In Chapter 1 of House of Cards, there’s a scene I forgot to mention. It’s an important scene, in fact it’s the first one we saw, and after one of my good friends read my review, he was surprised that I hadn’t made any mention to it. I’m talking about the opening where Kevin Spacey first addresses the audience as he’s attending to, and eventually killing, a dog hit by a car. His silky Southern Dixiecrat accent flowing on overtime, he mentions that, “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.” I mention this, because in that moment we see two very important things in Frances: he is no stranger to pain, and will do what he has to to alleviate or inflict it (depending on the situation), and he’s not afraid to pull the trigger. These are common values that his staffers, and even his own wife, embrace. Victory is their cause, and the measures they’ll go to are great.
Though surprisingly enough, we find out this week that for as powerful as he is, Frank DOES have people he answers to: his equally ambitious wife and his corporate benefactor, SanCorp. The later is represented by Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali), former lobbyist and current looming specter between Frank and the corporation. Remember that big donation that the Clean Water Initiative didn’t receive? You’re looking at the man who’d have helped issue the check.Frances assures him that everything’s going to be OK, and that it’s just going to take some time.
He doesn’t know how right he’ll be when Chief of Staff, and Chapter 2 MVP, Doug Stamper comes into play with a specious, but particularly potent potential argument. You see, back in his college days, Michael Kern was the editor of the campus newspaper back in the 60′s/70′s. It was during this time that someone, and we don’t know who, wrote a particularly harsh article stating that Israel was occupying the Gaza Strip illegally. Underwood doesn’t think the argument holds because of the cryptic nature of who actually wrote it, but this is where Stamper comes in and shines.
Stamper puts pressure on Peter Russo to go visit one of Kern’s former classmates, Roy Kapeniak. A conspiracy theorist, and a bit of a hermit, Kapeniak only accepts Russo’s presence under the gift of Cocaine. Something Russo is more than familiar with, and has been battling over his former addiction to. But what’s one relapse in the name of keeping your blackmailer happy? Once he’s partaken in some nasal activity with Roy, Peter is informed that Roy himself wrote the actual letter.
Peter, pushing the issue that Kern’s editorial status isn’t enough of an argument to sell him out, provides him with a bribe to say the article was indeed Kern’s work. Roy accepts, and sure enough he corroborates the story after it airs during Kern’s interview with George Stephanopolous. Faster than you can say tailspin, Kern’s media circus grows so big and so fast that eventually his nomination is withdrawn. Frances calls Kathy Durant and tells her to be ready.
By this time, Frances is ready to wag the dog…and he’s got just the person to help him. Using Zoe Barnes, he floats the rumor of Durant’s impending nomination. (Prompting nemesis Janine to exclaim, “Twitter t**t, WTF?” as she’s scooped yet again on her own beat.) Soon enough, White House Chief of Staff Vasquez calls Kern into her office, dropping the hammer we thought we’d have to wait longer to see fall. We end the episode with Frank using the rowing machine that his wife has bought for him.
You see, she wants him to keep in shape, and as such she bought him this machine which he first reviled, but by the end of the episode ends up using. It’s interesting, because as used to controlling people as Frank is, this episode is book-ended by the people he reports to. Not many people can claim Frank Underwood will do what they say. But those who can will tell you, he does it because he has no choice.
Another cracking episode in the books, and kudos to them for having the Underwoods actually love each other, and not going down the road of “political couple on the verge” cinema. Though it’s early yet, I really like how Claire and Frances get on with each other. You can believe they’re in love, and that love is a realistic love to boot. Perhaps it’s the fact that her ruthless nature matches her husbands that helps them relate to each other that much more. After all, she has her right hand woman at work fire a majority of their staff, and then fires her after she’s finished because she’s not only out of sync with Claire’s vision of the CWI’s future, she also is adamantly opposed to the direction she’s taken and speaks out about it several times. She should have known that behavior like this practically screams “Fire Me!”, but good on her for following her convictions anyway.
Two side characters I’m keen on watching are Peter and Zoe, as the former’s dabbling back into addiction seems to pose the threat of full relapse, and the latter has two paths she can follow at this point: either do everything Frank says and grow disgusted with him, or do what he says and become an even bigger monster than he is. Which wins out, we’ll see soon enough.Finally, I’d like to note that Doug has show much power and initiative when it comes to serving his boss in this episode. Normally, a lackey like this would have to take orders from the higher ups and only focus on not screwing up. But with this setting, and with this character, Doug seems like someone who could take over for Frances, but seems more suited and happier with the work that he does. He knows his way around the Hill, and he shows it.
So far, this show’s a consistent 4/5 for me, mostly because I’m keeping my expectations tempered. Though, another note:I love the George Stefanapolous cameo. His grilling of Kern on This Week is reminiscent to a grilling he had with John Edwards a couple years back, and it’s cool to see real life news personalities participating in the proceedings. It lends verisimilitude, and on top of that it’s George being George. He’s kinda fierce like that.
One final note: I’m trying to rein in any overenthusiastic praise is because everyone keeps telling me that Episode 8 is the fabled event horizon of House of Cards fandom. That is the episode that supposedly kicks the show’s proceedings into overdrive and makes it unable to be put down, so I’d like to save any orgy of praise until I hit that milestone. Though this episode gets bonus points for being a cleaner story to keep in line with, seeing as exposition isn’t being dumped hardcore. We’re in it for the long haul now, and I expect things to get pretty interesting.
Much like Sunday morning Political Talk Shows, the House of Cards reviews will be here every Sunday (scheduling permitting). In the meantime, the floor is yours What Culture Republic. What do you think of the show so far? Do you think Episode 8 is all it’s cracked up to be? Is anyone else expecting a pet of some sort to pop up in the Underwood household? Leave all comments down below!
This article was first posted on March 11, 2013