House of Cards: Chapter 17 Review

“Think of Remy as the guy who shows up with a six pack after the liquor store’s closed”

Time is of the essence as we open chapter 17. There is still much work to be done to push the retirement bill through the house and Frank accepts an olive branch from Tusk with the same reaction a toddler has to their first taste of citrus fruit. Tusk has sent in Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) to provide incentive for votes and is teamed up with Jackie, who must be sucking on the same lemon as Frank because she has a similar reaction to her new whipping shadow, really Jackie? I mean, I can see how being followed around all day by a cashed up, classy, Adonis could be a problem for most hot blooded women; NOT! There is definitely something wrong with the new Whip #justsayin I am enjoying the competitive undercurrent between Frank and Remy, as we know from the first season Remy was in the employ of Frank but “chose money over power”, a decision Frank has never grasped. But Frank, despite the interference and embuggerances of Remy to his ambitions during the Watershed Bill, has not yet put Remy to the sword. Is it because Frank genuinely needs the leverage Remy provides in the private sector or because he’s hoping his protege will return to the fold? A kind of “the son I never had” thing maybe? After all, eight years is a long time to hold Frank’s attention and live to tell the tale, there’s investment in Remy on Frank’s part but to what end? So while Jackie and Remy are out corralling votes, with Jackie doing so in a manner that demonstrates she’s her own Whip and not a Frank clone, or worse; his puppet, Frank steels himself to take on the now very bitter (the citrus sucking look is a recurring theme in this chapter) Donald Blythe (Reed Birney). If you recall, Donald was our Education Bill martyr and now wears the legacy of the debacle around his neck like the scarlet letter. Meanwhile Claire is at home with Connor preparing for the joint interview that is to take place later that day. As they walk through the line of questioning, which will inevitably include the “why no children or did you eat them?” queries, Claire enters her walk-in Wardrobe to select an outfit. It has the colour palette of and E L James best seller (don’t pretend you don’t know the books I’m referring to…). I’m beginning to think Claire might bleed charcoal. Elsewhere, Lucas is enduring Hackers Boot Camp with Gavin and Cashew.

“I don’t hold grudges Frank, I just don’t negotiate with people who are fundamentally deceptive.”

You know Frank’s in for a tough day at the office when Donald is obstinate from the moment he walks through the door and makes even the attempt to get him a drink difficult. He finally settles on a Seltzer as he has an aversion to caffeine, I wonder how he’s lasted in politics so long, I’m not worth speaking to until I’ve had my first heart-starter for the day. As Frank goes to work on wooing Donald in Jackie’s office, Frank’s old office, a White House Aide is about to open a letter that will set off a chain of events even Frank couldn’t have foreseen. The letter contained white powder, the Aide, looking like she’s had a minor coronary; is covered in the substance. Nancy goes into “like a boss” mode and initiates lock-down procedures. With less than an hour until the vote, Frank and Donald are trapped. Frank makes contact with Claire to provide reassurance that the scare will come to nothing but confides the vote looks shaky “If we’re lucky it’ll be anthrax and I won’t live long enough to see the bill fail”, way to instil confidence Frank. In scenes reminiscent of Outbreak, the HAZMAT crews flood the offices and are working to identify the substance. It’s during their time of confinement that we learn Donald’s wife Marjorie has Alzheimer’s, you can almost hear the weapons system recalibrating as Frank acquires a new target “I should have thought of this before, appeal to the heart, not the brain.” Frank probes Donald about Marjorie’s illness and how awful it must be for Donald, there’s some flattery as well, but it falls on deaf ears. Donald won’t budge. Things go from bad to worse when inconclusive test results mean the quarantine is to continue for another four hours at least, prolonging Frank and Donald’s captivity. The silver lining to this Addams Family cloud? The vote has been delayed.

“Good things happen to good people.”

