“I know you think I’m fundamentally deceptive, but I am capable of a genuine complement.”
Believe it or not, it’s a mark of good characterization when you can assume a character’s motivations or actions in an episode early on. It’s indicative of a great show, however, when the writers can lead you to think something about a character and use that as misdirection for a strong entry in the show’s canon.
Chapter 17 of House of Cards is a really good example of how a show can mess with audience expectations and lead its viewers into a new storytelling terrain.
There are SPOILERS HEREIN
Read at your own risk
In this episode of the best show on TV that isn’t exactly on TV, a terror scare forces Frank into quarantine with Donald Blythe, who controls votes that Frank needs and holds a grudge against our matador of a main character. Meanwhile, Jackie and Remy join forces to chase down some of the votes while Claire faces a CNN exclusive interview alone.
The beauty of this episode is that the most dramatic moment didn’t come from Frank attempting to exploit Blythe’s weaknesses to gain the votes. It was Clare’s startling interview that drove the dramatic tension in this episode.
Let’s start with Jackie and Remy. They shared a good dynamic as they were working for votes. Jackie proved herself to be a different kind of Whip than Frank was and I’m not sure what the long-term implications of that will be. I’m really interested in Jackie as a character. She’s formidable, but she refuses to play the games Frank played. It’ll be interesting to see how her arc in the series plays out.
Chapter 17 also featured some startling developments on the Lucas front of the story. The hacker (Jimmi Simpsom) tells Lucas he needs access to highly classified servers and Lucas is the only one to do it. It’s not until the end of the episode, however, that we learn the hacker is working with the feds. Lucas is heading into a trap.
I’m excited and nervous to watch this play out. I also hope we get to see more of the hacker. I didn’t expect that kind of acting range out of a McPoyle. Of course, I say that facetiously. Jimmi Simpson is a good actor and I’m glad to see him in such a high profile, dramatic show.
The misdirection (at least from my perspective) in this episode was astounding. From the word go, I was under the impression that Frank had orchestrated the terror scare in order to separate Blythe from his alzheimers added wife. I assumed Frank was going after the Congressman’s most delicate vulnerability.
By episode’s end, however, we weren’t shown that Frank sent the powder. I don’t know, maybe that would have been over the top or steered the show into shark-jumping territory. At the least, it would have been pretty reminiscent of season 1’s “brick through the window” scenario.
That’s not to say Frank didn’t attempt to take advantage of his quarantined situation. Blythe, however, was extremely resistant. The scenes the two men spent together was replete with great dialogue, though. It gave us a view of Frank losing a battle but with more grace and delicacy than last season’s debate gaffes from Chapter 6.
And now we come to biggest moment of the episode. With Frank under quarantine, Claire had to take on an exclusive interview on her own. When the interviewer pressed about the Underwoods’ lack of children, the startling truth of the VP’s wife’s past abortions comes out.
Claire spins it in a shocking fashion by implicating the General who raped her in college. Claire has been very closed off when it comes to her past and even present. The Underwoods by default are closed off and manipulative when it comes to their public image. But to see her open up about her past on camera was fascinating. The calculation and half-truth of what happened was a joy to watch and I hope the ensuing scandal plays out over multiple episodes.
The scenes with Frank watching the interview were illuminating. We were privy to the way he derives a certain power from his wife’s strength. It was a really unique view of their relationship. When Frank gets home and is asked if he wants to join Claire on camera, he simply says “No” with a slight smile. This couple is a force to be reckoned with and I think they’ll have some tribulations ahead of them with the allegations leveled against such a high ranking and highly decorated Marine.
Then again, as Claire told the anonymous caller, Frank is the Vice President. And it speaks volumes about him that I almost immediately assumed he could have orchestrated something so heinous as a terror scare.
What did you think of Chapter 17? Let me know in the comments and make sure you check out all my other House of Cards related posts. Also, follow me around the internet with the links below.