Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

House of Cards – Chapters Five and Six

Spinning out from our coverage in the Instant Movie Club, our editors continue their discussion of the Netflix original series House of Cards. Spoilers below for the episodes being discussed (we haven’t watched ahead).

Chapters One and Two

Chapters Three and Four

American hero!

CHAPTER FIVE:  After crossing the teacher’s union, Frank must deal with the blowback from their head lobbyist Marty Spinella. It begins with a hastily orchestrated picket of a Clean Water fundraiser, which is then defused by a well-timed barbecue ribs delivery. Zoe sleeps with Frank, lets him take some naked pictures of her for insurance, and gets a new job at the edgy blog Slugline. Meanwhile, Peter can’t handle the fury of the 12,000 constituents he put out of work by closing the shipyard, and pays a late night visit to Frank for what turns into an intervention. By episode’s end, a full-on teachers strike is afoot!

You’ve complained about Frank’s plans going virtually unchallenged in the first four episodes. Is Marty Spinella the quality adversary you’ve been waiting for?

Jeff Hart:  Yes! Well, I hope so. Marty is exciting because he sees Frank for what he is (liar, scoundrel, alien), he’s got some shrewd political moves of his own, and he’s fiery enough to fight back hard. After learning that Marty has screwed up his wife’s fundraiser, Frank turns to the camera and is all – “grrr, messing with me is one thing, but don’t mess with MY WIFE!” Are we supposed to be on his side at that point? Like, yeah Frank! Get him! Because I was definitely thinking ‘shut up, scumbag’ and rooting for the whole illegal picnic fundraiser to fall apart. Thank goodness Frank has a magical black man in his back pocket.

Jeremiah White:  I don’t know about a worthy adversary (teachers picketing a hotel fundraiser for clean water seems pretty dumb), but boy do I love Marty Spinella. He’s so angry all the time! And he’s apparently screamed himself hoarse permanently so now his barely contained rage is conveyed through a blustery whisper thing. He’s like a way over-caffeinated Super Dave. Time will tell if he can give Frank a run for his money, but I sure hope he sticks around for a while.

Jeff Hart:  If this episode – which was a major step back after the last two , btw – is any indication, Marty’s undoing is going to be the slovenly union employees he’s forced to wrangle. Been picketing for three hours on a relatively pleasant evening? HAVE SOME RIBS, FATTY! Basically, you just have to dangle something juicy and tender in front of any idiot union member and they’ll immediately toss out their convictions. Or am I reading too much into House of Cards’ portrayal of unions?

Jeremiah White:  I wouldn’t say you’re “reading too much into” it; it’s all right there on the screen. Did the writers intend to make the teachers look so weak-willed? Probably not. I think we’re supposed to be awed by Frank’s ability to turn the tables on an opponent, with the cameras rolling no less. Maybe those weren’t teachers at all, or members of any union for that matter. Marty was clear that he just needed bodies (smart looking bodies), so maybe we’re supposed to take away that this whole thing was a strategic error on the part of the lobbyist. Regardless of the intention, all I could think was that no matter what your stake in the thing, a few hours standing outside isn’t cause to degrade yourself by taking free food from someone who just made a crack about how much you like free food.

Zoe finally achieves her dream of being a blogger! What do you make of the House of Cards version of new media?

Jeremiah White:  Slugline looks less like the workplace of young, hungry journalists breaking Washington's hottest stories, and more like the study lounge at a progressive high school. The kind of place where you get a crocodile in Spelling. Aesthetics aside, Slugline’s non-existent editorial policy betrays the show’s lack of respect for emerging news sources. I'm also troubled that Zoe isn't at all concerned about being exposed as a fake journalist. Does Slugline's founder not care? Does Zoe not even realize that she isn't a real reporter? Or is it somehow an accepted part of the show's reality that she isn't a total fraud?

Jeff Hart:  The set up at Slugline, which is clearly an old person's idea of the internet, called to mind some of the criticism leveled against The Social Network. Couple this vision of young journalists (aspiring to be the next Arianna, ha!)  sitting on the floor while doing their wack-ass "blogging" with a completely pointless scene of Mike the Hammer getting cozily dismissed by his old lady boss, while working in some jabs at that darn new media, and it's clear the writers don't have the highest opinion of internet journalism. Now let's cut to some real life cable journalists doing cameos!

Creepier:  Frank and Zoe’s escalating relationship OR Frank ordering Peter to strip naked and get in the tub?

Jeff Hart:  Let me just clarify here that both of those scenes/storylines qualify as bad creepy. Why? Because it’s impossible for me to believe either Zoe or Peter would become that dependent on the inscrutable Frank, who exudes a similar charisma as The Following’s lead serial killer, the kind where you don’t understand why anyone would ever trust them because they’re just so god damn creepy and gross. You know… badly written TV charisma. Anyway, the answer here is Peter’s intervention. Congressman Pete is usually a high point for me, but they go way over-the-top in this hour, beginning all the way back when he’s doing coke off a letter opener and crying over some all-caps e-mails. Yeesh.