With all communications in and out of the White House being jammed for security reasons, Frank is able to use his powers, for good instead of evil, to facilitate contact with their respective wives. On Frank’s say so, Claire will go ahead with the interview solo, while Donald is able to speak with Marjorie who slips into non compos mentis mode; the strain on Donald is visible. A supportive hand on the shoulder and a stiff drink breaks the tension between Frank and Donald. Frank discloses that he wouldn’t know what to do without Claire, or if she couldn’t remember him, it’s likely the most sincere thing Frank will say throughout the whole ordeal. The truce is short lived however when Donald reacts to what he perceives is Frank’s attempt to use his wife’s condition as leverage for his vote. That’s the end of that and Frank concedes defeat to the audience. Back at the house, Connor is putting the final polish on Claire’s prefabricated response to the question of children, she’s a veteran, that much is obvious. Across town Lucas prepares to debunk from Hacker Boot Camp to cover the white house lock down but is slapped, literally, into submission by Gavin. Ouch! Gavin doesn’t like the pattern that is forming with Lucas’ movements in and out of his lair and needs to ensure if they get caught Lucas goes down too. Lights, camera, action! Claire Underwood, one on one with Ashley; Frank and Donald in less than companionable silence take up viewing positions in their cage. The interview starts out with some glimpses into Claire’s childhood including a “hearts and minds” story about her Daddy taking her to where Kennedy was shot. I’m not even a citizen and I want to vote for Frank! The questioning moves to Claire’s affluent upbringing and how her family money financed Frank’s ambition. Claire dances with the finesse of a member of the national ballet.

“Some people think that your marriage may be a bit more calculated than you let on?”

Thanks Captain Obvious, Ashley clearly hasn’t watched the last sixteen chapters. But the question of connection beyond political benefit has been posed, Claire launches into a grand jete “our partnership extends far beyond that” and, nails the landing. We cut to Frank looking on with distinct pride and affection at his other half, we can see their relationship extends beyond anything mere mortals could ever understand. Wright is positively luminous in these scenes and absolutely owns this chapter. Frank and Kevin respectively, take a back seat. However, after rolling out the “party line” on the question of children, Claire baulks at a report that she was pregnant during Frank’s second congressional campaign. I heard the collective squeaks, creaks and groans of millions of couches as we all leaned forward in anticipation of the response. What comes next must have put more than a few of us on the floor, all now wondering what this will mean for Frank’s career as we dust ourselves off and climb back into our seats, poor Connor looks like a cod fish. Claire admits to a pregnancy and an abortion, career suicide as I understand it in American politics. Cut to Frank and it’s Donald’s turn to ply him with alcohol. By the look on Frank’s face though, whilst he doesn’t seem to have had any advance warning of this reveal by Claire, he doesn’t look like someone who’s concerned with setting any records for being the shortest serving Vice President either. He’s calm, ponderous, “what’s she up to?”. Connor on the other hand has gone into damage control during the break requested by Claire. To add to the PR nightmare she tells Connor there were actually three abortions, running through the circumstances of each as though she’s ticking off all the places she normally leaves her car keys, in a bid to work out where they are now. Connor calls for a full retreat but Claire disregards his counsel and goes back for more, I’m with Frank; what on earth is she up to? I quickly sort back through my long term memory and locate Claire’s nightmare about “the children”, Frank comforts her at the time as she’s genuinely distraught. One moment Claire is stalked in her dreams by the loss of children then as we’ve already seen previously in season 2, has about as much regard for them as something she’s almost stepped in but narrowly avoided. Claire’s complexity is turning into a Rubik’s Cube torment.

“Francis pinned stars on him.”

In a contrived moment of tactical brilliance, Claire re-rails Frank’s career, de-rails another, redeems herself; and sets up her next cause. Claire fingers General Dalton McGinnis, on national prime time television, as a sexual predator responsible for assaulting her; the unwanted pregnancy being the result. Frank did say that only Claire could “stop the bleeding” when it came to the McGinnis wound, did he know then that she was a combat medic in a previous life? Consider that wound sutured! Queue the end of the lock-down saga and Frank, like a father late to his daughters recital, can’t get out quick enough. There’s an exchange between Frank and Donald as they’re liberated from their confines, Donald tells Frank he has a brave wife, to which Frank replies that he does to; he will get Donald his research funding regardless of how he votes. I want to believe that through a shared love for the women in their lives, who have suffered such grievances, that Frank meant what he said to Donald and he will come up with the funds. The alternative is that Donald is right and Frank really is that fundamentally deceptive. As he barrels his way out, Frank bumps into Jackie and concedes defeat in the battle for Donald’s votes, without a hint of bitterness or implied retribution. Jackie however, isn’t going to let Donald off the hook so easily though; Donald’s big picture stance gets a lot bigger when Jackie confronts him. I bet Donald was wishing he was still in the cage with Frank now. Frank arrives home on the tail end of Claire’s interview, instead of joining her he admires her from the shadows as she basks in the sunshine of her glorious victory over McGinnis. Stick a fork in him, McGinnis is done! We move from the Underwood’s briefly back to Gavin, who in a cliched moment meets his new handler, Stamper’s buddy; on a dark and rainy night in an empty car park. Gavin is a snitch for the FBI, the price of his freedom for past crimes, a price he is starting to think too costly. As far as chapter endings go, this is one of my favourites. We return to the window of casa Underwood for a victory cigarette, the impostor promptly replaced when Claire declares she would prefer the real thing. Frank had at some point secreted one under a lamp, conniving to the last detail “I’m always prepared.” Silhouetted by a moonlit sky, the two share their precious contraband and Claire asks Frank to sing her something. My heart skips a beat, I know that Kevin is an accomplished singer but its been a while since he’s done any crooning. He breaks into a rendition of the Stanley Brothers’ murder ballad “Pretty Polly”, the hair on my neck stands up. Whether it’s because I know that the song is about a man who kills his wife because of her past, or because I’m in swoon mode; I still can’t decide. The southern bayou vibe, moonlight and murder, it’s a poetic end to the chapter and we fade out to the sound of twanging strings entwined with the orchestral standard. Magic!

