On Vacation, Restlessness, and Self




I never used to get restless. I could just sit and zone out for hours or do absolutely nothing with a week or more of vacation and see everyone growing restless around me and freaking out over not being productive, and I would feel like telling them all, “Hey! Whoa! Chill out! Watch more Netflix.”


This is the first vacation that I have ever been on where restlessness of my own has found me and sometimes drives me to the edge of my nerves. True, some of that is due to exhaustion (I can’t seem to get into a good sleep cycle due to jet lag over the 7 hour time difference between New York and Jerusalem), some of that is due to dehydration (I keep forgetting to drink as much water as I should since the tap water tastes different here), some of it is due to being cold and shivery a lot (the apartments here tend to be really really cold because everything is made of heat-sucking stone), some of that is due to people’s constant questions about “so what’s next for you with this auto mechanic stuff?” (not that I blame them for asking; it just can get a bit stressful to repeatedly answer, “I have no clue; I’ve never done this part before”), and some is due to people telling me what a terrible tourist I am since all I do is meet up with friends in coffee shops or burger joints or pizza places and sit and chitchat instead of doing this whole Traveling To A Foreign Country For A Month THE RIGHT WAY.


Am I going to get back home and feel like this month of my life was wasted? That I could have done more with it? That I would have been better served to just dive straight into job hunting as soon as I graduated as a Certified Automotive Technician? That I’m just stalling for no good reason, since I’ve done nothing worthwhile here? Maybe. I don’t know. That’s kind of why I’m writing about it — because writing about it produces something tangible, something solid that I can point to and say, “Look, I produced something. I got some thinky thoughts out of it. I learned, I experienced, I lived.”


I think what I’ve learned most, or at least what I’ve had reinforced, is the way the company I keep impacts me. How who I am and how I feel about myself is much more malleable than I’d like it to be, and how I feed off different people’s energy in different ways. I’ve written about this before, a year ago actually — https://www.facebook.com/notes/sm-rosenberg/on-falling-out-of-love-with-bonus-helpful-star-trek-parallels/10152167835903186 — in the context of relationships and how they draw out different selves from people, and how a large part of choosing to be in a relationship with a particular person is a statement of, “I prefer this version of myself, the one that I am with this person, and want to be this way on a permanent basis.”


Due to my coffee-shop-burger-bistro-pizza-place-hopping lousy tourist ways, I’ve hung out one-on-one with a lot of different people here, or in small groups, and I’ve been able to see and keep track of what selves get drawn out of me by what people. People tend to see me as a very self-confident person, with a pretty strong personality who is comfortable enough with herself to refuse to take shit from anyone, and for the most part that’s true (otherwise I’d never have gotten through automotive school). But I am also not the type to force my opinions or my attitude onto others when I don’t feel like there’s a natural entry point for me, and so when I’m around those sorts of people, I can feel my internal self making accommodations for them, adjustments, compromises, or just retreating into thoughtful silence or inconsequential small talk, because that’s all I feel like I’m able to contribute, or would like to contribute.


It’s not like that’s a terrible thing; there are all kinds of people in the world with all kinds of interests and all kinds of communication styles, and so being able to communicate with each one about exactly the same things in exactly the same way is a patently ridiculous notion.


But still, I don’t especially like being around people who make me feel smaller inside, who make me feel like I have less to offer, make me feel boring and one-dimensional. Not through any fault of their own; just due to the way interpersonal energy flows between people, or doesn’t, and feeds on itself and builds on itself, or doesn’t. I like being around people who make me feel bigger, and interesting, and multi-faceted and smart and funny and alive. I can spend forever with people like that, and I can tell that there are some people who like to be around me because I make them feel that way.


The other sorts…well, they can be enjoyable company for a while, but ultimately I’ll find myself yearning to be alone with myself and not at the mercy of anyone else’s energy flow. They make me feel fractured, as if with each one of them, I am a piece of self-mosaic, rather than one whole united awesome self. I know that I am made up of all those pieces of the mosaic, and there’s nothing wrong with facing that truth, but I really prefer feeling whole and not having my attention called to the existence of all the cracks.


