TVTV Recaps

HOUSE OF CARDS Chapter 15 (Season 2) Review

I’m at an interesting crossroads with this show. I reach this point with a lot of shows I watch, actually, especially when I’m watching a show like House of Cards (or any addictive show like Battlestar Galactica), I end up in binge mode and skip the whole process of filtering the episode through my actual brain. Which is how normal TV watching has always been watching week by week. My wife and I frequently mention this issue after eight straight episodes of Mad Men or Girls. Go ahead; ask me what happened in any specific episode of any of these shows. I’ll probably just say, “some crazy shit went down” or “a super handsome guy was attracted to Hannah Horvath”, which is pretty much the same sentence. Netflix (and streaming in general…so Hulu and HBOGo) is to blame. So I watched all of the episodes, slumped on the couch, happy that Netflix has that auto-play feature built in so I don’t have a moment to decide whether to press on or go be a productive member of society. Or even worse, press a button. So I return to Netflix, button-pushing finger stretched and limber, to watch each episode, one-by-one. Ugh.

“Chapter 15” kicks off and suddenly I’m noticing the opening credits in a way I’ve not before. Each shot reveals a piece of the city and turns from dusk to night within. This visual choice coupled with the discordant, ominous music, cues the tone of the show deep within our lizard brain. You don’t even have to notice it like I did but it is there whether you like it or not. These dirty power plays that Frank is pulling off happen in the dark recesses of D.C. And it’s rarely pretty. These are not gorgeous pictures of the city I know and love. These are grimy, gray, and barren landscapes. Cars drive frantically in the distance, but there are no citizens around, enjoying the many parks and museums. Because in Frank’s Washington…in Frank’s politics…people don’t matter.

Frank is sworn in as VP and quickly gets to staring directly at us. He’s daring us to root for him and we do. We root for Frank. Which is just weird to me. I love politics but I hate politicians. I love sweet little dogs and humans. I love journalists who actually dare to do their job (ask me about Wolf Blitzer sometime…I have a rant that I do). Frank kills all of these things and yet he’s our protagonist. Pitiful, weak-willed, milquetoast President Walker (Michael Gill)? Yeah, screw that guy for getting in Frank’s way. As Frank says in a season one episode, “it’s the fridge’s job to get out of my way”. Frank pulls us in and drags us along even if we’re unwilling to condone his actions. When Lucas is watching Zoe get hit by that train we’re all thinking, “that’s what happens when you cross Frank Underwood”, even adding that southern affectation, drawing out the ‘O’ sound in Underwood.

There are two relationships heavily present in this episode (and season) that I can’t help but love. Frank and Claire have a strange relationship (we’ll get to the stranger stuff in a later review, okay?). I gave it a vague overview to my mom, who hasn’t seen the show, and she was a bit put off by the whole thing. But it’s a classic power couple thing. Sure, have sex with someone else, but it better bring us power. If not, don’t have sex with that person. It’s not a traditional marriage. But it’s not a loveless marriage either. They can be very direct with one another at times, too. Claire might criticize Frank’s little hobbies like video games, but she gets it. And we don’t see them in the throes of passion very often. But then Frank goes insane when he finds out that McGinnis is the McGinnis from Claire’s freshman year. You realize it was rape and you’re hoping Frank goes ahead and destroys the man at his own ceremony. But as Frank pins the medal, he gives him this long and dead stare, and you notice that the long game is just beginning for McGinnis. McGinnis has no idea but the crosshairs are settling in on him. And we, the audience, simply have to be patient to find out what will happen to him. Which lends the show its power in binge-watching. It’s empty…yummy as hell…calories.

The other relationship is Lucas and his old pal, Tom (Boris McGiver). Tom is kind to Lucas despite the obvious warning signs of paranoia and obsession. Tom notices it because he’s been through it but doesn’t want to add fuel to the fire in any way. That means not supporting the notions but also not denying Lucas the right to feel that way. He hovers in the middle but shows compassion. I like these two men on screen and it feels like a good place to spend more time, hanging out with these two, dealing with their failings and working hard to find success and retribution.

This show is filth…in a good way. And when we’re binge-watching we exhaust ourselves the need or the energy to immediately return to it. So we spend the next year singing its praises and forgetting that there are faults. Maybe we didn’t notice the faults at all, in the first place. We have to accept that Frank is created to be infallible. Even when another character has the upper hand we know Frank holds the whole deck anyway (ugh, House of Cards…I get it, I get it). The stakes are immense while we watch, but step back an inch and they’re really not. But who cares? It’s still awesome to watch Frank manipulate. And my god, Robin Wright is amazing. Hands down. Give her an Emmy…right now.

House of Cards is expertly crafted too. Even though there are non-essential storylines popping up or subplots that fade away, all is forgiven. It seems like the writers are meshing so well in this season. Not a moment seems wasted while we’re in our binge. Each scene ends and I’m glancing over at my wife and we’re nodding together, sharing that thought, “holy hell, that was intense!” Then the episode ends, not necessarily on a cliffhanger, but on yet another well-baited hook. We’re all the fish, happily biting at the hook, with gaping mouths as we stare into the abyss.

After-Thoughts:

 

–       Zoe is undeniably dead. Dead dead dead. If this were a true soap opera, she’d return in the penultimate episode, arriving out of the rain, bloody and pregnant. Thank god this isn’t a true soap opera.

–       Lucas, the journalist, looks for a hacker, to help bring down some very powerful people because of corruption and all that. David Fincher is involved in the show. Rooney Mara’s sister, Kate, played Zoe. This is starting to feel closely related to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

–       So the next logical step is President. So let’s say that’s true…what will season 3 be about? Frank becomes Pope? I mean, the current Pope is already Pope Francis anyway. Easy transition, one might think.

 

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The Author

Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien

Michael graduated with a degree in Creative Writing with a minor in Film Studies from Western Kentucky University in 2009. He currently lives with his wife, two cats (and Netflix account) in NYC. He has published short stories on 400words.com and asouthernjournal.com. He has published poems in The Poetry Gymnasium by Dr. Tom Hunley and in The Roundtable.