The Russian President attends a summit at the White House, and Claire and Catherine find time to play beer pong.
We’ve been hearing a bit about the arrival of Russian President Viktor Petrov for two episodes now. The plot hasn’t specifically focused on him, but his presence has been lingering in the background. Apparently, America is working on a plan to bring peace to the Middle East that would see some sort of troop presence in the Jordan Valley. Such a proposal relies on the cooperation of Russia; hence the summit that dominates the entire third episode of the season.
Like “Chapter 28,” which largely focused on how the Underwoods were working to get some of their political influence back after a couple of flubs, so too does “Chapter 29” benefit from a narrative focus. By largely confining the episode to the summit and its political and emotional implications, the episode gives us a lot to latch on to. Every now and then, House of Cards dives too far into the backroom dealings of Washington, unnecessarily complicating a story that’s mostly about two people and their desire for power.
The third episode of the season avoids such pitfalls. It gives us time to understand Petrov, and once we realize how sadistic he can be, we’re once again forced to empathize with the Underwoods–like I said in the previous episode’s recap, that’s no small feat.
Petrov arrives at the White House to much fanfare, but most of that is overshadowed by the protests for gay rights outside the gates. The brief shot of the protesters is a nice touch because, for the first time this season, it lets us outside of the White House and gives us the perspective of the citizens. It also serves as a jumping off point for the tension, courtesy of summit guests Pussy Riot, which will inspire Frank to stand up to Petrov in the episode’s closing moments.
For now though, Frank is set on wining and dining with his guest, hopefully winning him over and gaining his support for the proposed peace plan. Any hope that Frank has is stifled quickly by Petrov though. As soon as he exits his car and shakes Underwood’s hand, he lets him know that there’s no way he’ll agree to put such a plan in place.
In a series of talks throughout the episode, Petrov reveals that he wants more than peace in the Middle East. In fact, peace in the Middle East doesn’t do anything for Russia. Thus, he needs more in return from Frank, including a serious reduction in troops in certain locations beneficial to Russia. Frank knows he can’t do such a thing, but he’s eager to please Petrov, especially as Frank’s still trying to make his mark on the leadership of the Democratic party.
Before we’re deep into the summit though, we learn that Claire is now the Ambassador to the United Nations; the recess vote Frank agreed to in the previous episode proved successful. It’s a bit strange that the series just jumps ahead and puts Claire in the position, especially considering so much of the previous episode was focused on Claire campaigning for the spot, only to be denied in the Senate vote. The tension that permeated the previous episode, accentuated by Claire’s ambition and the multiple roadblocks in her way, never really gets a solid payoff. She’s just suddenly in the position.
The same jarring effect is present in Gavin’s story line. The hacker is now working for the F.B.I., but he’s eager to get out. The upper brass there keeps threatening him with arrest if he doesn’t keep giving them information. Doug’s working on getting his travel lock revoked so that he can flee the country, but there’s no guarantee the two will be able to come to terms. Doug wants to know exactly where Rachel is, and if Gavin can give him that, then he’ll work on getting him out of the F.B.I. and out of the country.
NEXT: Petrov gets a little too close to Claire
In the midst of the summit is Frank’s increasing pressure to get the amendments to America Works out of committee so that he can finally push the program through. That urgency is leftover from the previous episode’s monumental speech, and it permeates much of the summit, even as the focus is slowly shifted away from America Works and toward Frank’s relationship with Petrov.
Petrov’s demeanor immediately sets off a lot of warning bells. He seems uncompromising, and as the summit proceeds and he tells President Underwood that he’ll think about something he wants in return for his cooperation in the Middle East, it becomes increasingly clear that the thing he might want is Claire. There’s palpable (and creepy) sexual tension to their interactions, as Frank sits Claire next to Petrov, hoping that she can use her charms to persuade the man to cooperate with the United States.
As the night progresses, and the vodka starts flowing, the tension rises considerably. It’s uncomfortable to watch as Petrov feeds vodka to the President and First Lady in a clear attempt to bring down their guard, a sexual-predator vibe pretty clear throughout the summit.
Petrov reaches the level of full-on creep as the evening begins to wind down. After a lavish dinner, wherein Pussy Riot gives a “toast” that lambasts Russia for its human rights violations before storming out in protest, all the guests gather in another room for some music. A piano player sings the blues before asking Frank to come up and share a song. Frank does a quick cut before Petrov approaches the piano and begins to sing a song in Russian. He grabs Claire and dances with her, and as the song reaches its conclusion, he kisses her.
Frank and Claire, as well as the rest of the guests, are taken aback, yet they applaud, hoping to quickly stifle the awkwardness and get on with their evening. Thus, Frank separates Petrov from the group while Claire and Catherine Durant set out on their own. Throughout the episode, there’s tension between Claire and Catherine, as Claire’s appointment alongside Catherine has proven to be a bit of a distraction. Claire has a plan though, and it involves a reliable college drinking game.
Claire is committed to proving herself and showing Catherine that she’s an ally, not a threat or nuisance; and what better way to show some camaraderie than by having some scotch and playing beer pong? Seriously, Catherine was apparently her school’s champion player, so the two square off in a friendly game. After so much viciousness in the first few episodes of this season, it’s nice to see two people just enjoying each other’s company.
Of course, it’s not long until Catherine and Claire begin to discuss a plan for the Middle East. Shaken by Petrov’s shadiness, Claire suggests to Catherine that perhaps the Russian President isn’t the best ally. Unfortunately, Russia could veto any movement by the U.N., so his support is needed… or so Claire thinks. Catherine reveals that the Uniting For Peace Resolution might give them a loophole, allowing them to bypass the veto and secure some troops in the Middle East. This would involve scrapping Frank’s plan though, something he’s worked hard to build.
But as Frank interacts more with Petrov, he begins to see the same things Claire does. The Russian President is disrespectful to the White House, and even more disrespectful to Frank and his wife. Still, Frank is kowtowing to him, hoping for his support. It’s one of the only times Frank has seemed so weak, so easily swayed from his beliefs, and it’s a shocking sight. This isn’t the ruthless Francis Underwood we’re used to.
It’s not the ruthless and confident Francis that Claire is used to either. Before they go to bed, she imparts a bit of advice to Frank. Don’t get into bed with him; he may be smart, but he’s a thug, someone who Frank shouldn’t waste time associating with. Frank takes her advice and sends Petrov packing. I’ve never been so happy to see a character go, and once again, I was reveling in Frank’s win, especially as he closes out the episode with another rousing speech, this one invoking Pussy Riot as inspiration, with Frank saying that the band’s protest led him to cut ties with Petrov and move forward with his own plan. That new plan, which isn’t being revealed to the media yet, is going to involve the resolution that Catherine and Claire discussed after their beer pong match. The Underwoods are pretty despicable, but so far this season, the show has given us good reason to cheer for them, and House of Cards is continually at its best when it puts Claire and Francis together, fighting hard for something that they believe in.
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