Don’t get me wrong; I do have a lot of people here who make me feel like that whole awesome self, and it’s been so great to meet and spend time with them. But I have a lot of those people back home too, and I can’t wait to get back.






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REVIEW — House of Cards, Season 2, Episodes 3 & 4


[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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REVIEW — House of Cards, Season 2, Episodes 1&2

I have put off writing this for so long it is RIDICULOUS. Almost as ridiculous as the procrastination on my novel, but not quite. But still. RIDICULOUS. I’ve actually watched these two episodes twice by now, because I watched them so long ago without getting around to reviewing them that I’d forgotten what even happened in them. Ergo, a second viewing was necessary.


Note that this is the second season of House of Cards, and my reviews will be spoilertastic for both the episode being reviewed and the first season, reviews of which you can locate by using the handy dandy sidebar. BUT also note that I’m reviewing the episodes as I go and am unspoiled for the events of Season 2, so please don’t tell me anything.


Okay? Okay. [The Fault in Our Stars is coming out soon; I had to make that reference.]




[Trigger warning for a very brief discussion of rape.]


The first episode of Season 2 is about damage control, tying up the dangling plot threads left from the Season 1 finale, one centering on Kevin Spacey’s Congressman Frank Underwood, and one centering on his wife, Robin Wright’s Claire.


Frank spent all of last season plotting and scheming to ultimately become the Vice President of the United States, and he’s about to be sworn in. However, he left a trail behind, most notably in the form of the dead body of Peter Russo, the alcoholic congressman he murdered in order to get the previous Vice President to go back and govern that state in Russo’s stead. Everybody following? It’s okay if you’re not; this whole thing is super convoluted and that’s why we love it. Anyhow, there’s a hardy bunch of reporters on his tail, led by Zoe Barnes, who are sticking their noses where Frank would really prefer they didn’t.


Meanwhile, Claire is dealing with a pending lawsuit against her and her nonprofit organization, the Clean Water Initiative, that her former colleague Gillian Cole threatened her with at the end of last season, for reasons that I am fuzzy on because it’s been a while since I saw Season 1. But I’m sure Claire deserved it.


Proving once more that they are television’s (or at least Netflix’s) most well-matched couple in existence, the Underwoods both dispense with these crises with brutal efficiency: Frank by *MAJOR SPOILER* throwing Zoe in front of a train, and Claire by blackmailing Gillian and cancelling her medical coverage to get her to back down. Good job, guys. You win the Most Horrible People award for the week.


With those pesky concerns dealt with (or so they think…dun dun DUN), the season can move forward into the all-new Season 2 stuff, which includes storylines such as: Frank having his home terrorist-proofed and learning to deal with the overbearing protection befitting the Vice President (which makes murdering future people significantly more difficult for him, what a shame); Frank performing Vice Presidential duties like presenting medals to soldiers, one of whom turns out to be a man who raped Claire back in her school days; Frank secretly sabotaging negotiations with China in order to hurt Raymond Tusk, a billionaire friend of the President’s who, in Frank’s opinion, has way too much influence and way too little respect; and last but certainly not least, the ethics-free machinations involved in getting Frank’s choice, Jackie Sharp, voted in as his replacement as Majority Whip in Congress.


The reporter storyline didn’t die with Zoe, though. Her boyfriend, Lucas, is sure that he’s onto something and has resorted to asking people on the Dark Web — or as I like to call it, “the ~magic internet~” because lol it does not exist — if they can hack the phone records of the Vice President. Aaaaaand credits.


So, color me psyched. I love Kevin Spacey in this role; he is so amazingly sleazy and awful and unapologetic, and every time he so much as looks at the camera to break the fourth wall I grin because I just love it that much. And Robin Wright is perfect again as cold, calculating Claire, and when she talks about the rape, I almost wonder if anything like that ever happened to her in real life because it feels like she’s employing such a genuine coping mechanism. And the show is just so beautifully shot and atmospheric that I lose myself in it every time.