House Of Cards: Chapter 15 review

“One heart beat away from the Presidency and not a single vote cast in my name. Democracy is so overrated.”

We open House Of Cards chapter 15 with renovations of casa Underwood in full swing and news outlets headlining Frank’s “uninspiring appointment as Vice President, while he preens himself for the quiet swearing in ceremony; which will take place amongst the chaos of buzz saws and hammering. Preening complete, Frank makes his way downstairs stopping just long enough to have his privacy bubble burst when he sees the security cameras being installed, he won’t be pushing anyone down those stairs anytime soon. Stamper is subtly interrogating Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffery) about Christina’s fairing as the Presidents new help, in a not so subtle attempt to keep her occupied in the wake of inquiries into Russo’s death, and you just know there will be the obligatory strings attached. In the aftermath of chapter 14 we see Lucas drowning in grief over his “Twitter twat” girlfriend. He is abandoned by Janine whose fight or flight instincts have kicked in and she can’t flap her arms quick enough to migrate anywhere Frank isn’t. In lieu of Janine, Lucas is left carrying the truth crusade torch and eventually wins the sympathy of his law enforcement source; who lets him view the train station security camera footage of the incident. As Lucas watches Zoe’s last moment of horrifying human existence, followed by her bug into the grill of a Mack truck end; he’s gutted. You can almost see his soul shrivelling up in front of you. It’s a brilliant, pure and tortured performance by Sebastian Arcelus; who even gets the gentle rock on that people in shock sometimes do. I didn’t feel for any of the characters this season as much as I did for Lucas in that moment. Despite the footage supporting the Police finding of accidental death, Lucas, far from convinced; enlists the help of former Washington Post boss Tom “The Hammer” Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), whose most memorable moment of season 1 was informing Zoe that she was a repository for the male reproductive organ. Classy. Tom, looking a little worse for wear since being cast out of the paper, and with a six pack of beer (the preverbal all-purpose thirst quencher & problem solver), visits Lucas at work. For the second time Lucas doesn’t get the support he craves for his conspiracy theory. Back at Pennsylvania Avenue, the battle between the Whip candidates heats up and tensions grow between Frank and Tusk; the sparring becomes more vigorous. In one of the lighter moments so far there’s a particularly humorous awkward moment of expectant silence between Frank, Tusk and the Secretary of State that had me chuckling to myself; we’ve all been there. They exchange jabs down the telephone line over back-channeling the Chinese, with Frank playing the President off against his long time billionaire, bird watching (yawn) confidant; although I prefer him for a puppeteer. Meanwhile Frank is pulling a Geppetto of his own on Secretary of State, Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson), in his subterfuge of Tusk and the President over the Cyber-espionage sub-plot with the Chinese, while Jackie is busy setting her own table for a course of congressman hide; medium rare.

“Cathy, if you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table.”

