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House of Cards – Episode 1.04 – "Chapter 4"

courtesy of paidcontent.org

 I think I have to readjust my expectations for this show.  Thus far in the series we’ve seen the moral complexities of Frank, Claire, Zoe and Peter and how each of their lives is marred by self-interested ambition, regardless of those around them.  In “Chapter 4” we  see each of these characters continue to play their respective chess pieces in the game of Washington, D.C. despite some very evident cracks beginning to form for some.  Unfortunately we’ve already reached the well-trodden ground of extra-marital affairs for both Frank and Claire in the same episode.  Claire invites her photographer friend Adam to visit and the two get dinner and a hotel room.  Though she eventually hesitates and resists his affection, she clearly had strong feelings for this man at one time.  And why shouldn’t she?  He’s almost the exact opposite of Frank, a free-spirit photographer who isn’t in the limelight.  Aside from this affair, we see her unhappiness in various forms.  When SanCorps tells her that they will double their donation to the Clear Water Initiative, she understands why (bargaining tool with Frank) but struggles with the knowledge that she must turn it down.  Later we discover that she is dealing with menopause; as she sticks her head into her refrigerator, her unhappiness is painful.  Painfully obvious, that is.  We’ve seen the long-suffering wife trope in countless critically-acclaimed cable dramas (The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Six Feet Under, etc.) so Claire’s struggle isn’t as sympathetic as it should be.  Robin Wright is a good actress who has the commanding presence of a strong, independent business woman but the material she’s been given does not equal her talent.  

     Meanwhile, Peter Russo has to take his kids for the day but his absence is made known by assistant/girlfriend Christina, who takes care of them until he drunkenly stumbles home.  She firmly states that she will be quitting both her job and being his girlfriend, to which Peter is left devastated but not surprised.  Corey Stoll is quietly forming a tragic figure out of Peter and I can’t wait to see what he does in later episodes.

     Frank is back in Washington doing what he does best: manipulating those around him with a sly Southern grin.  He continues his quest to pass the education reform bill by attempting to force the Speaker of the House (who opposes the bill) out of his post.  It’s mildly entertaining watching him maneuver everyone without their knowledge but it seems that this has become a procedural aspect of the show at this point.  Much like we expect Dr. House to snark his way into solving a case in every episode, the writers and producers of House of Cards seem to believe that Frank’s machinations must be on display in every episode, since that’s what the audience wants.  I know we’re still in the first part of the series, but I’m waiting for Frank to slip up or meet his match.  Thus far his opponents have been earnest but stupid politicians; we know he can easily knock these men down.  As I say with every review, I’m waiting for the house of cards Frank has so carefully built to come crashing down…

     Though it is uncertain as of now, the end of this episode may have been the first card’s tumbling.  Zoe gets fired from her job at the Washington Herald, I guess for driving the editor crazy for too long?  The scene in his office is awkwardly personal in a way that feels like we’ve been transported back to the ’60s.  He verbally abuses her and fires her, seemingly for his own personal reasons.  It’s all very vague and kind of terrible, so hopefully we’re done with the Herald from here on out, but I have doubts.  A newly freed woman, Zoe calls Frank after one-too-many drinks and invites him over to her apartment.  He promptly heads over, though we do not know what’s going through his mind.  The episode ends with a hint of what’s to come as she takes off her heels and he throws his coat on a chair.  For the first time we have a genuine cliffhanger, but as I’ve mentioned, we’ve seen this before.  They will almost definitely have sex, and Frank will do his best to hide it and Claire will inevitably find out.  Hell, she already suspects he’s with her in “Chapter 1”.  Aside from this, however, is the fact that Zoe is a journalist who desperately wants to make a name for herself.  And Frank has now (I assume) indebted himself to her should he betray her trust in the future.  He must have some sort of elaborate plan for this, right? Right?  Some part of me hopes so, only to have it backfire in a way he never would have expected.  Then perhaps we can see the full extent of Frank Underwood’s devilish schemes.

Grade: B
MVP: Robin Wright


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