I’m looking forward to seeing how Frank can keep all his schemes secret with all the security personnel surrounding him. He made it a point to keep Edward Meechum with him despite better qualified security professionals, presumably because last season Frank saved Meechum’s career and so he knows Meechum would do anything for him. I’m curious to see if the guy who raped Claire is going to show up again or he was just a one-off character to give Claire some backstory and illustrate Frank’s willingness to restrain himself for the sake of his wife. And of course I want to see how this new Whip stuff plays out and to see if the ~magic internet~ can bust Frank for his evilness.



REVIEW — Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

I’ve been working my way through all seven seasons of Deep Space Nine on Netflix on-and-off for the past 10 or so months. Because a girl’s gotta have goals, right? And guess what? I finished it this past weekend!

DS9 was my dad’s least-favorite Star Trek series. In practical terms, this means that we never had any old VHS tapes of recorded episodes (complete with commercials) lying around the house when I was growing up, whereas with every other Star Trek series, we had quite a few of those (although not necessarily of very good visual or story quality — I recall watching an incredibly grainy version of “The Lights of Zetar” once upon a time), plus a bunch of actual purchased VHSs and DVDs, not to mention the tie-in novels and other such goodies. But DS9, nope. I’d never seen an entire episode of it until I started watching it on Netflix lo those many months ago.

So I have to say, given how low my expectations were set, DS9 was a million times better than I thought it would be, though it did have some notable weaknesses. It also had some really wonderful strengths, mostly due to it being more serialized than other Trek series.

Strength #1: Character continuity and development.

This wasn’t necessarily taken as far as it could have been — there are certainly plenty of standalone episodes that are never referenced again and never have major consequences for the characters — but often I was very pleasantly surprised to see elements that I thought were one-off concepts return and be developed in interesting and relevant ways. I’m not going to give specifics because *spoilers* but there are quite a few, especially surrounding Dr. Julian Bashir.

And then there’s the fact that the characters themselves are given arcs and journeys that genuinely change them, bringing them to entirely new psychological territory between the beginning of the series and the end of it. The standouts to me in this area are the aforementioned Dr. Bashir, and Nog, the young Ferengi. Bashir starts out as a cocky, motor-mouthed, frankly annoying manchild, and evolves into a serious, idealistic, genuinely charming dude. (I’ll admit, by the end, I was quite fond of Julian Bashir.) Nog’s transformation is even more extreme — he starts as a stereotypical Ferengi: scheming, manipulative, irritating, an overall no-goodnik. He ends as the first Ferengi in Starfleet, a conscientious officer, even a war hero, and it all happens in a slow and natural progression that is convincing to watch.

Strength #2: Two words: Kira Nerys.

I have such a mad crush on this woman that I intend to write an entire post about her alone. Stay tuned.

Strength #3: Interesting, multidimensional villains.

This area could be especially spoilertastic, so I’m not going to go into much detail. Suffice it to say, very few villains do not switch sides in some way at least once, and sometimes the good guys can go bad, or at least go rogue. And not in the typical sci-fi, possessed-by-aliens way. Real, voluntary choices made under conflicting pressures. Good stuff.

There are of course many more strengths — if you’re a fan of serialized plotting with a huge big-picture arc that spans an entire series, you’ve definitely got a lot to sink your teeth into in DS9 — but those are my faves.

Now, the bad.

Weakness #1: Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko.

I hate to say it, but it was almost always painful to watch Brooks onscreen. Throughout the series, he is wooden, has very little range of expression with his face, he makes strangely deliberate-seeming choices with his movements and facial expressions that rarely feel organic, but worst of all is the way he has the character speak. He pauses in odd places, huffs out some of his words, emphasizes others unnecessarily, and just overall sounds like a bad, scripted actor who doesn’t know how to make the lines sound like something a real person would spontaneously say. It’s unbelievably distracting. The show is infinitely stronger when it focuses on characters other than Sisko, or on plots so strong that even his involvement can’t trip them up too much (“In the Pale Moonlight” is an ep that comes to mind in that department).

