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!