Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

House of Cards: Chapters Seven and Eight

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

Chapters Five and Six

Cunning linguist.

CHAPTER SEVEN:  Frank takes a moment to bask in his victory over the teacher’s union – although a doddering Vice President and an increasingly suspicious Chief of Staff try to rain on his parade – before putting his efforts into Russo For Governor. The candidate himself has some misgivings about the plan to make his sordid past public, but acquiesces when Christina returns to him. Zoe passes a story on Peter’s demons to old rival Janine, possibly adding an old timer to the staff of Slugline. Meanwhile, the prostitute Stamper thought he bought off reappears for another bribe. Claire practices origami.

Jeff Hart:  We’re dropping the discussion questions format because there’s just so much to talk about!

Jeremiah White:  Is there? Is there, really?

Jeff Hart:  Yes! I need a free-flowing discourse to really express all my varied feelings about House of Cards. Let’s start with this: we’re starting the second half of the season here, the messy and often objectionable education reform storyline is over, and this episode actually gave me hope that House of Cards could pull its shit together.

Jeremiah White:  It’s got to be the most cohesive episode yet. Peter’s campaign takes center stage with all the major players involved. TV shows don’t need this all-inclusive approach to work, but it should help House of Cards tighten things up, and hopefully it will minimize dumb Claire storylines in the future. Will the Russo campaign finally give us the greater good that Frank is bad in the service of?

Jeff Hart:  Two scenes really stood out for me here, which comes close to matching the total number of memorable scenes from the past six episodes. The first is Peter sitting down for an interrogation by Frank’s craggy-faced campaign fixer. The tight shots and rapid-fire dialogue make this exchange legitimately tense. I can’t think of another moment when the show has achieved tension. You finally made it, guys!

Jeremiah White:  They had a real Seinfeld and Bookman thing going on. I wish Philip Baker Hall had been available. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it tense, but the all-business fixer definitely gave the scene an energy we haven’t seen before. This simple and fun-to-watch (gasp!) exchange sets the table for so many of the episode’s threads: from the campaign strategizing and Peter’s ambivalence about running to Janine’s profile and Stamper’s hooker. It’s economic, effective television.

Jeff Hart:  The second scene is, of course, Frank’s show-stealing final monologue which he delivers right before going down on Zoe. While she’s on the phone with her father.

Jeremiah White:  The best “girl receives oral sex while on the phone with an important man in her life” scene since Cruel Intentions 3.

Jeff Hart:  Even if the scene comes right out and skewers Zoe for her “daddy issues,” it’s still my favorite use of the alternately annoying and pointless soliloquy device.

Jeremiah White:  This is one of only two soliloquies I remember in the episode. In early scenes, Frank restrains himself to a simple knowing glare at the camera. That’s all encouraging. This is also one of the more reflective monologues. Rather than just spouting exposition or boasting about one of his schemes, Frank gives us a glimpse of his psyche, and maybe just a hint of jealousy. It contrasts nicely with the raunch that follows.

Jeff Hart:  This scene is maybe over-the-top, but it hits a soapy and grimy note that I think House of Cards should aspire to more often. Unfortunately, as we see in scenes like last week’s SMD-scene with Marty Spinella, the show hasn’t yet struck a balance between the fun juicy stuff and its vague notions of political realism.

Jeremiah White:  Of course you want more cunnilingus. Joking aside, I’d be happy with more soapiness, more satire, more Youtube videos. More of just about anything except for those vague notions of political realism.

Jeff Hart:  Meanwhile, Stamper, Frank’s Chief of Staff, finally gets to do something besides stand in the background and look smarmy. I bet no one expected that prostitute he bribed to resurface, right?

Jeremiah White:  Not at all, in fact it took me a minute to figure out who she was. This was a great way to spin yet another story out of Pete’s campaign. And like you said, give Stamper something to do.

Jeff Hart:  I really like Michael Kelly as an actor, so it’s good that his character is finally getting some development, even if it’s a whore-with-a-heart-of-gold storyline. Remember that time he sacrificed himself to blow up all those zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake? That was awesome.

Jeremiah White:  That’s where I know him from! I knew he wasn’t just the poor man’s Zeljko Ivanek.

Jeff Hart:  Should we talk about Claire and origami? Unlike her weird encounters in the cemetery, Claire’s run-in with a homeless man has had LASTING REPERCUSSIONS.

Jeremiah White:  This is the only Claire-centric stuff in the episode, and it’s inoffensive which is a step up. It’s nice to see previous events bleeding over, even though they’re not tied to a storyline.

