[Trigger warning: A large chunk of this review is going to deal with the topic of rape, because my favorite part of these two episodes happens to be strongly tied to that subject.]
If Robin Wright doesn’t win an Emmy for her performance in Episode 4 alone, there will be no words to express the injustice. I mean, it’s not quite Syria or Rwanda, but still, she should win awards. All of them. Princess Buttercup, how far you have come.
More on that later.
First, the other storylines, starting with the weakest one — Lucas the journalist attempting to find evidence against Frank Underwood using the ~magic internet~, or “Deep Web.” (I called it the “Dark Web” in my last review; my apologies.) I don’t quite get all the details of what’s going on here, and I may have spaced out a couple of times because I was bored and am a bad reviewer, but the gist of it is that Lucas thinks he’s following a lead but really he’s being caught in a sting operation contrived by the FBI, because Frank’s lackey, Doug, told an FBI friend of his that this journalist was a threat to national security or something. Thus ensues some preposterous uses of technology and Lucas being way too trusting to even be alive, let alone be a journalist. Whatever. Hopefully this storyline picks up soon or gets dropped.
The main storyline in these episodes of course belongs to Frank. He is still attempting to earn the President’s confidence, and at the same time, he’s trying to make a public name for himself, since it turns out that while he is well-known in political circles, he is a complete unknown outside of them. And anyone who wants to run for president needs more name recognition than that. So his current project is a bill touted in the President’s State of the Union address, which (I think) wants to raise the retirement age in order to help pay for entitlements like Medicare. (Correct me if I’m wrong please; you should all know by now that the politics aspect of the show is SO not what interests me.)
Episode 3 is about Frank’s battle to get the bill through the Senate, which he does in quite hilarious fashion, with both sides invoking various bush league (which in this context have nothing to do with the Presidents Bush) technicalities while trying to block and pass the bill. It’s not unlike watching a playground squabble being enacted by erudite men in suits. Episode 4 then picks up with Frank trying to get the bill through the House of Representatives, which he actually nearly fails at, despite an anthrax scare putting him in lockdown with his chief opposition, Representative Donald Blythe. No matter what Frank tries, what angles he attempts to exploit, up to and including offering funding for Alzheimer’s research for Blythe’s dying wife, Blythe sees right through him and refuses to budge. It’s refreshing to see someone who is completely immune to Frank’s folksy charm and sees him as the power-hungry viper that he is. Four for you, Donald Blythe. You go, Donald Blythe.
Luckily for Frank, Jackie Sharp, the new Whip, employs more idealistic tactics rather than simply ruthlessly pragmatic ones, and winds up bailing him out. (I’m not convinced that her style of appealing to people’s consciences instead of negotiating or bribing them would really work in the D.C. that this show has painted, but I’m willing to roll with it and see how it plays out.)
Oh, and Remy Denton from last season is still around for some reason. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be doing, and it’s a shame that the show’s most extraneous-seeming character is black, because it makes him feel extremely token.
Okay, NOW my favorite part. Claire.
In order to boost Frank’s public profile for his potential presidential run, Claire hires a publicist, who books a joint interview for Claire and Frank. But when Frank gets stuck in lockdown, Claire decides to do the interview on her own. It starts out benignly enough, humanizing Frank through his wife’s palpable affection for him, but quickly takes a turn for the personal and invasive questions that are typically asked of powerful women, especially women in politics: “Why don’t you have children?” — to which Claire responds that it was a choice she and Frank made, career over children; “Have you ever been pregnant?” — to which Claire admits that she has been; and finally, the doozy: “Have you ever had an abortion?” — which Claire refuses to be cowed by despite the consequences that her answer will have on the public’s opinion and Frank’s career, and she says yes.
The interview, which is shooting live by the way, cuts to a commercial, and Claire’s publicist essentially begs her not to go on again, telling her that there is absolutely nothing she can say to recover from that. But Claire Underwood does NOT run away from things. Not happening.
So what does she do? She knows she can’t say, “none of this is any of your business and has no bearing on my husband’s political competence,” and she knows she can’t win the abortion debate with any kind of straight-up “it was my choice and I had a right to choose” argument, because that is much too polarizing. So she deflects. She turns the issue from abortion into something else entirely.
She says that the pregnancy which was aborted was the result of a rape.
We know from a previous episode that Claire was in fact raped, but we know from comments she makes privately to her publicist that while she has had three abortions, none of them were results of that rape. So she is lying, but she is lying magnificently, saving the interview from sure political disaster and inverting it, turning it into an enormous opportunity to get justice for herself — she proceeds to out her rapist, by name, on live TV.
Omigod, it is glorious.
I wanted to high-five Claire, Robin Wright, the writer, the director, and everyone else involved in that scene, because it was just so thoroughly satisfying.
Other women, emboldened by the example of the Vice President’s wife and assured protection by Claire herself, begin to come out of the woodwork to attest that they were also raped by General Dalton McGuiness and were too afraid to speak up. We get a shot of the General in his office, and it’s clear from the look on his face that his goose is well and truly cooked. Ah, justice is sweet. I don’t know how this would or will play out in court, but he has definitely been convicted in the court of public opinion, if nothing else.
I realized while pondering this storyline that if someone were to watch this episode in isolation, they might come away with an impression that Claire is a wonderful and ideal feminist role model, fighting for justice and giving women a voice and taking back their power. I want to state unequivocally that Claire is not a role model, is not someone that women should put on a pedestal or aspire to be — she is in many ways a horrible person: she is ruthless, she has shown a willingness to do anything and everything to get what she wants, up to and including ruining people’s personal and professional lives regardless of whether they did anything to deserve it, and she is tacitly complicit in all of Frank’s schemes, including his murders, even if she is not generally an active accomplice.
But this is the first time I got a real sense of why someone like Claire wants power so badly and what she would do with it if she got it. And if there was a show, “Claire Underwood: Anti-Heroine, Fighting Injustice with Class, Poise, Power, and Occasional Evilness,” would I watch it? Heck yes.
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