I realized at some point that this show has an odd number of episodes (13). So if I’m going to be reviewing in blocks of 2 episodes each, I was going to have one left over; ergo, I was going to have to review one episode all by its lonesome. I was figuring I’d do that for the last episode, because, you know, it’s a finale so there ought to be SOMETHING to discuss, but then this episode popped up and I have many many thinky thoughts on it, so I decided that if I’m going to review a single episode, it may as well be this one.
First, let me just acknowledge the sheer irony in Frank’s closing line of the episode: “I want to know who lied.” Dude, you’re on House of Cards. EVERYBODY is lying, including and especially you.
But everyone on the show, including Frank, also has their own twisty code of honor, and operates within those parameters. For Frank, his central tenet is loyalty. You pick your loyalties, you form your alliances, you pay your favors, and you absolutely don’t change the rules of the game in the middle or you are dead to him. That was the President’s mistake in the very first episode — changing the rules, withdrawing a promise. Zoe (who is back in this episode) tries to change the rules and end the affair she’s having with Frank, and he cuts off her exclusive access to behind the scenes scoops. (I have to say I liked Zoe in this episode. She wasn’t whiny or babyish or entitled like she has been previously. She accepts that she can’t have everything she wants — such as get exclusive scoops and NOT sleep with Frank — and decides to prioritize and sleep with Frank for the scoops, but with as much dignity as she can muster. This is a such a welcome departure from what we’ve seen of her so far that The AV Club considers it to be out of character.)
The person who really changed the rules on Frank in this episode, though, is Claire.
As I said in my review of episodes 5 & 6, the Frank/Claire marriage is the bedrock of the show, its reliable constant, and the two of them work synergistically with each other, feeding off the other’s energy, working toward the same goals. This episode is an exploration of what happens when their goals diverge, and it’s not pretty.
The divide is foreshadowed early in the episode with Peter Russo’s children. Frank tells the camera, “I hate children,” but a few moments later we see Claire volunteer to drive them to school, and it’s clear that while she may not be the most motherly of women, she clearly doesn’t hate children. It’s a quick reminder that Frank and Claire are not the same person, regardless of how similar they are.
And things devolve from there. For the first time, Frank is clearly prioritizing his political efforts to get Russo elected governor over Claire’s organization’s needs, which at the moment include a $200,000 shipment of water filters stuck in Sudan. To complicate matters further, Claire finds that the only place she can go for assistance in retrieving the water filters, the powerful company of SanCorp, will only help her if she deliberately sabotages the very campaign Frank is working on, by secretly working to kill a bill that is crucial to building Russo’s support among his constituents. She does it without blinking, because Claire’s currency is also loyalty, and Frank has not paid up.
The episode ends with a nailbitingly tense scene of the whole Russo campaign in Frank’s office, watching the votes come in — it goes from celebratory jocularity to horror-struck silence in the span of thirty seconds. It’s the first real cliffhanger on the show; the sense of Where do we go from here?! is palpable. Russo losing the bill means he’s lost the support of the shipyard workers, whom he worked so hard all episode to win over, which means he’s probably going to lose the election, which means he might relapse . . . I think it’s safe to say that the house of cards is starting to collapse.