Weakness #2: Mysticism.

This section is pretty spoilery, so skip it if you don’t want any of that.

The show basically invents its own religion, practiced by the inhabitants of the planet Bajor, surrounding aliens that live in the wormhole right next to Bajor and the Deep Space Nine space station. The aliens are referred to by the Bajorans as “the Prophets” and the more we interact with them during the series, the more it seems that they are built on the God-concept of “powerful but limited beings with unfathomable motives and little concern or understanding of the average person’s day-to-day life, but with influence over the big picture.” I understand that this is certainly a God-concept in plenty of religions, but I find it hard to believe that the vast majority of Bajorans would be totally cool with this, and that the population is so united religiously. Then again, in Babylon 5, every alien race is portrayed as having one major religion, so maybe it’s just a sci-fi trope.

The bigger problem with this God-concept, though, is that the rules and limits regarding The Prophets are so vague that the writers can pretty much do whatever they want with them. Over and over and over again. It often feels like a cheat, and makes me wonder if a better story could have been told without the religious/mystical angle, because having it at their disposal means the writers can essentially use magic to solve their problems when they feel like it, instead of coming up with complex and satisfying solutions.

Weakness #3: Ferengi.

…Yeah, Ferengi can be really annoying, and there’s a lot of Ferengi stuff on DS9. Surprisingly it’s not bad all the time. DS9 actually made a few Ferengi-centric episodes that I found enjoyable. Quark is multi-layered character, thanks largely to Armin Shimerman’s nuanced performance, and the writers did give some character development to characters who initially seemed like they’d just be walking punchlines, like Rom and Nog. But yeah, sometimes Ferengi are just REALLY ANNOYING.

Those are my main pet peeves about the show. They can interfere with the enjoyment of quite a few episodes, unfortunately, and often the show seems to be great despite them, not because of them. But the show at its best is great, and at its worst is still pretty darn okay.

Rating: 4/5

REVIEW: House of Cards — Episodes 12 & 13 (Finale)

Okay, I’ll admit it upfront: I don’t really know what I thought of these last two episodes. I know two things:


1)   They didn’t “wow” me, and

2)   They didn’t suck.


All right, now that we’ve gotten the pesky extremes out of the way, I need to start parsing the even peskier middle ground.


Things I liked:


1)   The direction of the reporters’ storyline. Zoe has clearly been humbled by her experiences, and is owning up to her mistakes by treating her fellow reporters with respect and working together with them to uncover the truth. She obviously hasn’t lost her non-deferential streak and is perfectly willing to poke her nose around in places she ought not to be trespassing, much to the chagrin of my journalist brother: “Real reporters can get information without harassing people — that’s not heroic; it’s invasion of privacy.” I still like the other reporters better than Zoe, but I don’t dislike her nearly as much as I did in the beginning when I called her a diva.

2)   The president not being TOTALLY clueless. Okay, he was still a little clueless and didn’t realize that Frank and Linda are working together and that they could figure out what he was scheming, but at least he was scheming instead of being the useless pretty boy he’s been all season.

3)   The scene where Frank gets the tables turned on him by the president’s billionaire buddy and realizes he wasn’t sent to St Louis to convince the guy to take the Vice Presidency but rather to be vetted for the position himself. Nice to see that role reversal.


Things I didn’t like so much:


1)   I felt like the resolution to Frank convincing the guy to support his promotion to the Vice Presidency was a little too easy. I mean, first he ran around in a panic trying to sabotage the billionaire’s fortune with some complicated scheme involving SanCorp, in order to gain the upper hand. That backfired, but for some reason the guy was sufficiently impressed with Frank’s failed scheme that he decided to support him anyway. So . . . yay, Frank?