There’s a new thread woven into the fabric of Claire Underwood in this chapter that reveals as much about Frank as it does about Claire’s past. Claire is to accompany Frank on his first public engagement as Veep, dishing out stars to newly commissioned Marine Officers. As Claire’s assistant reads out the recipient list Claire becomes almost disorientated when one name comes up. The name is General Dalton McGinnis and he’s to be promoted to Commander U.S. Strategic Core. Claire discloses to her assistant that they went to college together and quickly moves on with the business of the day, which also happens to be the first time we hear Conner Ellis’ name; he’s on a short list of candidates to become Claire’s spin-doctor; more on him later. I thought the McGinnis thing would lead to a story arc of ‘the one that got away’, the first love, blah blah blah and cause friction between the Underwood’s. I would be wrong (Strike 1). All seems to be going well at Frank’s inaugural outing until Cmdr McGinnis, all chest and ribbons to match, avails himself at the Underwood’s table. McGinnis rejects Claire’s outstretched hand and instead lunges in with a kiss which does not go unnoticed by Frank. (I clear my throat. Awkward…) None the less Frank’s attention to the overly familiar greeting is fleeting once their five minute Harvard relationship is divulged, and Frank returns to his very informative breakdown of the three major crop yields in his home state. A short moment later Claire takes her leave looking rattled. Frank doesn’t miss a beat and he also excuses himself. In typical Frank fashion he has little regard for social etiquette, sends the Secret Service agent packing; and joins Claire in the ladies room. Claire, visibly distressed, tells Frank “it was him”, “Freshman year.” Frank seems to know exactly what ‘event’ Claire is referring to (my mind is running scenarios and narrows it down to one) but he’s apparently been blissfully unaware of who the perpetrator was all these years. The ‘who’, has just been identified as McGinnis. It’s a revelation that unhinges Frank, enraged he sets out for McGinnis; nice knowing you McGinnis, you’re probably about to wish you died as quickly as Zoe Barnes. Claire reigns Frank in before he passes the point of no return, working frantically to placate him and stop him from disembowelling McGinnis, consequently derailing their push to the top in the process. It’s a genuine moment and the first time we see spontaneous, reckless anger from Frank where there has been no real lead in; he’s been blind-sided before but he’s in the passenger seat this time, watching Claire take the full impact. There’s little doubt that had Frank escaped the ladies room it was going to be a blood bath. A persistent knocking on the door by the Secret Service Agent is a fortuitous distraction and Frank has to redirect his agitation. Spacey does well here, both in believability and managing overlapping dialogue between Wright and the soon to be redeployed Agent at the door. The crafty camera work lends some weight to Spacey’s aggressive posture and he cuts a formidable looking figure, one capable of punching you in the face for a change instead of stabbing you in the back. Claire is finally able to bring Frank to heel but not before he attempts to satiate himself by inflicting grievous bodily harm on a lamp. As you can imagine during the star ceremony Frank radiated residual heat towards McGinnis with a fixated, unblinking stare that would have caused most of us to spontaneously combust. Those stars may as well have been daggers Frank was driving down through the Commander’s clavicles.

When the Underwood’s arrive home later in the evening Frank takes a gentle tone with Claire, one we’ve only heard a few times previously. He does have the emotional capacity to actually care about this woman in isolation from the empire. Again I berate myself for being drawn in by this show of compassion. When he is shut out by Claire who retires to bed, Frank mopes around the townhouse, practically dragging his knuckles from the demoralised slouch he’s adopted; restless and lacking in purpose for the first time since chapter 1. He finds no solace in the online virtual butchery of his Playstation due to the connections not being secure, and is left equally unsatisfied with his proxy vice; a vapour cigarette. I wonder how long his “addiction without the consequences” will last. Defeated, Frank finally goes upstairs. Still awake, Claire recollects details of the rape (Hah! I knew it!) to Frank, who just listens. Claire’s confrontation with her past goes someway towards explaining her icy demeanour, even in this raw state she might as well be standing behind bullet proof glass; insulated. The weight of the reveal is too much for Frank, when he informs Claire he won’t be able to sleep, he is sedately banished back downstairs, You’ll still feel the hate in the morning, you’ll use that, but not on him.” I’m struck by the range of emotions Claire can elicit from Frank, like the tides affected by the moon, Claire can push and pull Frank at will. Is Claire Frank’s achilles heel? The gap in the armour? In the absence of any intimate moments, it’s difficult to get a handle on the touch-point between these two, it goes far beyond the biology of symbiosis, but how far; and to what end? These two intrigue me.

“I strangle her Francis, so she doesn’t strangle me. I have to. We have to. The alternative is unliveable.

Lucas commences his extracurricular deep-net exploration in light of the Chinese Cyber-espionage controversy, seeing an opportunity to contract a hacker in order to get hold of Frank’s cell phone logs. Lucas, I feel for you buddy but you don’t mess with National Security, this is destined to end in tears. Frank’s reshaping of the President like a lump of plasticine has paid off with a show of strength against China, a backflip that sends Tusk into a tailspin. Jackie, doing her best Frank impersonation, is trying to divide and conquer the other two Whip candidates of Webb and Buchwalter in the interest of self promotion. Her only bargaining chip is the very man responsible for her career and long time friend, Congressman Ted Havemeyer; so Jackie seeks Frank’s counsel to find an alternative. When Frank is not forthcoming with one, Jackie’s desire to move up wins out, and she deftly drops the axe on Ted. Jackie exposes an old affair and the subsequent, hidden, offspring; a daughter with cerebral palsy. “I hate myself, but I’ll get over it.” Damn! I need my sweater from chapter 14, that’s below zero. Can you imagine Jackie and Claire teaming up together? What was that movie about the two lions that hunted and ate humans for fun? The Ghost and the Darkness, that’s it! That would be them. Jackie must have left her conscience behind in Frank’s office, occupational hazard I think, he probably keeps them in a draw and feeds them to a snake or something. Be careful what you create Frank. At the close of the chapter the Underwood’s are home and for the first time since the renovations, the townhouse is eerily quiet…

“We have our fortress now.”

