately can’t resist visiting her, only to discover her in flagrante delicto with Lisa (Kate Lyn Sheil). Does this mean her spell on him is finally broken?
- Stamper’s weakness for Rachel is unknown to Francis, but it may just prove to be his undoing thanks to Gavin’s (Jimmi Simpson) surveillance of his phone. At this point Francis has made it clear that he’s never given anyone so many chances to prove themselves, but if Gavin can somehow use Rachel as leverage, Stamper can kiss his powerful position with Francis goodbye.
- Finally, Megan – the other rape victim – returns to back-up Claire’s bill because Claire is still controversial to leave the residence. Unfortunately Megan is even more unbalanced than last time, hopped up on a variety of medications to control her panic attacks. It’s unclear whether there’s more to Megan’s story line to explore, though I imagine the bill storyline should wrap-up before the end of the season.
- Francis (to us, exiting from the DOJ into a throng of reporters): “From the lion’s den to a pack of wolves. When you’re fresh meat, kill and throw them something fresher.
- Claire (the morning after they sleep with Meechum): “Good. You needed that.”
2×12: ‘Chapter 25’
On the cusp of the final episode of the season, Francis Underwood executes his latest (and greatest) scheme: take down the President of the US. It’s been a long time coming, and thankfully it has been a little more transparent than his pursuit of the office of the VP back in S1. At the same time, there’s no denying the feeling of déjà vu that accompanies Francis’ latest ambitious scheme. What’s left for season three after he inevitably takes Walker out? Will Francis try to conquer the planet from outer space?
All joking aside, ‘Chapter 25′ pays off much of the long simmering conflicts from the season. Chief among them: Tusk is brought to task for his money laundering by the special inquiry. This is possible thanks to Feng (Terry Chen), who confirms the illegal activities after he’s granted asylum in a deal orchestrated by Francis and Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson). In addition to taking care of Tusk, the inquiry is instrumental in Francis’ plan to oust Walker as Dunbar zeroes in on the marriage counseling sessions to determine whether the President’s judgment is impaired / medicated. Publicly Francis is supportive and complimentary, but behind closed doors he and Claire begin getting their soldiers, including Durant and Jackie, in line for the coup.
The reintroduction of Jackie as pawn/key asset is interesting. Molly Parker was sidelined for much of the middle stretch of the season, forced to play romantic foil with Remy as other storylines took precedence. All of the sudden Jackie’s integral to the historical events that are about to pass. This is reflective of House Of Cards‘ focus on Kevin Spacey’s Francis Underwood: the series is Underwood’s story, so if he isn’t interacting with someone, they get less screen time. Still after seeing so little of Jackie, it’s a bit strange to suddenly have her come roaring back to prominence, even as she looks like she might vomit at Francis’ proposition. Obviously Jackie’s been so concerned about losing her seat and her position in the leadership that she, like Durant, will get back on board with Francis, even though she has vehemently denied being his puppet for the better part of the season. Politics does make for strange bedfellows.
This is in stark contrast to Remy, whose future suddenly looks much less certain. Francis sends Seth (Derek Cecil) to fill Tusk in on Remy’s double-dealing and the businessman doesn’t look favourably on Remy’s long-term prospects. Of course, the reality is that Tusk is already history. With Feng’s testimony, Gerald McRaney’s role on the series will likely come to an end next episode as Tusk is shipped off to jail. What will happen to Remy, however, remains to be seen.
- Someone who is sitting pretty is Gavin. Marginalized since Lucas’ story wrapped in the first third of the season, Gavin has only recently became relevant again. In ‘Chapter 25’ he shows his cards, parlaying his AT&T access into a pardon from the FBI. I expect that once he secures his freedom from them, he’ll reach out to Stamper to initiate some kind of blackmail scheme. I think this may mean we’ll see much more of Gavin in S3. Either that or he’s destined to end up on the wrong side of a subway platform.
- Claire drops her sexual assault bill, much to Megan’s chagrin. Of course the disgruntled victim doesn’t matter in the long run, not when Claire’s actions can appease both Jackie and Tricia Walker (Joanna Going). Interestingly this is another case of Claire backing off from her own venture to support Francis’, which doesn’t help this latest power play feel less repetitive.
- House Of Cards has had difficulty throughout the season with subtlety, so it’s no surprise that the writers don’t nail the “Civil War model as metaphor for Francis’ plan”. We’ve long known that Francis thinks in war strategies, but it would have been nice if the model had been used in a less heavy-handed manner.
- Finally, remember how Stamper let Rachel be with Lisa in ‘Chapter 24’? Turns out he was lying to himself, so Lisa has now been kicked to the curb. At this junction, I can honestly say that I no longer care about this story line (Side Note: every time we return to Rachel it just feels unnecessary. With only one episode left, there are other characters we should be spending time with).
- Remy (correctly Tusk after he suggests Remy has made 42 billion enemies): “39 billion, Raymond. Your market share is shrinking.”
- Francis (when Jackie states what they’re suggesting is just shy of treason): “Just shy, which is politics.”
Your turn: are you surprised by this latest ploy by Francis, or have you been waiting for him to take on Walker? Are you surprised he’s enlisted Jackie? Will Tusk go quietly into the night? Is Gavin going to become a major problem? Speculate away below, but please refrain from posting spoilers from the season finale.
House Of Cards is now available in its entirety on Netflix. See you later this afternoon for our review of the finale, 2×13 ‘Chapter 26.’