House of Cards: Chapter 16 review

“There are two types of Vice President, door mats and Matadors. Which do you think I intend to be?”

Well I don’t think it’s going to take a degree in political science to work this one out! This is the question Frank poses to us as chapter 16 opens. President Walker is fretting over the State of the Union (SOU) address and the VP is bored out of his mind, his well endowed doodle of a bull evidence of his contemptuous inattention. Tusk on the other hand is paying close attention and is none to pleased with the domestic focus of the draft address, Tusk needs international affairs to be front and centre, with the podium draped in the Republic of China flag just so there’s no confusion. As we now know China has the precursor Tusk’s nuclear plants require to keep glowing, and like Monty Burns he’s nothing without his radioactive industry. The domestic nature of the address plays into Frank’s hands, (surprise surprise) as an ongoing beef between the democrats and the republicans over raising the retirement age becomes the poison chalice threatening to sink the SOU address; and leave the Government dead in the water. Who doesn’t love a good Government shutdown? Apparently not Frank, Tusk or the President, but this will turn out to be the only thing they all agree on for some time. Now, we know how much Frank dislikes sludge clogging up the pipes so it’s time to get his hands dirty, again; by accepting the inevitable and acceding to the republicans who are in favour of raising the age of retirement. Hey presto! Avoid a shutdown, spice up the SOU address and get China back on the agenda for tiresome Tusk. Three of a kind baby! Then there’s the rub, the President will have to backflip on his retirement age stance, he’s firmly against it. Frank’s about to break this to the President when Tusk decides that he might be better placed to play devils advocate on this one, and with all the sincerity of a used car salesman, Frank agrees and stops just short of rolling out red carpet for the Presidents “trusted confidant”. Frank now has three days to bring in the herd and push the amendment through the Senate, no pressure… Something has caught my eye in this scene, apart from the President looking a little frazzled all of a sudden, it was Christina’s elevated profile. The President appears to have become quite reliant on Christina, but is it for more than just coming up with a good tagline? While Walker doesn’t have that ‘any intern will do’ feel about him there’s definitely a connection of sorts that he doesn’t have with Linda “tougher than a two dollar steak” Vasquez.

“I can’t have this conspiracy stuff going mainstream.”

With only three days to strong arm the retirement age amendment through the Senate, Frank gets to work on the Republicans, he dangles leadership support; staving off the freeze and bipartisanship in front of a reluctant Hector who also has the Tea Party to contend with “you’re the Senate Majority Leader, you don’t have to sell, you can dictate.” Lucas pops back up like a crazed stalker accosting Christina on Pennsylvania Avenue. He tugs at the Russo heart string to get Christina to sing like a canary on Frank. Fail. Christina’s not having any of it, she’s put Russo behind her, traded up for the President and doesn’t mind dropping Lucas in it with the VP if he doesn’t make like a thousand startled gazelles and get the flock away from her. It’s just getting a little embarrassing now Lucas, Frank’s murder count is clocking higher numbers than your fan club, and people actually like you. A routine threat assessment brief to Linda by the FBI and the Secret Service, involved the usual apparatus measuring between agencies, but with a lack of credible threats the all clear was given; the President and VP are SNAFU, that is Situation Nefarious All Frank Underwood (work with me on this one, I think it will stick). Stamper’s old buddy the FBI Executive Liaison was holding out however, he has already passed information on to Stamper, found by one of his agents, that there is some deep-web VP activity (sounds like nerd porn doesn’t it?) that isn’t looking good for Frank. In the best interests of the VP, this VP “digging” turns into a potential VP “threat” and the threat must be contained. It will need to be off the books of course and Stamper morphs into a Frank mini-me regurgitating the “I’ve got White House influence now” pitch to close the deal with his FBI buddy. Frank would be so proud. Meanwhile, poor Rachel has gone from working Johns to working phones in an equally unsatisfying job at a call centre pedalling firearms education and legislation awareness (yawn). Visual: she finally drops her bundle and goes postal, irony? I’ll check in with Alanis and get back to you… What Rachel does do is call her mother, which is interesting because she told Stamper she couldn’t go home in season 1. We know from Zoe’s snooping that daddy dearest may have been the problem, so her reluctance to have anything to do with home could be because Mum and Dad are still together. Whatever her reasons for distancing herself from her family, they’re now being overridden by her natural instinct to seek the support of her mother, a sure sign that life is starting to overwhelm her. I do hope she doesn’t capitulate, there’s fight in Rachel, a drive I don’t think she’s recognised yet.

“Francis faints at the sight of his own blood, he won’t even let them break the skin.”