House Of Cards: Season 2 + Chapter 14 spoilers!


Leader of the free world issues Executive Order: “No spoilers, please.”  

That’s no token endorsement and one that Netflix can leverage off for seasons to come. Praise from the lips of the President of the United States of America to the ears of the global executive level and then some.

Now, since I don’t serve at the pleasure of the President, I feel zero compunction to comply with the directive. Sorry about that Chief. I have however inserted a chapter 14 spoiler alert further into the piece, for anyone reading who doesn’t want their viewing pleasure diluted. You’re reasonably sheltered first up though so HERE.WE.GO!

It’s Valentines Day and I’ve battened down the hatches, double checked the contents of my ration pack and notified my next of kin that I’ll be off-line for the next 13 hours. I wait for Netflix to hit the enter key. As I do, I find myself salivating, and I hadn’t even clumsily removed the lid off my first refreshing cider. There’s a nervous excitement as I wait for an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. At 6pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), I join millions of fans the world over to watch the juggernaut that is House of Cards, plough its way down the data cable and into my living room with such force; I could swear I felt the rush of air pass over my face and turn otherwise calm athena vertical blinds into a fury of fabric. It’s good to see you again Congressman Underwood…

The sophomore instalment follows the chapter sequencing of the previous season, with the opener being number 14, and every chapter has something to offer. Something that causes you to have a moment of rapid air intake (I had several imagined heart attacks attacks), or sit there slack-jawed, ignorant to the chilled alcoholic beverage you’re holding that soon goes warm from inattention. Something that makes you jump from the edge of the couch where you were precariously perched waiting for the next manoeuvre, fist pumping the air, hurling slanderous abuse at the victim; and exulting praise for the victor. Only to shamefully berate yourself as you’re reminded of the murderous histrionics of your champion. That’s right, I was rooting for Francis. Full credit to the creators, particularly showrunner Beau Willimon, for providing us with this story, these characters; whose apparent lack of morals have you constantly questioning your own. I was persistently seeking out, even willing redeeming qualities into the characters, in a bid to prevent my own unconscionable corruption. What’s more disturbing is that I did it out loud, alone, on Valentines Day. I was talking to a fictional character. But wasn’t that the point? To participate, bear witness, play accomplice…? I did it all, and I loved every moment, no longer the bystander content to rubber-neck at the scene of a crime.  You’re on the other side of the police tape now, moving amongst the carnage, immersed (I suddenly look at my fingernails for epithelial evidence). The fascination, the devastation, the triumph. Frank’s battle became my cause, his victory my elation, his crime my guilt.

At its core ‘Cards’ is about power and relationships. The rotunda halls simply serve as the funnel to ensure every tear shed, every bead of sweat exuded, and every last drop of blood rung out from its characters made its way to me; pooling around my feet. Season 2 delves deeper into the dark recesses of the Underwood’s, as individuals, and as an empire. An empire built on top of the carcasses of friend and foe alike, although I imagine their Facebook friends list would be a short read. The push to the top of the food chain even has its own hashtag #OneNationUnderwood, which would make a great slogan for a campaign, or even the Underwood pairing itself. In fact, the depths we descended to this season were almost terrifying and I feared I would never see daylight again. With so much more still to explore, and explain, between these two characters; I’m considering leaving bread crumbs and a Dolphin torch out for myself in season 3.

Frank and Tusk continue face off in a government versus private sector battle for supremecy. I could have been forgiven for thinking I was watching Nadal v Federer all over again as they traded aces, backhands, and blistering forehands at about the same rate. The loser of this Grand Slam however doesn’t get to take home a polished piece of consolation silverware, and the court is strewn with the broken bodies of ball boys. Pawns. Casualties of war. There’s no such thing as “trickle-down diplomacy” this season, only the remnants of a scorched earth policy.

“There is no sacred ground for the conquered.”

