House of Cards: Chapters 18 & 19 – Highlights and Commentary

***Mild Spoilers ahead***

The 5th and 6th episodes of House of Cards in Season Two, entitled Chapters 18 & 19, began with Erotic Asphyxiation, then journeyed via a startling jump cut to a place called Spotsylvania, Pennsylvania for a reenactment of the Civil War’s Overland Campaign. While not quite true time travel, we did learn that an Underwood, previously unknown, did die in that fierce battle. Frank Underwood was surprisingly moved by this news.

But as you might expect, he was able to shoe horn this into a secret meeting right on that very same killing ground. Read on.

Xander Feng

thXander Feng

Frank, Raymond Tusk, and the Chinese business tycoon, Xander Feng, went round and round about a number of items. Starting with a bridge from Port Jefferson, New York to Milford, Connecticut, then Tusk’s venture with Feng for a rare earth element called samarium, and then on to funds that went from the pockets of Feng and his associates straight to the Republican Party coffers with Dan Lanigan, an associate of Tusk, with his Missouri casino, serving as the middle or bag man.

(l to r) - Secretary of State Catherine Durant, Raymond Tusk, and Frank Underwood

(l to r) – Secretary of State Catherine Durant, Raymond Tusk, and Frank Underwood

The Frank/Raymond dueling continues with poor Doug Stamper having to be in so many different places. He’s handling the Lucas Goodwin situation,

Lucas and Gavin

Lucas and Gavin

which resulted in Lucas accepting a jail term after Big Nose, who we now know is a FBI agent named Nathan Green, threatened Gavin Orsay to keep his mind on business, as well as Janine Skorsky, now teaching in Ithaca, New York.

Doug is also keeping tabs on Rachel Posner who tells Doug, If there’s one thing I know, it’s when a man wants me. There seems to be a lot more than just watching over Posner going on within Doug. But he manages to keep his distance, this time. From there Doug flies to Kansas City to sniff around Lanigan’s casino, and he manages to bed a barmaid in order to learn about that Chinese money being funneled through Lanigan’s casino. This barmaid hits the nail on the head when she tells Doug that he really didn’t have fun as his mind was on someone else. How very astute.

Doug then flies to Beijing, China to ‘sit’ on Feng until he has the confirmation about the money and Feng lets him in on what he really wants.

It’s not so much that these two episodes are not exciting, but they do seem to be more about moving and positioning also known as plotting and planning rather than about action (aside from Doug). Poor Doug is so tired he can’t even make use of the playmates, arranged by Feng for him. Chapter 19 closed with a power blackout with Vice President

Frank at Camden Yards in Baltimore. He's about to say, "Go Orioles!"

Frank at Camden Yards in Baltimore. He’s about to say, “Go Orioles!”

Frank Underwood on the pitcher’s mound in Baltimore’s Camden Yards, preparing to the throw out a first pitch at an Orioles game. If we are being honest, I don’t think Frank was going to reach home plate with his pitch, so that blackout (courtesy of Tusk) was actually a blessing for Frank.

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House of Cards: Chapter 17 (Ep 2 x 04) Recap/Review

****some mild spoilers ahead****

The 4th episode of House of Cards second season was much more of a concentrated episode. All of the most important and more serious activity was loaded into just two main segments and two lesser sections. Believe it or not, even though a white powder was sent in a package to the Democratic section of the Capitol Building, which would result in a full-scale quarantine of the Capitol, that was only for background.

Of course, one outcome of the quarantine was that Frank Underwood was trapped in an office with Donald Blythe, who announced within seconds of shaking hands with Frank, that he would not side with Frank on the pending HR934, the entitlements bill, and that he wouldn’t change his mind – no matter what. The other was that Frank would not be able to get home for the Ashleigh Banford interview that was set up by the Underwood’s new flack – Connor Ellis.

Back at the Underwood home, Claire was prepping for the interview with Ashleigh Banfield. Banfield is a real life TV Journalist who works for CNN. She’s sort of the Barbara Walters of this era. And today, as I write this, Banfield is dealing with having received death threats on Twitter for her views on the Michael Dunn murder trial in Jacksonville.

But not to mix fact and fiction, the Claire Underwood/Ashleigh Banfield interview is one of the two major, two person dramas that will play out before our eyes. The other being the battle of wills, feelings, and votes between Donald Blythe and Frank.

There’s a major difference – Claire’s interview was a choice that she made when she agreed to do the interview. On the other hand, Frank and Blythe didn’t have a choice – after all a quarantine is a quarantine. They were in the right place at the wrong time.

As the quarantine worked it self through the prescribed protocols, Frank and Donald were soon moments way from coming to blows.

But with Ashleigh directing the course of the interview, Claire would eventually reach a the place known as The Great Reveal. Claire would tell Ashleigh, and a sizeable portion of the American public why she and Frank were childless, and that she was once pregnant, and that she terminated the pregnancy by an elective abortion. She would further reveal that the pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault when she was in college.

This scene was a great example of Robin Wright’s acting skills. There is value in not just what she says, or how she says it. Watch carefully for the expressions, the pauses, even when she needs a break. We can offer Wright a lot of kudos for this scene. And if she was playing Banford, then she is just as great at manipulation as Frank Underwood himself.

Ashleigh probed even deeper, and before long, Claire would reveal the name of the rapist , the newly commissioned General Dalton McGuinness. Of course this was explosive news to the American public – Claire stated that Frank’s career could now be in jeopardy, that she expected to not only be reviled and have her faith questioned, but there also could be death threats.