Jeremiah White:  Creepier than Frank dispassionately taking nude cell phone photographs (with a flash!) of a young journalist in her dingy apartment? And acting like this somehow gives him the upper hand? I’m not sure what she did off-camera, but it would have to be seriously depraved for these pics to be more damaging to her than to him. Assuming Frank would just release these anonymously if it ever came to that, it's going to look like someone hacked her phone. I think most people tend to side with the person whose privacy has been violated (after they personally violate their privacy by looking at the photos). Anyway, I kind of got off track, and the suicide-intervention is definitely worse, but seriously what do these people think Frank is going to do for them?

Jeff Hart:  Sidenote: I’m eagerly awaiting the scene where Frank delivers a monologue during sex. He turns to the camera and, looking over Zoe’s shoulder, says: “The best way to control a woman is to let her believe she’s on top.”

How's about you just suck my centrist cock?

CHAPTER SIX:  It’s one month later and the teacher’s strike is all anyone on CNN can talk about. The President and his Chief of Staff are losing faith in Frank, so he promises to end the strike without compromise in one week. His plan involves having a brick thrown through his window, which gets security guy Meechum (the one with the flowers) in hot water. After jobbing hard to Marty on a CNN debate, Frank eventually wins the day by cajoling the lobbyist into decking him. Politics! Meanwhile, Peter is officially running for governor of Pennsylvania. Oh, and Claire has a weird encounter with an origami enthusiast/homeless person.

What a difference one graphic and an episode summary can make! Disorganized labor super-villain (or hero, if you’re a commie) Marty Spinella bites the political dust in this episode. What do you think of the way Frank dispatched him?

Jeff Hart:  I don’t think much of it at all. Frank is supposed to be the Sun Tzu of DC, right? At least that’s what he keeps telling me in his soliloquies. So his first plan – which results in the buzz-phrase ‘disorganized labor,’ joining early season gem ‘trickle down diplomacy’ – is some classic Zack Morris shit that doesn’t work out. Then, he goes on CNN to debate Marty and he’s – what? overconfident? unprepared? having a stroke? It’s nice to see him brought low for once, Claire really rubbing it in on the way home with a “wish you’d done the improvising better,” but it’s hard to believe the masterful senator we’ve come to sorta know could end up a Youtube joke. Even so, this is probably the series’ most cathartic moment so far.

Jeremiah White:  Not cathartic enough! Whatever the cause of Frank’s malfunction, these wounds are totally self-inflicted. That’s just not satisfying enough. And as someone who is totally down with Youtube users appropriating soundbites and setting them to “techno music,” I was really disappointed in Frank’s video. You guys could have had him say anything! How is that I-O-U nonsense the best you came up with? And they hardly even use Spacey’s terrific “LOL” aside.

Jeff Hart:  On the ropes, Frank wins the day by calling Marty a “dago” and telling him he should suck some dick. Over and over again. What a great politician! Frank’s using schoolyard tactics here, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe he’s not supposed to be that smart. Maybe a little satire is leaking into House of Cards. Are we supposed to think Frank is a genius? Or is this show really just a satirical look at the kind of overconfident dipshits running around Washington? Yes, six episodes in, and I’m still trying to figure out what’s the point.

Jeremiah White:  I don’t think it’s satire. It’s just supposed to show how dirty Frank can play, and how there’s no one he can’t manipulate. But I really like your take! That sounds like a good show. Thanks for retroactively improving my House of Cards viewing experience.

What do you make of Claire’s encounter with the stringy homeless fellow that’s taken up residence outside her office building? Or her brief jerking off of a cancerous secret service agent?

Jeff Hart:  I’ll tackle the first one because I love this show’s strong black characters. I suppose the symbol here is that even the homeless, particularly the all-knowing magical black homeless, don’t want to take that dirty Underwood money. This bum gets it, man. He knows Claire is corrupt and won’t take her filthy lucre. Lots of ominous signs floating around Claire, huh? Like the return of those white flowers…

Jeremiah White:  Claire gets into some wacky misadventures, but I just finished rewatching Breaking Bad’s (masterful) third season, so I’ve seen enough hospital bed handjobs for a few months. This one actually ties in nicely to the supernaturally perceptive homeless guy because it's exactly the kind of sociopathic behavior from Claire that I'm sure he was picking up on. Granted, the scene is primarily about Frank and his ability to manipulate people, and secondarily about Frank and Claire’s power-hungry dependency. But it's also about how much Claire likes to watch people squirm, even if it's mostly just for shock value.

Joel Schumacher directed this block of episodes. What did you think?

Jeff Hart:  That sure explains Slugline! I’m rapidly losing patience with the show at this point, so maybe I should just blame Joel? Maybe if Frank Underwood had been pinned down in a phone booth by an assassin these would’ve been more interesting.

Jeremiah White:  I wish I had spent the last 90 minutes watching a Schumacher Batman movie. Especially the one with Schwarzenegger.

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4 Responses »

  1. i took it as claire paying the guy to relocate and him telling her to stfu

  2. That could be! Is that how you buy off homeless people? I had no idea.

  3. The dude Claire was jerking off was not a Secret Service agent. The Secret Service is an executive office within the Treasury Department. The guy in the bed is either a Capitol Police officer or works for the U.S. House Sergeant-at-Arms. Very important.

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