Now we meet Connor Ellis (Sam Page), a delightful piece of soft, mouth watering eye candy, amongst some bland hard boiled jaw breakers. Connor is vying for the role of the Underwood’s Media Advisor, spin doctor, or professional redecorator as I like to refer to them. Claire is quite taken with Connor’s initiative “When I want a job, I do my homework” and gives him a little assignment of her own before he can be permitted membership to team Underwood. As Claire sees Connor out, and I do a neck muscle trying to follow him beyond the edge of my TV screen, the President with entourage in tow; barrel their way through the corridor. Who do you think Claire and I both spot looking more like a limpet than a staff member attached to Walker? Christina. I know what you’re thinking Claire, I’m hungry too… oh, and what is going on between those two? We know flirting when we see it don’t we ladies? Speaking of flirting, Frank, with the added aesthetic appeal of Claire; turns his attention to persuading the democrats that unity can be achieved with the republicans on the retirement age bill. This is done over a few glasses of wine, a seemingly innocuous activity that Frank and Claire still manage to make look downright sinister, I don’t think Judas would have been the problem if these two had been at the Last Supper. While Frank and Claire are busy dining on the souls of democrats, Lucas is tethered to his laptop and I suspect, begrudgingly to his melancholic existence as well. Even the sudden explosion of porn on the screen proves nothing more than an irritation until Zoe’s face pops up, mocking him from the grave. Low and behold it’s the hacker he contacted previously, cruelly tormenting him then enticing him with the promise of information. Progress at last! In a scene that could have been in any number of Bond, Bourne or Mission Impossible movies, Lucas is directed to a diner where an iPad is delivered to him; it would have been less obvious if he’d had ‘rookie operative’ tattooed to his forehead, he’s no Ethan Hunt! It all starts to get a bit techno-geek from here and there’s a freaky talking avatar, some fingerprint scanning, and “this iPad will self destruct” stuff going on but in a nutshell Lucas has to help the hacker get into the Washington Post system. Lucas does this under the nose of the most oblivious IT support guru in the known universe and, mission accomplished, he sends the data to the hacker and waits for further instructions; the instructions turn out to be a meet. Tusk lets Frank know the President has agreed to green light the retirement age amendment and the SOU address is being worked on accordingly, although Tusk is apprehensive about including details until Frank can lock down the agreement between the democrats and the republicans; who are now bickering over the implementation timeframe. Time is running short for Frank and he still has to mitigate Tea Party filibustering of the final bill through the house, so the last thing he needed was to hear from Stamper that Lucas is now another ball that requires juggling. Ever the diligent servant, Stamper takes the lead on this loose end but one gets the feeling Frank wishes the Washington Post would go up in flames.

“The higher up the mountain, the more treacherous the path.”

Lucas comes full circle back to Janine who still isn’t playing ball. Lucas it’s time to suck it up and get it over with, I’d rather give myself paper cuts then keep watching you search for validation and get shut down every time. No such procrastination from our smiling assassin Frank, he’s back to playing moderator between the democrats and the republicans only this time he gets his hand-shake deal and it’s smiles all round, no threats of violence or career destruction required; how disappointing. My disappointment soon turns to intrigue as Rachel pops up again. Rachel makes a friend on the bus who’s giving off a ‘Woodstock’ vibe, I can see her singing folk music and eating lentil burgers already, but she is affable and Rachel seems quickly at ease with the stranger; if a little drained from her day job. Our flower power girl gives Rachel a flyer for her church group and invites her to come and check it out. Stamper is going to flip if he finds out Rachel is making friends because I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’re going to see of our free love stranger. Jackie makes a brief appearance, long enough for her callous elimination of Congressman Havemeyer to come back to haunt her, momentarily mind you and she completely denies any involvement and moves on. On to getting some wicked ink in the form of poppies and barbed wire, Frank and Claire aren’t the only masochists on Pennsylvania Ave. I’m beginning to think there’s more to Jackie than just ambition, something even Frank isn’t aware of, I can’t quite put my finger on it; she’s had a traumatic military career so I haven’t ruled out PTSD. Whatever it is, Frank will sniff it out. Back at the White House Claire and Frank seem to be settling in and we now start to see them interact in new environs during the daylight hours, like normal mortals, it’s something of a novelty really. They are enjoying a salubrious lunch together in Frank’s office when Claire asks if Frank has noticed anything about the President and Christina, in typical male fashion he hasn’t, but on recalling the SOU meeting he joins a few dots of his own and like a pair of gossiping teenagers they toy with the possibility of a torrid affair. Hold that thought, Stamper’s here to ruin lunch, the Tea Party faction of the republicans has spooked Mendoza and the retirement amendment deal is off. Damn! That salad looked so good, I’ve been binging for nearly 3 hours by now and my stomach is rumbling, time for a fridge dive; I can’t watch what happens next on an empty stomach. I fear the next few scenes will make the opening 20 minutes of Saving private Ryan look like a Looney Tunes cartoon.