2)   I liked that Claire’s decision to enlist SanCorp’s help with the water filters came back to bite her when Gillian found out and rebelled at this deal-making and corporate sponsorship. But I felt like there was insufficient setup for the degree of Gillian’s anger and her decision to go after Claire with a false discrimination suit in order to sully her reputation and the reputation of charities like Claire’s. Peripheral but relevant to this: I also still don’t really understand what is so important to Claire about this particular charity and what she hopes to achieve with it. I feel like that’s a key aspect of her character but it hasn’t been explained yet.

3)   All the cliffhangers! Netflix, I hate you. Everything is unraveling and we have to wait until you put up the next installment? GAH. At least they’re already shooting season 2.


Overall, something about these episodes did not feel as strong as the build-up to them. Maybe the success of Frank’s machinations to become Vice President seemed anti-climactic because of the too-easy execution, or because of the theory that the show has lost tension because “Frank always, always, always wins.” Also, I miss Peter Russo and his redemption arc and vulnerability and inspiration and little-engine-that-couldness, and . . . yeah.

Regardless, House of Cards on a bad day is still better than The Newsroom on a good day.


Rating: 3.5/5

REVIEW: House of Cards — Episodes 10 & 11

So in these episodes we finally find out what Frank’s long game is, and it feels little . . . haphazard? Like the writers weren’t quite sure what they were doing and then decided, I’ve got it!

I just mean, it seems overly convoluted if you buy that this was Frank’s plan all along. I mean, if he was just setting Peter Russo up for a fall, why did he work so hard to get that bill passed and then get so ticked off when it didn’t? I get that he needed to get the timing right and keep Russo in the race long enough so that it would be too close to the election for anyone other than the Vice President to run instead (and then Frank could take the Vice Presidency and later run for president himself), but really? Did they have to put all that genuine effort into a campaign they were just going to torpedo anyway? And was Claire aware of it, how all her work on the campaign was just going to be trashed?

And what exactly was Frank planning to do about Russo to tie up the loose ends? Was he always planning to kill him? That didn’t seem like Plan A. But then what was Plan A? The whole scheme is very intricate and it works in hindsight, but I find it hard to believe Frank planned it the way the show seems to say he did. And did Claire know about Frank murdering Russo? The text Frank sent her was phrased to sound like Russo just turned up dead, not that Frank killed him. Does Claire know Frank well enough to have guessed the truth? Does it matter to her? Is this a time bomb that may go off in a future episode, or is it just another way that Claire and Frank are perfect for each other?

I wouldn’t go so far as to call this end of Russo’s storyline “terrible,” as Ryan McGee the AV Club reviewer does, but I certainly agree with him that “Frank’s master plan, as stated tonight, simply doesn’t line up with the season arc.”

McGee also complains that the structure of the show does not allow characters room to exist outside of Frank’s schemes. I can’t say I entirely disagree, but this doesn’t bother me the way it seems to bother him. Claire and her lover, Adam, have a tryst in this episode, and of course it’s temporary because Claire and Frank are simply too drawn to each other and too tightly bonded by their ultra-ambitious worldviews. I don’t mind that Claire’s decisions are ultimately tied to Frank, and that because Adam has no relevance to Frank he will never be shown having his own independent storyline. I couldn’t care less about that; I’d rather watch Claire and Frank try to take over the world than watch Adam gallivant around being a free spirit or whatever he is. He’s a nice foil to Frank, and it’s gratifying to see Claire’s more spontaneous and emotional side, but overall Frank is a much better fit for her, and she knows it.

Also, it must be said, THE PRESIDENT IN THIS SHOW IS A PATSY. Seriously. He does nothing. Linda should be president. LINDA FOR PRESIDENT IN 2016!!


Rating: 3.5/5 for stretching the boundaries of logic a little too far

REVIEW: House of Cards, Episode 9

Frank and Claire


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.


Rating: 4/5