Jeff Hart:  Is she practicing origami so she can show up that homeless guy the next time he pushes his cart by? Is this part of the innate Underwood need to assert dominance over everything?

Jeremiah White:  I assume she just needs something to keep her busy while Frank is in the basement playing Call of Duty.

Old bros.

CHAPTER EIGHT:  Frank returns to his alma mater to have a library named after him and ends up getting drunk with his old a cappella group. Over the course of a night long bender, we learn that Frank once had a sexual relationship with a male friend. Meanwhile, Remy, Frank’s former Chief of Staff and current corporate bagman, makes an unsuccessful pass at Claire. The lonely lady Underwood settles for a long phone conversation with Hunky Photographer. And, back in Philadelphia, Peter pitches his jobs plan to the blue collar locals, eventually winning them over after some cathartic fisticuffs.

Jeff Hart:  Okay, best episode yet. Apologies to Zoe and the Slugline story, but the show clearly works much better when it can focus in on just a couple characters and oh who am I kidding Frank had a boyfriend!!

Jeremiah White:  I did not see that coming! And I second the “best episode yet” designation.

Jeff Hart:  The reveal of Frank’s college-aged experimentation comes out of nowhere, that’s for sure. And it’s explained by Frank as him being an open dude that’s like a perfect three on the Kinsey-scale. He just likes who he likes. I’m not sure the moment is entirely earned – although, like I mentioned in Chapter Seven, I do love it when the show gets saucy – but it didn’t strain credulity for me. In fact, I think it helps bring Frank into sharper focus. Finally.

Jeremiah White:  I think it works because it’s not that saucy. The gradual uncovering of Frank’s past (it all starts with that dude putting Frank’s hand on his chest, in a totally non-sexual but kinda sorta sexual way) and the script’s avoidance of anything salacious help sell a story that yeah, seems to come out of nowhere. If they’d suddenly snuck into a closet and started sucking face, the shock value would have overshadowed the story. Instead, throughout the entire episode, they’re just two old friends who when they were younger jerked each other a few times. NBD, dude.

Jeff Hart:  Look, we can’t wholly comprehend this because we don’t have any POWER, but once you’re rich and well-positioned, these puritanical sexual mores just stop applying to you. Frank’s sexual proclivities are as amorphous and opaque as his politics, which I guess is why he still often feels alien to me. But I like him more, now, than I have after other episodes. Or at least I understand him more. I think.

Jeremiah White:  I think he’s more of a mystery now. But he’s also more human, more relatable. What drew me to Pete Russo in the first place is that in a world of single-minded strivers, the dude has his vices. Frank, on the other hand, even his affairs are driven by some hidden agenda. Finally, Frank’s actions are determined by more than his power-hungry politics and his thirst for revenge against those who have slighted him.

Jeff Hart:  Let’s talk about Frank and Claire’s relationship. I really enjoy that it’s being portrayed as this honest and loving open relationship where both these weirdos just kinda get each other. I’m really hoping that we make it through the whole season without either of them catching a conscience. Although, the more I think about it, the more I’m worried their sex life is going to become a metaphor for Frank’s horrifying politics.

Jeremiah White:  I completely agree. I love it. This is what an adult relationship looks like, people! Say what you will about their morals and principles, but these folks work out whatever issues they have with clear, rational communication and a sincere understanding of the other person’s priorities and desires. They’ve built a unified front that makes them appear indestructible as a team. If the show is going to drive a wedge between them, it faces an uphill battle with me.

Jeff Hart:  So if the show’s attitude toward the rich and powerful is that it’s all cocktails and key parties, how does it view the middle class? Well, as we see in Peter’s storyline, as a bunch of mouth-breathing savages that only understand violence.

Jeremiah White:  It’s not that bad, is it? They’re definitely portrayed as low-brow and maybe a little dirty, but these are desperate down-on-their-luck people who respond with skepticism and anger to Pete’s offer of far-off jobs and pittance-paying training programs. It would be more insulting if they just sat there and listened to his bullshit after he’d already screwed them once, or even worse accepted him with open arms after his patronizing “I’m all you’ve got” real talk speech.

Jeff Hart:  First it was the teacher’s union and now it’s the ship-builders. I expect the politicians on House of Cards to have disdain for the little people, but it often seems like that sneering disrespect for the blue collar extends to the show’s writing.

Jeremiah White:  Well at least Peter didn’t win them over with a plate of ribs.

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