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House of Cards – Episode 1.06 – "Chapter 6"

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     I don’t know how it happens but it seems that whenever I complain about one aspect of House of Cards in a review, the problem is fixed in the next episode.  Such is the case with “Chapter 6”, which sees Frank stumble for the first time since the series began.  Squaring off against teacher’s union lobbyist Marty Spinella on CNN, he gets caught up in a bizarre vowel speech pattern after Spinella gets his wife involved in the debate.  This is one of the only moments when we see Frank in a vulnerable state, unsure of how to proceed.  This is a great moment on its own, the kind of moment I was hoping for, but upon reflection it doesn’t make any logical sense.  We’ve seen at various points in every episode that Frank is a masterful improviser, a man who can quickly adapt to and dominate a conversation.  To see him idiotically stumble over his words seems out of character; the series never explicitly tells us why it happened.  Was it because Spinella got too personal?  In “Chapter 5” we saw how he reacted after Spinella forced Claire’s gala out of the hotel so I guess we’re supposed to believe that he will do anything to protect his wife and gets angry and flustered when she is threatened.  Regardless of character consistency, the moment is all but forgotten about (after the 24-hour news cycle gets ahold of it) and we are back to Frank dominating everyone and everything around him.  The episode is framed around a brick that gets thrown into Frank and Claire’s window at their house.  The teachers strike is an ongoing event and Frank has been getting the blame for not compromising with the union so Frank goes to the media and places the blame on Spinelli and company.


     The rest of the episode is a complex chess match between Frank and Spinella, which includes the aforementioned CNN goof as well as what might be one of the most disgusting character moments I’ve seen in a long time.  Word spreads that a child has died in a drive-by shooting in Atlanta during what would normally be school hours, so Frank seizes the opportunity to publicly state that the child wouldn’t have died were the teachers not on strike.  He smugly smiles at the development as leverage over anything else and he predictably gets the strike to end after a meeting with Spinella.  Frank states that he and Claire were behind the brick incident all along and had manipulated the media into thinking it was a disorderly striker.  Frank manages to goad Spinella into punching him the face, to which Frank smiles (yet another smug grin), knowing he has won.  I know we’re supposed to be compelled by Frank’s machinations but his tactics have become more and more sociopathic with each episode.  He is our main character so the general conceit is that we should be rooting for his success, or at least hesitantly rooting for him (see: Tony Soprano, Walter White), but I’m struggling to find any redeeming qualities here.

     Maybe we aren’t supposed to, but if not Frank, then who?  Claire?  In this episode we finally get some clarity as to why she married Frank in the first place when she visits Frank’s formerly hired protector in the hospital, Steve.  Steve pleads to Claire that he was in love with her all of those years, which leads her to explain why Frank was the right man for her.  She explains that Frank was the only man who never put her on a pedestal, instead, he saw her as a partner.  This is a big moment for Claire as the show finally allows us to see what makes her tick.  The brick scheme is the epitome of the “partner-in-crime” mentality that she so desires.  It explains why she seems more in love with him in this episode than any other.  Still, she is portrayed as a very cold individual, so it’s difficult for me to really connect with her.

     Peter Russo?  After humiliating him in his bathtub, Frank rather easily persuades Peter that he should run for governor of Pennsylvania.  Peter starts going to AA meetings per Frank’s advice and states over and over that he knows how difficult this campaign will be so there cannot be any screw-ups.  He leaves a voicemail to former lover/assistant Christina stating that he was going to change for the better and make amends for those he had hurt.  Of the main characters I think we’re supposed to like and relate to Peter the most.  He has clearly made mistakes but he is also quite evidently a pawn to smarter men than he, particularly Frank.  He seems like a man who still has some humanity left, unlike almost every character in this show, whose every move is defined by public relations and political ambition.  With this in mind, I have my doubts that he’ll make it out of this season unscathed, considering those surrounding him.

     Zoe had very little screentime in this episode, which I was probably too happy about. Too often she seems to be off in her own show, one that sees the rise from naive, young reporter into smug, confident journalist.  I’m glad we got a little break from her but I’m very intrigued to see where her storyline goes in the future.  Overall, I found this to be a strong episode despite its rather convoluted plot and conflicting character moments.  The direction was strong and the writing was clever enough to sell its main concept.

Grade: B+
MVP: Robin Wright

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