The first half of season 3 of House of Cards has felt largely haphazard in a way the previous seasons haven’t. Even the relatively sloppy second season boasted a clear narrative that the audience could latch on to. Frank’s goal was to become President, and the entirety of season 2 built to him doing just that. House of Cards lives and dies by its adversaries, and there’s a perverted thrill in watching Frank and Claire devour anyone who stands in their way, but there also needs to be some balance, some more nuanced, emotional moments.
While the first portion of this season has felt somewhat free of substantial conflict, the last few episodes have signaled a welcome change in the show. While larger international issues fill out the narrative in compelling ways, it’s the more human touches that are proving to be of great interest in season 3. Episode 10 further dives into the human toll of Frank and Claire’s decisions and continues to pick apart the now-unstable foundation of their relationship.
The through line of this episode is Frank dealing with the fallout of the IED blast in the Jordan Valley that killed eight Russian troops, as well as the political implications of the aborted covert operation that Frank approved. The major issue is that Israel has now instated a no-fly zone for the Russians, threatening to shoot down any supply planes that might attempt to make a drop to the troops. This, in turn, is increasing the tension between Israel and Palestine and is threatening the entire peacekeeping mission.
Claire’s main goal is to keep the resolution alive, but Frank doesn’t see it the same way. He’s prepared to go to the Jordan Valley and meet with Petrov while knowing full well that the Russian President will want to stop the peacekeeping mission and also see a scaling back of the United States’ missile defense system.
Despite Claire’s protestations, Frank decides to head to the Jordan Valley to meet with Petrov. Predictably, the meeting is heated, taking place inside a barely-fortified bunker. Petrov does his best to intimidate Frank, telling him about the time he spent in ditches as part of the KGB and how he’s killed a man with his bare hands. He doesn’t know that Frank is a killer too, but that’s not something Frank can admit right now. Instead, they negotiate what it would take for Russia to relinquish its hold on the area.
Just as Frank assumed, Petrov wants the peacekeeping resolution to be aborted and the missile defense to be scaled back. He has one more demand though that Frank didn’t predict: He wants Claire to step down as the U.N. Ambassador. He tells Frank that she was never qualified for the position, and that she’s clouding his judgment. Frank doesn’t understand why Claire means so much to Petrov, to which he replies, “because she means so much to you.”
Frank initially refuses to let Claire go, but when Petrov reveals that Claire was played, that Alexei and Petrov wanted Claire to believe the Russians killed their own men, that they wanted to see a covert operation happen in order to gain the political upper hand and destroy the peacekeeping mission, Frank realizes that Claire perhaps has been distracting him.
The idea that Frank isn’t his clear-eyed, ruthless self anymore because he’s too focused on keeping his wife happy is an interesting one. Frank and Claire have always been a team, but this is perhaps the first time they’ve come across a political landscape that doesn’t benefit from a cooperative effort. Frank needs to have control of his foreign policy, along with many other things, in order to continue to gain power and eventually win the election in 2016. Keeping Claire in a position of power has been a distraction all season, and her insistence that the Russians killed their own men prevented him from seeing that the U.S. was being duped, and there’s few things the Frank hates more than being fooled.
NEXT: Doug Stamper starts to put his life back together