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[pagebreak]
Frank isn’t the only one making power moves though. Dunbar is out campaigning (again, unofficially) with the husband of Michael Corrigan, the gay rights activist that Russia has imprisoned. She’s looking for votes, but she’s also trying to prove herself as the likeable, approachable, progressive candidate. She’s going to do things by the book, with no shady dealings.
Or at least that’s what she thinks before she meets with Doug Stamper. After their creepy, dark hallway meeting in the previous episode, Dunbar has agreed to meet with Stamper for a preliminary interview. He’s certainly qualified to be part of the campaign, but Dunbar isn’t sure she can trust him. Stamper already knows that and comes prepared with a defense: He’ll prove himself first, and then they’ll talk about a job position.
First, Doug recommends someone for her campaign team, a guy who really understands the lay of the land. He proves himself to Dunbar, showing her how the Corrigan issue isn’t about free speech, but rather Claire’s attempt to get troops into the Jordan Valley. Russia sees that as a threat, and the Corrigan kidnapping is retaliation. That’s not enough to get Doug the job, but he still has a huge bombshell to drop: he has the medical journal that belonged to the doctor who performed Claire’s abortion. That journal is evidence that she lied on national television about having an abortion because of being raped; the journal proves an inconsistency in the timeline. Claire asked Doug to destroy the journal last season, but he’s the kind of guy to know that any evidence you can keep could come in handy later. Like Doug says, he’s a man with a unique set of skills, not unlike Liam Neeson. Dunbar is hesitant to get into such shady dealings, but she knows Doug can help bring her into office, so she hires him.
The entire episode is all about such instances of wheeling and dealing. It’s a fast-paced episode, one with a lot of information and backstabbing. Frank and Dunbar’s story lines are convoluted enough, but when you add in the moves made by Jackie, Claire, Seth, and Remy on top of that, everything gets even more convoluted. That’s not to say that the episode is confusing, but rather that it’s largely plot. The first few episodes of the season have been rather patient; thus, the energy in this episode is a bit jarring, but it mostly works to get a lot of balls rolling for the rest of the season.
To put this all as concisely as possible: Seth is freaking out about Kate Baldwin, a cutthroat Telegraph journalist who’s replacing Sayyad and is determined to shake up the status quo. Jackie, after a conversation with Frank, determines that she needs to get married, fake a campaign for the presidency, then flip-flop and support Frank before being included as VP on his ticket. And then there’s Remy, who’s contacting an author named Thomas Yates about writing a book about Frank and his rise through Washington and his wonderful new America Works program. See what I mean by having a lot of pieces moving around?
Most importantly though, Claire is working to get the U.N. moving on her resolution; Russia is still vehemently opposed, but Claire’s workaround is in motion. She quickly comes up against a roadblock though: Israel won’t commit to the resolution, as they assume the United States won’t follow through on its promise to send peacekeeping troops. Thus, Claire has to ask Frank for an executive order, which will show Israel that the U.S. is serious about its intentions in the Jordan Valley.
Because this is Francis Underwood and there’s seemingly nothing he can’t do, he gets the executive order. This allows Claire to get one over on Russia, and the scene where she revels in the Russian Ambassador’s uselessness while in the bathroom is a thing of beauty. It’s pitch-perfect House of Cards, with Claire letting the Ambassador know that he’s out of options and that, like so many other men in her life, he’s completely underestimated her. When Claire and Frank later receive a call from Petrov inviting them to the Kremlin to discuss the resolution, it’s a huge win for the Underwoods, and satisfying for us because we get to see that creep Petrov get his comeuppance.
The episode ends with the Underwoods at the Fourth of July celebration, fireworks exploding over the Capitol as many hopeful workers line up outside the America Works tent hoping for a fresh start. The camera pans along the line, eventually revealing a face we haven’t seen in some time. It’s Freddy, the guy who used to make the best ribs in Washington, and if anyone needs a new start, it’s him.
So, how will Freddy play into the rest of this season? And what about Claire’s pregnancy that was hinted at back in episode 2? Why hasn’t that been addressed yet? Episode five gave us a lot of information, but there’s still so many questions left to be answered.