House of Cards: S2E1 “Chapter 14”

9 Overall Score
Story : 9/10
Acting : 9/10
Anticipation: 9/10

Risky storytelling | Easy-to-follow politics | Fast-paced action

Rachel storyline diffused too soon

The Netflix original series “House of Cards” premiered on Valentine’s Day –an appropriate gift for cynics and loners, and everyone else as I imagine after a nice day of affection-showering, lovebirds quietly settled in their spaces and under the dim light of their laptop screens pressed play.

The political drama returned for its second season leaving an impressive mark. If you recall, at the end of last season, our protagonist anti-hero Francis (aka Frank) Underwood (Kevin Spacey) had connived his way into being nominated for Vice President. This was of course after Underwood and his partner Doug Stamper devised an intricate plan that would self-destruct and set the events in motion for Frank to assume power. Puppet Master Frank manipulated Peter Russo, a Democrat in Congress, all season. Frank built Peter’s confidence and just as promptly broke it by making Russo the target of disapproval by his district and setting him up to run for Governor of Pennsylvania while practically forcing him back to patterns of addiction and debauchery. On Peter’s last night, Frank left him passed out in his car, on the passenger’s side, and left it running. He was able to successfully mask foul play as suicide and the whole manner went away in seconds.

Season 2 begins right where we left off with Frank and his wife Claire Underwood (Golden Globe Winner Robin Wright) on a morning run. When they arrive back at their townhouse, on the eve of Frank’s birthday, the two are just as composed and bloodthirsty as ever.

Despite Claire’s emotional journey last season, she continues her headstrong and ruthless demeanor under the veneer of a warm smile. Her non-profit organization, Clean Water Initiative, is being sued by her former employee, Gillian, for wrongful termination on the grounds of pregnancy discrimination. Claire retaliates by digging into her arsenal, remembering that Gillian confided in her that she got pregnant with a doctor she was working with in Africa. She pulls up the project’s file and finds the doctor’s name and then proceeds to let his wife know that Gillian is pregnant with her husband’s baby. As much of an embarrassment that this is to Gillian, she still doesn’t suspect Claire is behind this. The only reason she walks into the Clean Water Initiative is to resolve an issue about her health insurance being canceled. Claire forged Gillian’s signature giving up Gillian’s insurance and added that she would let her baby “wither and die” inside her if she doesn’t give this up. Gillian has no other option rather than to accept, but it comes with a surprising twist. Claire gives up her seat as the CEO of the Clean Water Initiative to Gillian, “no strings,” she assures. Knowing the Underwood’s, there’s obviously something to gain, but we’ll have to wait to see the domino effect this causes.

This is one of the first times we’ve seen Claire as ruthless as her husband. She’s established herself as strong and even icy, but this is on a complete other level. She’s turning her hate into a powerful machinated monster.

Outside of politics and in the journalism milieu, Zoe, Lucas and Janine are coming really close to solving the mystery of Russo’s sudden death. They try to get in contact with the call girl and Stamper’s rag doll, Rachel, who was last seen with Russo on the night of his murder. Stamper treats her like shit. There’s almost a discomforting sexual tension between the two – discomforting because he seems to enjoy being in a dominant position. He keeps his sentences short, doesn’t give her an inch of room for her thoughts and throws her around (both literally and figuratively) to his liking. Rachel conveniently disappears, but I really hope Lucas will find her again and make her talk. Zoe decides meet Frank in a public place and claims to stand her ground. Her twisted relationship with the man and the power-structure of their relationship has always made her susceptible to his manipulations. Knowing her career aspirations, Frank ploys her to back down from pursuing the Russo case and him in return for an extended relationship to the Oval Office. While Underwood can be her inside man, Zoe is in a complete ethical breach and doesn’t understand that she’s not a very good journalist if she’s just being handed stories and reporting them on bias. She decides to continue her relationship with Underwood and doesn’t mention this to Lucas, whom she’s now dating, and Janine. Instead, she plays both fields, staying quiet while Lucas and Janine hash out details over hash browns (har har har). She leaves them in a moment of what I presume to be guilt and heads underground to catch the metro to go home.

It took me a while when cameras fixated at the end of the subway tunnel to notice that Frank was there all along, completely unrecognizable – looking like a pudgy film noir villain. Zoe notices him and tells him she accepts his offer to start fresh. She deletes his contact information and all text messages from her phone, but she still insists on knowing the truth about Peter Russo. Because we quickly learned that everything in season one was carefully calculated and interconnected to fate, Zoe’s guilt stems from being trapped and knowing that she possibly had a role in Peter Russo’s murder.

It’s the word that ticks Frank off, because you never quite know with a journalist like Zoe what’s on and off-the-record. He storms out and Zoe follows him, pleading in a fashion akin to a desperate couple post breakup. “I want to believe you but” BAM.

DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN? Did Frank really just push Zoe in front of a subway train??! Admittedly, I thought it was a dream. It’s too bold to kill of a major character in the FIRST episode of a new season, yet that’s exactly what “House of Cards” did. It was shocking to say the least because it was out of nowhere. Suddenly your mind starts racing, was this all planned? Frank had to have known when the subway was coming. Was a fresh start even possible? Why didn’t Zoe say ANYTHING to Lucas and Janine? There are too many questions rushing through everyone’s mind, notably Lucas who immediately suspects Frank had something to do with this. Janine is too spooked after receiving print copies of the nude photographs Frank took of Zoe as collateral on his phone. She knows Frank knows who she is and plans to leave before she becomes his next victim.

That leaves us with Lucas, who is suddenly left alone in his grief but still determined to go all Deep Throat on Frank Underwood.

As impressed as I was with the Chapter 14 of “House of Cards,” I couldn’t help feel that something was missing. The entire episode went without its signature breaking of the 4th wall until the very end. There was absolutely no time to waste and no time for useless commentary, so much so that it didn’t feel missed until Frank finally addresses us in his southern drawl: “Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had,” before he walks away leaving us only with an impressionistic view of his silver cufflinks spelling out F U.

 

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Author: Claudia Marina View all posts by
Journalism student at the University of Florida. Sally Draper is my spirit animal. I love writing about TV and how it affects culture. Occasionally I watch bad TV, but reviews make it better.

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