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'House of Cards' recap: 'Chapter 34'

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House of Cards

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright

If you were at all unsure what’s been going on throughout this season of House of Cards, both in terms of plot and on a thematic level, episode 8 lays it all out for you… in the most ham-fisted way possible. Two separate, but equally obtrusive voice-overs dominate the episode. One sees Tom Yates reading aloud the prologue of his book about Frank Underwood, which tells a childhood story about how Frank dared to swim a long distance while other boys stood around and didn’t even bother trying—a story that Frank later reveals to be a lie, because that’s kind of what he does. The other is Kate Baldwin, the veteran Telegraph reporter who’s taken over the White House beat, reading an article she’s writing about Frank’s controversial takeover of the Presidency and his tyrannical reign as the country’s leader.

House of Cards employs its fair share of gimmicks—Frank breaking the fourth wall being the most obvious one—but the voice-over in this episode is by far one of the worst, most hackneyed devices it’s used. The goal of the voice-over is to give us two different understandings of Frank. The problem is, neither perspective gives us any real insight into Frank or tells us anything we don’t already know, and both perspectives are some of the tackiest writing the show has ever peddled.

Kate’s voice-over is by far the worst of the two. With a hurricane about to hit the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, she uses the opportunity to craft a metaphor where Frank is the hurricane and Washington/The White House is the East Coast. It’s hacky writing that would never make it past an editor and into a major news publication—she even says Frank took the state senate “by storm” which is just terrible writing—but even more egregious than that, the voice-over serves no purpose. It tells us that Frank is a bad man who uses intimidation to get what he wants. That’s nothing new to us, and even if we gave Kate’s article the benefit of the doubt, it’s established at the episode’s end that it will likely never be published. Thus, the voice-over is all pointless exposition, hardly an effective way to drive the narrative.

Perhaps the voice-overs are used because there’s not a lot going on in this episode. Realistically, the episode presents one of the toughest decisions of Frank’s Presidency thus far. When Hurricane Faith threatens to slam into the Eastern Seaboard, Frank must go to Congress in order to get them to replenish the FEMA coffers, the same ones he previously took money from in order to get America Works up and running. Congress agrees to allocate $10 billion—$2 billion more than Frank was going to ask for—but on one condition: Frank signs an emergency bill that states he won’t use the FEMA funds for America Works. The stakes never feel as high as they should though; a natural disaster is just another roadblock that Frank will easily steamroll.

Frank is backed into a corner though. He either signs the emergency bill and throws away everything he’s been working for, and just as America Works is gaining support in Congress and nationwide, or he refuses to sign and risks having no funds in place if the hurricane hits, endangering the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people. Try as Frank might to finagle his way out of the situation, there’s no real choice here, even for someone as coldhearted as Frank. Yates tells him that signing the bill would be the right thing to do. Freddy, who’s brought to the White House for a job interview, says the same thing.

NEXT: Doug sets a trap that Jackie falls right into[pagebreak]

While Frank is busy contemplating what to do about America Works and the impending hurricane, Doug is busy making himself useful to Heather Dunbar. When Dunbar is out campaigning for tighter regulations on corporations and raising the minimum wage, Doug calls her and suggests that she meet with Jackie Sharp. Doug seems to be on to the fact that Jackie might have something to do with Frank’s (still unannounced) run at the White House in 2016, so he finds a wrench to throw into their plans.

Dunbar meets with Jackie and tells her that, during this time of crisis, what with the hurricane and everything, she’s going to stop campaigning, go volunteer, and ask that her donors donate money to Red Cross instead. She tells Jackie that she’d like her to do the same, to show some solidarity. Jackie tells her that she’s not sure—her “cynical” side, as she puts it, doesn’t trust her—but eventually agrees to put her campaign on hiatus at the same time as Dunbar.

Doug, with the pieces now in place, calls Seth and tells him to tell Frank that Jackie and Dunbar met. He leaves it up to Frank to find out the details. Once he does find out that Jackie has agreed to stall her campaign, he’s livid, assuming that she fell right into a trap that was meant to derail any potential momentum Jackie, and therefore Frank’s, campaign had going for it.

If there’s one bit of good news for Frank, it’s that Russia has agreed to send troops to the Jordan Valley. They’ve felt isolated and pressured in the U.N., and so have agreed to send 300 troops in support of the newly-passed resolution. Claire thanks Frank for his hard work and influence, but Frank defers all the congratulations to her. It was her hard work that made it happen, he says. It seems the Underwoods’ marriage is right back on track.

With that bit of good news out of the way, Frank is back contemplating what to do about the hurricane. As the days roll on, it’s obvious that he must sign the emergency bill, and therefore kill America Works. After he signs the bill and gets Seth to bring it to the House, he goes to take a long nap, like any President would only days before a crisis. He asks Claire to have someone wake him up when the hurricane hits the East Coast.

Claire wakes him up herself, hours later, and tells him that the hurricane changed its course. It’s no longer going to devastate the Eastern Seaboard. That’s good news, but as Frank talks to Remy about potentially revoking the bill he signed that killed America Works, he realizes that there’s no taking it back. Frank’s resourceful though and decides he doesn’t need the program right now; he only needs the promise and potential of the program. He’s going to officially announce his intention to run for president in 2016, hoping that the seeming success of America Works on a small scale is enough to get him elected.

I’d close out this recap by saying that as much as Frank is planning ahead, he has no idea what storms might lie ahead. But that would be ham-fisted, cliché writing (shame on you, veteran Telegraph reporter Kate Baldwin!). Instead, let’s just say that, now a little over halfway through this season, Frank has a renewed vigor, but a long campaign filled with significant opposition is still ahead of him.