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HOUSE OF CARDS Chapter 17 (Season 2) Review

There’s tension between Frank and Remy. Claire is preparing for her joint-interview with Frank and the possibility of fielding questions about their lack of children. Frank, Jackie and Remy head out to shore up votes to avoid a government shutdown. Meanwhile, we learn there’ more to hacker Gavin than we previously thought. Is that enough for a synopsis? My sources inside the White House say, “That’s more than enough for a synopsis”. We don’t want to jump into the deep end quite yet.

Moving on.

Frank invites Congressman Donald Blythe (Reed Birney) into the Capital in hopes to gain his vote. Donald, however is angry about the education bill from season one and the deception that came with it. Donald cuts to the chase, undercutting Frank’s gentile charms. I love watching Frank operate in his various forms. He’s a shapeshifter in his position as master manipulator. He realizes he must tread lightly with Donald so he opens by offering coffee and water, speaking a bit lighter, a bit slower. It’s when most of the cards have been dealt that Frank brings down the hammer. But this situation plays out in a drastically different manner than any of his other manipulations. When the men are locked in the office after white powder is discovered in the Capitol, Frank has to extend his game, rework his plans, and improvise. This is some of the most fun I’ve had watching him work. Too often, Frank being Frank, we watch everything play out, discovering shortly thereafter that even the obstacles were planned. In this case, nothing prepared Frank for being locked in a room with Donald, facing the emotional weight of the man’s wife…

But things begin to ramp up between the men as sirens blare outside. Frank’s tactics switch as he watches Donald, pacing and nervous on the phone talking to his wife. Frank seems to recall something about Donald’s wife asking if she is lucid. As Donald emotes Frank turns to us saying, “I should have thought of this before. Appeal to the heart, not the brain”. This is one of the few moments where his internal monologue just doesn’t work. It’s not juicy or interesting and it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already glean from his gestures and facial cues. I have fallen in love with his 4th wall moments but as I’m going back through the show, one episode at a time, I’m noticing this more often. Unless he’s saying something with gravitas, enlightening us to his sadistic machinations…it’s just a bit too much. It’s something I never stopped to notice while binge-watching. I do love that Donald sees right through Frank (although it takes a few minutes). Even after he calls Frank on it he falls to the charms again, before finally proving to Frank that there are some people that are immune to his manipulations.

Gavin convinces Lucas to infiltrate the “Fort Knox wrapped in a nuclear bunker” of data centers. This is where Lucas’ storyline starts to take a turn for me. I was hoping for a little more intrigue, snooping, breaking into offices, and glimpses of physical danger. But break into a fortress? Slip a card into a server? Meh, seems a bit excessive and contrived. But, okay, let’s just see how it plays out from here? I could be wrong. But we soon learn, putting the pieces together, that Doug’s guy with the FBI is controlling Gavin as an informant.

The interview.

I get to see Ashleigh Banfield every single day at work. No I don’t work with her. Our TVs are all set to CNN. Ugh, the most benign news network. It doesn’t surprise me they have Banfield play up this bitchy persona, pushing Claire for the dirty details. They begin the interview as sort of a soft-journalism, puff-piece akin to an Oprah interview (ask me about Oprah’s interview with Cormac McCarthy and watch me turn red with rage). The interview begins to turn, mostly because Claire sees an opportunity to gain the power position. She was able to quickly filter the questions of abortion and not having babies and realize the potential negativity. God, Robin Wright is incredible in every scene she’s in. She takes a bigger role in this season and thank god. But even in scenes where she doesn’t speak, her cool demeanor, suppressing actual human emotion, is some of the finest acting you’ll find, TV, movie, or internet.

 

After-thoughts:

–       I know that House of Cards doles out the dark humor at times. But was the whole white powder thing meant to be funny? The girl sitting there, blanketed in powder, the woman barking orders in the most wooden, stiffly-acted moment of this entire show, then ending with the girl, looking around sheepishly as everyone has abandoned her?

–       My hatred for news networks bordering on tabloid journalism…oh man…the fires were stoked with this episode. I do love that the writers put that on display and that, in no way, can that stop Claire Underwood.

–       Frank leaves Donald with a congenial mood between them. Does Frank actually have a heart?

–       I love Frank’s secret cigarette. I’m scared by his murder ballad.

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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.