Ashleigh stated that they would have to take a break, as the network would have to contact McGuinness for a response. While that was happening, another woman phoned in – a soldier once under Guinness command, to tell that she had been raped by him too.

This was truly powerful television.

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House of Cards: Chapter 16 (2 x 03) – Recap/Review

House of Cards nearly collapsed under the weight of being ludicrous in this episode (Chapter 16). While I did appreciate the continued jousting going on between Frank Underwood and Raymond Tusk, I didn’t much care for the Senatorial One-Upsmanship where Frank, and his advisers outplayed the Republicans on the field of parliamentary procedure.

There are two kinds of Vice Presidents...

There are two kinds of Vice Presidents…

Having Senators carried in while manacled and handcuffed just didn’t create the kind of tension that this show is noted for. But that was the end game. The runup with Frank dueling with Key Republican senators like Hector Mendes, Donald Blythe, and Curtis Haas was kind of fun as we get to see Frank in his finest cooking mode. But a fight over entitlements and retirement age adjustments is far from scintillating.

However, there was a very key aside made by Frank just before the opening credits rolled.

The cult of Tusk. Membership one. That one disciple just happens to be the most powerful man in the free world… for now.

The Cult of Tusk. Membership one....

The Cult of Tusk. Membership one….

As you know, or at least have thought of, Frank is aiming for greater proximity to the Presidential ear. Likely to be fine tuned, and tweaked, with the Presidency itself as the ultimate goal.

Meanwhile some newly born sub-stories come into focus:

1) Claire Underwood is about to hire a pr person, one Connor Ellis.

Christina: ..takes us back to the Ice Age President Walker: Oh, I like that, Linda?

Christina: ..takes us back to the Ice Age
President Walker: Oh, I like that, Linda?

2) Claire Underwood notices how close the President and Christina (who worked with Peter Russo) seem to be. Cozy and intimate are the terms used by Frank and Claire as they discuss it. Neither Claire nor Frank believe that there’s anything going on.
3) Lucas Goodwin makes contact with the super hackers
4) Lucas approaches Janine Skorsky, who has moved to Ithaca, NY and is teaching. She declines his entreaties, but some how, I don’t think this is the last we will see of her.

Soon, actually somewhere slightly past the 31 minute mark, we get another key aside by Frank:

Tusk is blocking my way. Goodwin at my heels. There can be no false steps now. The higher up the mountain, the more treacherous the path.

5) Frank’s Doberman, otherwise known to us as Doug Stamper, is keeping close tabs on Rachel Posner, the prostitute that kept company with the victimized and deceased Congressman, Peter Russo. I’m not sure why Stamper, or Frank, have not suggested that Posner go away permanently rather than being stashed in a Maryland suburb working at a call center.

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House of Cards: Chapter 15 Episode 2 x 02 Recap

Frank Underwood: Well it’s always a coin toss with the Chinese. But sometimes, standing your ground is better than giving in.They respect you more when you give a show of strength.
President Walker: Are you changing your mind on this Frank?
Frank Underwood: I think it is important that you do what you think is best. The American people voted for you as President. Not me, and not Raymond Tusk.

How easily the words flow from Frank.

Chapter 15 (Sn 2 Ep 2) of House of Cards opened with the pre-credits swearing-in of Francis ‘Frank’ Underwood as Vice President of the United States. It was a private ceremony conducted in Frank’s home. But not so private that we didn’t get to see it. Frank had refused to move to the official VP Residence at One Observatory Circle, so his home needed to be fitted out with the necessary communications, surveillance, and security measures. As one of the attending Congressmen said: It’s like a war zone in here.

The swearing-in went off without a hitch and the main parts of it had already been seen on the Season Two Trailer. However it did serve as introduction to the two men who would be competing for Frank’s old job as the Majority WHIP. Given that House of Cards (HOC) likes to include small seemingly innocuous, or unimportant scenes, that might later turn out to be instruments of foreshadow, we must record that the camera work, writing, and direction had Frank take a good, long look at a CCTV camera being installed in one of the rooms. You heard it here first.

We also got a good look at the squabbling Howard and Wes both vying for the WHIP position. Frank called it cat-fighting.

From there we get the marvelous opening credits which I never tire of watching. I always seem to wait for (and enjoy) that passing train which zips by so fast, that you can miss it with a blink. From there, we start off with the meat and potatoes of this episode which are basically:

a) the terrible trio of Raymond Tusk, Secretary of State Catherine Durant, and Frank Underwood head into the deep end of the pool, using trade talks, and other key subjects with China, like government sponsored cyber-attacks, theft of intellectual property (software) and so forth with the intent and purpose of Frank looking to replace Tusk’s influence over President Garrett Walker with his own. Frank doesn’t tell this to Catherine, but we can easily see how he twists her arm without her being even aware of it. And Tusk won’t say anything to Walker either – with the exception being that he suggests something of a soft-pedaling with China. Tusk’s business interests trump any concern he might feel about the public perception of Walker.

b) The battle for the WHIP position will bring Jackie Sharp into a key focus and prominence. You will remember that she’s Frank choice over Frick and Frack (Howard and Wes) the dueling Congressmen. Jackie will have to toss Teddy Havermeyer under the bus to become a valid contender even though he’s willing to back her. Wes will bow out in exchange for Ways and Means, and Teddy being embarrassed enough to step down. Even though Jackie likes Teddy who is played by David Clennon (once and forever the Prince of Darkness from his days as Miles Drentel on thirtysomething) she has to do it. Frank easily sidesteps her concerns.

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