In the true sense of one-upmanship the writers have raised the bar with their character additions (and assassinations), brutality towards animals, and sexual exploration worthy of film noir categorisation. Among those reprising their roles from season 1 are Frank’s rubber band and the rowing machine. Both get more screen time than Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) and warrant listing in the credits. The rubber band is a clever manifestation of Frank’s stretching and bending the rules, and people, to their breaking point; sometimes beyond. Whilst the archaic exercise machine in the Underwood’s dungeon, I mean basement, looks more like a medieval instrument of torture and doesn’t look out of place at all. I can see it getting top-billing in season 3 and I pity the prisoner. One of the more curious new additions looks like a rat on steroids wearing an oversized Cruella De Vil-esque fur coat. After some quick googling I discovered it was a Guinea Pig a.k.a Cashew. Turns out Cashew is a thief and steals the scene from her human co stars, in one of several powerful moments where those considered lower on the food chain, fall prey to the biped predators. I know what you’re thinking, powerful and Guinea Pig in the same discussion, must be Binge Fatigue. But it’s not possible with the pace of the narrative which moves along at an increased tempo from last season, if not at times frenetic, punctuated by moments that take you a full chapter to recover from.

Chapter 14 establishes the tone early. The musical score has has had a little tweaking, I meant tweaking, which compliments the heavier and more static atmosphere this time around. Even the new lighting reflected the moodiness and almost otherworldly air around the characters. Darkness has enveloped Washington, with the main protagonists using it to veil their nefarious deeds.

The performances have gone up a notch too. I’m tipping Robin Wright (Claire Underwood) to go back to back Golden Globes and round out the quinella with the Emmy, she really flips the switch in season 2! I thought Kevin Spacey (Frank Underwood) was unlucky in the 2013 awards season, but I’m hoping his luck changes in 2014 now that Bryan Cranston’s meth lab is closed for business. Part of Spacey’s longevity in the industry is his drive to be a dynamic actor, create multidimensional characters, grow; and walk where others fear to tread. He’s not as risk averse as many actors who might deliberately err on the side of sentimentality for the sake of self preservation. He doesn’t judge a character, he presents you with one, and forces you to make the call yourself. Anyone who has already viewed the whole season, or any of his other work, will recognise this to be true and know exactly what I’m referring to. But the best part? Spacey and Wright are electric together! Their off-screen friendship, which is obvious in joint interviews, translates to the camera. They go together like guns and bullets, one doesn’t work without the other, and the result of that fully functioning firearm? Well, it’s a weapon of mass consumption. There was one particular chapter I had to re-watch the following day (my addictive personality didn’t stop at one though) just to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep mid-binge. I wasn’t dreaming! [insert slack-jaw look here. Again] “Holy Frank Underwood!!” Their relationship really is an empire to rival the Romans, in ALL aspects.

So who else chose to spend Valentines with the diabolic but effective #OneNationUnderwood, shooshing their other half instead of fawning over them? Whilst digital distributor Netflix is cagey about viewership stats, and isn’t subject to the Nielsen ratings system, external sources have estimated over 13 million subscribers watched Chapter 14 within the first eight hours of its release. Add to that the cable network and DVR numbers and it’s likely to be an impressive theoretical tally. To put that into some perspective, the AMC series Breaking Bad had an average of 1.2 million viewers in its debut season. By the second last episode of season 5 they had 6.6 and the finale drew 10.3. CBS Network’s flagship series NCIS, now in its 11th season, is still the most consistently popular of the scripted dramas averaging over 19 million viewers per episode since season 7. At one point spiking with 24 million. Its debut season pulled in just over 12 million. If 13 million is even close to the mark for HoC, and having already seen the entire second season, then I think Netflix decision to commission a third just made sense; and a growing fan base very happy.

The other thing Netflix is conscious of is spoilers. The team created a #spolierfoiler for Twitter fans which removed HoC hashtags from their feeds until they were ready to gather around the Twitterverse water cooler (Netflix has your back Mr President). The only problem of course with binging and a social media black-out? You miss the collective “WTF?”, real-time commentary. With a few scenes where you could have deposited a basket of cobras in my living room and I wouldn’t have flinched, not being able to engage my fellow constituents has been excruciating, hence my #CanTheBan Twitter campaign. It didn’t trend, go figure…

“I hate being kept in the dark. Waiting. Speculating. Useless.”


