One thing about binge-watching vs. regular week-by-week watching is that sometimes you don’t notice when a character or storyline is dropped or de-emphasized for a particular episode, because sooner or later they always come back, and since you’ve been watching everything in such quick succession, you don’t always have time to realize they’re gone.
I noticed this in this block of episodes because my schedule has been crazy lately and I haven’t had the time to sit down and binge-watch like a normal person — sometimes I don’t even have a chance to watch an entire episode in one sitting. But I’d decided before starting this pair of episodes that I would give some attention to Zoe Barnes (the journalist that Frank is using to leak information to the public strategically) because I haven’t discussed her since my initial post on the show.
This turned out to be not so simple. Because she drops out of episode 8 entirely. If I were lucky enough to just be binging, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, would have just clicked ahead to the next installment and she’d be back as if she’d never left. But since my viewing experience has been so truncated recently, and because I’d decided to focus on Zoe, I was very aware of her absence, although it makes perfect sense, given that the episode takes place on the road, away from Washington DC where Zoe is stationed.
Zoe is probably the part of the show I have the most issues with, which is possibly why I’ve avoided discussing her previously. I don’t like her, but in a much stronger way than I don’t like Frank or any of the other “unpleasant” characters on the show. I just don’t find her enjoyable to watch. Probably because she suffers from what I’ll refer to as Newsroom Syndrome, which is what I’ll call it when any character is obnoxiously self-justifying about their actions and never admits that they could be wrong or not 100% right. Zoe throws hissy fits, she disobeys instructions, she’s petulant and whiny. She happens to have brains and journalistic talent as well, but she uses those to justify her babyish moments, complaining that she’s being wasted and not given good assignments and yadda yadda, and I just want her to take a chill pill and do her work. Simply put, she’s a diva, and I only like diva characters when they are somewhat self-aware, and/or played for laughs, and/or get put in their place frequently. Zoe is none of these.
The relationship between Frank and Zoe turned sexual at the end of episode 4. Until then, it seemed like Frank had no interest in her in that way, and was simply using her for his own nefarious purposes, and she benefited from the exclusive scoops he gave her. I personally preferred the Frank/Zoe relationship when it was non-sexual — I thought the dynamics were more interesting, because in general I find platonic relationships between men and women to have far more dimension than sexual ones. I also don’t really understand why turning the relationship sexual was a smart strategic move on Frank’s part (it is made clear in the very beginning of episode 5 that this is “strictly a business relationship”). Maybe I’m naïve and sheltered, but I think he’d have a better chance of keeping Zoe under control if sex was not a part of the equation. Introducing sex means that more things can go wrong and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, etc. Perhaps someone more schooled in the discipline of sexual power dynamics could explain to me why this is anything other than a bonehead move.
As for episode 8, which did not include Zoe, I loved it. It humanized Frank in a way we have not yet seen, by sending him back to his alma mater, where we see him hang out with his old buddies and just have fun in a way that’s not mean-spirited, just reckless and immature and silly and male-bonding-y and totally entertaining to watch. There is also an obvious reference to Frank’s past sexual experimentation with one of his buddies and the attraction he still harbors, and since I have a running discussion going with a male bisexual friend in which we complain constantly about the lack of representation of male bisexuality on TV, that was nice to see. Even if Frank is a scumbag.