The fourth episode of this season of House of Cards largely worked to establish Heather Dunbar as a credible threat to Frank Underwood’s (as of yet, unofficial) run for presidency in 2016. It’s an important episode in that it legitimized Dunbar’s campaign; we see her as an actual threat to Frank, not just another ignorant politician who will quickly roll over when things get tough. For this season to work in terms of dramatic tension, there needs to be a credible threat to Frank’s power, and so far, that’s exactly what Dunbar is.
As much as Dunbar is making her moves, “Chapter 31” is largely about showing how Frank’s plan for America Works is coming together and how he plans on using its implementation to make his popularity surge. After all, what’s better for poll numbers than a few guaranteed jobs? Frank and his team are banking on the idea that the people of America are sick and tired of the empty rhetoric of politicians and will therefore embrace someone who’s actually doing something.
Of course, Frank’s America Works program is so radical that it hardly has a chance of getting approved by Congress. Frank has a plan for that though, and it’s a staggering one. He wants to strong-arm FEMA into letting him use emergency relief funds (which are typically used after natural disasters, mind you) to get his America Works program rolling. It’s a controversial move, but after meeting with a team of legal advisers, they establish that the language in the law is vague enough, suggesting that a President has the right to define what a state of emergency really is.
Thus, Frank needs to declare a state of emergency in order to access the $3 billion that Congress previously allocated to FEMA. Since he can’t approach any Senator about declaring a state of emergency, because none of them would go for it, he approaches the mayor of the District of Columbia. The mayor governs where a Senator is absent, and so Francis approaches Barney Hull, the former police chief who’s now the mayor. Hull loves Frank’s idea of using poverty and unemployment as a basis for a state of emergency. Hull, like Frank, is sick of seeing people out of work, so he quickly agrees to the plan.
Before long, they’ve wrangled the funds from FEMA and set up a tent outside the Capitol where anyone from the area can come sign up for a job. It’s the kind of pure fantasy that House of Cards continually revels in, the type of story that’s politics-as-wish-fulfillment, straining credibility but certainly working as drama. The program is off to a roaring start with folks lined up back to the Lincoln Memorial in hopes of landing a job. It took some backdoor finagling, but America Works is well on its way to working in D.C, and then hopefully being approved nationally.
NEXT: Doug drops an absolute bombshell