In chapter 14 we pick up right were we left off with the Underwood’s still on their masochistic celebratory jog. Frank is still on the cusp of confirmation as Vice President. The journalistic trio of Zoe, Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) and Janine (Constance Zimmer) are still on the trail, connecting dots as they go. Dots that Frank proports not to exist. As we know, Rachel is the piece of the puzzle they desperately need to find. Enter Stamper (Michael Kelly). He manhandles a very resistant, very large knife wielding Rachel into moving from one miserable existence to another; just out of reach of the reporting crusaders. The previous season intimated that Stamper had an interest in Rachel which extended beyond the need to simply to protect himself, and the soon to be Vice President, from implication in Russo’s death. This is explored further this season with dramatic results. In a role I liken to Richard III’s Duke of Buckingham, Stamper has his demons to wrestle, loyalty to uphold; and lines in the sand. All threaten to consume him. The first of the new characters, Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) is introduced as Frank’s, well thought out (surprise surprise) replacement.

All the while Tusk is there nipping at Frank’s heals trying to cash in his Vice Presidency support chip. An economic issue with china, masked by a cyber-espionage sub plot, becomes the treacherous terrain Frank and Tusk (Gerald McRaney) will do battle on. Frank’s hunger for Freddy’s ribs has increased this season and it’s while devouring his unusual breakfast fare that Freddy (Reg E. Cathey) regales Frank with a story about how his delicious new recipe’s main ingredient is prepared. Frank is engrossed, morbidly fascinated even, “Bam! Shovel to the base of the head. No screaming.” Frank startles like a frightened child hearing thunder for the first time. But there’s a strange recognition in his eyes, like he’s just stumbled across the nuclear launch codes, and is already planning how to put this newly acquired information to good use. Claire confronts Gillian Cole with the charm of a rattlesnake, “I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that’s what’s required”; said dripping with venom. With that, the law suit, and curiously her perceived interest in becoming pregnant herself; are promptly removed from the equation and she prepares to follow Frank to Pennsylvania Avenue. It seems Claire not only has the killer instinct of a cold blooded fish but the the maternal one as well. It’s easy to see why Frank loves her more than sharks love blood.

“Am I really the sort of enemy you want to make?”

In the first season, watching Frank catch & kill was like watching an adolescent killer whale play with a baby seal, before finally exerting enough pressure with its jaws to end the game when it tired of it; or was genuinely hungry. It’s rude to play with your food Frank… But he’s honed his skills and graduated since then. In a far more shocking opener than the now infamous ‘dog strangling’ chapter, and perhaps inspired by Freddy’s meal time story, Frank lures Zoe out. It’s time to put his baby seal out of its misery. #GoZoe indeed, right under a D.C. train! Bam!! [Insert a rapid intake of air I was talking about here]. You know when you can see the end coming from a mile away but it still manages to reach you with sound barrier breaking speed and take you by merciless surprise… With my heart still palpitating, I was fully expecting Frank to say her hashtag “Go Zoe” as he skulked away from the scene, just to reinforce his scorn for useless things. What struck me though was the violence and urgency of it. Was it just an impulse reaction to how much she knew? For me there was still a feel of premeditation, hedging his bets dependant upon how much she revealed knew, I suspect her show of contrition over Russo didn’t help her cause either. Whatever Frank’s intentions, her expeditious demise was in stark contrast to the sad, painless; but obviously opportunistic manner with which Frank dispatched Congressman Russo last season. Evidence of his indifference, if not contempt, toward Zoe is confirmed for us in his post-mortem address later in the chapter.

“Those were my choices and I can live with them.”

Frank (looking more like a super sleuth than someone with two counts of felony murder under his belt) returns home to Claire, who has arranged a small cake with a single candle on it, much to Frank’s obvious chagrin; but he resigns himself to obliging her. We now take another step down into the profundity of their union. It’s the silence that threatens to burst my ear drums. Another element the writers have mastered this season with some of the most affecting scenes void of any dialogue. The tacit exchanges between these two are potent. Frank unceremoniously extinguishes the single candle, a metaphor for the snuffed out life of Zoe perhaps. The muteness continues, their eyes re-engage, wraithlike they melt into black. The whole scene makes me feel like I’ve stumbled into the inner sanctum of a cult that has just sacrificed a virgin. A chill runs down my spine. The temperature drops further when Claire is only briefly distracted by the morning news headlining Zoe’s death. She pays it almost no attention and, looking more like she’s making a mental shopping list, she casually saunters away to apply blush. At this point I’m considering rummaging through my wardrobe for my favourite New York Giants sweater, to insulate me from the frost creeping out of the 52” screen, that’s only 5 feet away (excessive? Meh). The camera work further into this scene was masterful. As Claire finishes applying makeup we get an over-the-shoulder shot that stalks in on Claire. From this vantage point we see only Claire’s reflection framed by the edges of the mirror which has a slight upward angle. It’s positively regal, statuesque, impenetrable; and the camera is there to pledge fealty. When Frank declares to his new Secret Service Detail that they will be remaining in their townhouse after the confirmation, instead of taking up occupancy of the Vice Presidential residence, I was not at all surprised. The townhouse is familiar, their castle, a fortress and the centre of their kingdom.