“I need to prove what the Vice President is capable of.”

Frank tells the President of the reneged deal, which went down about as well as you would expect when you’re swallowing razor blades, this will impact the SOU address and the relationship between the two men “Don’t embarrass the Administration Frank, you’re part of it now.” Once again Tusk has been duplicitous and given the President a different version of the conversation that transpired between himself and Frank. I can’t see Frank being quite so humane when it comes time to do what is necessary for Tusk, can you? Frank is now at DEFCON F.U. and when Mendoza refuses to back down the war machine is put into active duty, the Senate is about to become a battle ground. The camera work here is a standout again, following the action down the stairs and along the corridor, capturing the posse as they talk tactics on the fly and thunder along like Abrams tanks. Frank acts quickly to “stack” people and shift votes, favours are being dropped like propaganda flyers from a C130; and there’s so much leveraging even my TV looks like it has a slight lean on it. Assembly is about to start and a quorum is required for Frank to push his amendment through now that he has the numbers. In a move rarely seen, and presumably to maintain control and expedite the process, Frank takes his seat as the President of the Senate; this is going to be political Opera! As the roll is called the republicans work out what Frank is up to and bail like rats from a sinking ship. But Frank and the war machine anticipated the move and enact their contingency plan, the Sergeant at Arms is called upon to compel attendance. I’ve leant forward on my couch again, scanning the Senate floor for stashed weapons and land mines, Frank’s probably got the duress button under the desk wired to nerve gas! When news breaks of the unfolding drama “The Vice president is replacing democracy with tyranny and the Senate has been transformed into a Police State”  Claire is with the eye candy, I mean Connor, discussing the benefits of a joint interview for the Underwood’s. Connor, having already viewed a 1980’s joint interview, explains that the physical gesture of Claire running her fingers through Frank’s hair was an intimate moment; one that will draw votes, and if replicated will give them time to fly under the media radar. Cut to the search for the absent members of Congress and it’s like watching a well orchestrated prohibition raid! Hector’s worried and heads in to the democrat bunker where Frank is as calmly as you like sipping, of all things, tea. Frank’s got enough numbers to push the amendment through in whatever form he likes, but he’s only interested in the original hand-shake form and will settle for six of Hectors M.I.A to reach a quorum. Hector strikes his deal with the devil. The six republicans are hauled into the Senate to the sound of the fat lady singing, the roll is called, quorum is reached. The Tea Party ring leader moves to filibuster and threaten the bill in the House but is thwarted when Frank reveals the deal with Mendoza “read the fine print Curtis, it’s much more important than the selling price”, you see passage of the amendment constitutes passage of the bill; two birds, one bullet. Frank, you’ve outdone yourself this time.

It’s ok Raymond, Jesus forgives you.”

Our lentil burger friend is back, her name is Lisa (Kate Lyn Sheil) and the lure of good music, cookies and cake proves too much for Rachel; she’s off to church. Good for you Rachel! Frank calls Tusk out on his two faced politics with the President, telling him he’ll receive divine forgiveness, omitting any forgiveness of his own. Tusk does not look at all comfortable after their phone conversation is ended abruptly by Frank. What did you expect Tusk? Flowers and a box of chocolates? Lucas decides to go deeper into the deep-web and heads to the meet arranged by the mysterious hacker. On arrival Lucas is greeted by a late twenties or early thirties, well dressed, red wine sipping, hacker in a fancy looking apartment. Not at all what I expected, I thought we were going to see a pimply faced 16 year old with coke bottle glasses working out of his mothers basement. Lucas is interrogated one last time just to make sure he’s not law enforcement, gets a quick lesson in National Security and is introduced to Cashew. Ok, here is the oversized rat I spoke about in my opening review, this compensates for the lack of pimples, coke bottle glasses and basement; and is probably weirder. As we close the chapter, Lucas, Gavin (Jimmi Simpson) and Cashew; are watching the Presidents SOU address on the multitude of screens that feature in the apartment (I wonder if this set is modelled on NSA?). The President, flanked by the Vice President and House of Rep’s Speaker Bob Birch, is spruking retirement entitlements and a strong America. Frank, looking very pleased with himself, has secured the retirement bill for now along with Bob’s support; the pipes are clear of sludge and…

“I used to be on the edge of the frame, now I’m only three feet away.”