“He’s got power, he’s got influence, and he’s got a lot to lose.”

Also of note in chapter 14 is Frank’s softening towards his newly promoted Secret Service Agent, Edward Meechum. It is evident that Frank’s tolerance for Meechum has increased when he accepts a birthday gift from his younger guardian. What’s so odd about that you ask? Frank despises celebrating his birthday and has Nancy distribute all cards and gifts accordingly: anything valuable goes to the conference room, anything cheap goes to the interns and all cards out with the trash. Even Stamper’s birthday jest is met with a threatened cuff around the ear. With Frank another year older, and soon-to-be Vice President, Claire decides to abolish the ritualistic lung torpedo by the window. Frank is deflated and I’m forlorn over the loss of this shared guilty pleasure (like they didn’t have enough), with the slender porthole having served as facilitator, therapist, and military advisor since Frank was duped out the Secretary of State position. Back to Meechum, who despite a warning from Stamper, bestows a set of cuff links on his boss which Frank promptly and proudly parades for Claire at home; although the audience does not get to see this prized gift up close. As I watched what I assumed was nothing more than Francis connecting with his inner child, a strange thought crossed my mind and I drifted back momentarily to the chapter 8 scenes played out in the old library of Frank’s military college, the Sentinel. Then there was something Zoe said to Frank last season as well, “What do you think about when I’m up against then wall?. We know of course that Frank had a relationship with one of The Rifleman but was it just one of those ‘experimental’ phases we hear about? I mean, he’s married Claire since then and bedded Zoe, who appeared to have a particularly satisfying Fathers Day with Frank. But what of his tolerance of Claire’s side dish Adam? Could we be looking at a royal hybrid of Alexander the Great and Richard III? Vision: Meechum with a studded collar sitting obediently beside Frank being petted [insert second rapid intake of air]. Could I begrudge him though? Meechum’s a good looking rooster, patriotic and loyal; he packs heat for a living, and he’s prepared to use it. I’m giving this way too much thought! snap back to present. The chapter is drawing to a close and Frank, still standing in front of the powder room mirror, delivers his first address of the season. “Did you think I’d forgotten you?” I was beginning to wonder… In fine sanctimonious form he proceeds to tell me not to mourn Zoe Barnes, “All kittens grow up to be cats.” Once again, the end has justified the means. There’s a less humorous tone to this soliliquoy than usual though and Spacey’s steely eyed delivery is utterly mesmerising. After his positively barbarous welcoming message, Frank exits the powder room, the camera pans down to the cufflinks on the bench top and the design is now revealed. A single letter adorns each; F and U. The impact is immediate. I burst into uncontrollable laughter laced with pride at the inference. Just like that the hunt is on and I’m sweating chapter 15.

“There is but one rule. Hunt, or be hunted.”

For my fellow Aussie fans who don’t have Netflix firstly, my condolences. Secondly, get it! It’s quick, easy, dirt cheap; and you’re not breaking any Laws according to our own Attorney General. Netflix also has the exclusive Directors Audio Commentary for season 1 that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the Blu-ray release as was originally expected. It’s one of the most informative commentaries I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a few. If you have Foxtel you can catch HoC on the Showcase Channel Saturdays at 7.30pm (AEST). I’m from Brizzy so it’s 8.30pm for the Daylight savings states, which is most of you. Be sure to check your guides and set the IQ to series link so you don’t have to worry about missing it. If you don’t have Foxtel, it sucks to be you. I’ll be posting chapter reviews and of course you can wait for the DVD release, although it will be an agonising wait.

Season 1 is available on Blu-ray and DVD at most retail outlets including Sanity and JB HI-FI, even Woolworths has it! For the online shoppers try EZYDVD or Fishpond. I note EZYDVD has a ‘notify me’ function for the yet to be released season 2 AND 3!! Respect. Before I forget, you can also get the original BBC series on which the U.S version is based. It’s a great show in its own right but don’t look for hard and fast alignment between the two. Director/Producer David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven and The Social Network) and writer Beau Willimon, have fully optioned this model into a quarter mile crusher. Everything else is pedestrian by comparison.

Happy hunting!

“This is the part where you leave.”