The Underwoods went to Russia. Things did not go well. The end.
As tempting as it is to let these three sentences represent the unfortunate events befalling the The First Family and everyone they came into contact with during “Chapter 32,” there’s simply much more to it than that. Sparing some of the harsher details for later, the President and First Lady flew to Russia to meet with President Petrov and negotiate the release of Michael Korrigan, a gay rights activist held captive under current Russian law. Claire went to speak with Korrigan while Frank handled Petrov, a division of duties usually successful for the wily, cunning and typically cold couple…
Not this time. Claire found her humanity in that jail cell while speaking to Michael about principles and marriages. Wounds were exposed that later grew deeper as the First Lady couldn’t hold back her true feelings during a press conference following Korrigan’s suicide. Perhaps it was that he did it while she slept beside him. Perhaps it was that he used her scarf. Perhaps it was that everything he described, stood up for and, in the end, died for, were already thorny issues tearing up a stoic and supportive First Lady. But she let loose first on Petrov, and later on her husband — a vicious attack he returned with equal fury.
The David Fincher Shot
There were a few interesting scenes of exposition that became slightly redundant when incorporating the visual aesthetic with the dialogue, and both took place after a character was handed a piece of information. The first came when President Petrov was notified of Claire’s command to de-bug Kerrigan’s cell. We knew what the note was from the previous scene, and Petrov’s remark — “Your wife values privacy” — was more than enough to explain to both the audience and Underwood what had happened. This scene marked a slight overstep, but the big one came later, when Gavin was told he didn’t have any STDs. In a carefully choreographed scene, he first refused the educational brochures and then thought better of it, deciding to keep them and throw away the result in order to trick Lisa into thinking he was sick. It worked like a charm, but it also made his breakdown in the clinic’s waiting room all the less potent. Fincher likely would not have been so callous with his camera.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
After the Underwoods finished trading barbs — “He was a coward, and I’m glad he’s dead.” “He had more courage than you’ll ever have.” “I should’ve never made you ambassador.” “I should’ve never made you President.” — Frank looked down, underneath his desk at the camera and said, “What are you lookin’ at?” directly to an audience presumably transfixed by the verbal battle. Though I most certainly was held hostage by the mano y mano showdown, I wasn’t rightly prepped for a joke right after it ended. Frank’s asides have been leaning toward the relevant overall this season, but this one was forced, awkward and unfunny. If it was meant to be threatening, then it’s all the worse. Irrelevant.
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Also in Episode 6: Doug helped out his new boss, Heather Dunbar, and “Max” (aka Gavin) gleaned a few new details from Lisa about her ex, Rachel, who he now thinks is in New Mexico. It would be easy to completely forget these comparatively tame details in an hour so filled with Drama (“with a capital D”). Still, the latter showed a sickeningly deceptive side to Gavin, as he lied to Lisa about having tested positive for AIDS, and the former appeared to indicated Doug’s sincerity for his new post. Neither are to be forgotten, even if they could be during the episode.
Made for Daytime: “Shame on you, Mr. President.”
Claire’s confessional moment at the podium skewed wildly between captivating and cringe-worthy, ending with this unenviable dud. As much as I prefer to see Claire finding her moral clarity before Frank (if he ever does), I don’t want her to sound like my mom when scolding a foreign leader. What made it worse was Claire’s ignorance of Petrov’s true feelings, as he knows the law is barbaric (not that those action-less feelings let him off the hook). But her uneven, off-book lecture needed another few read throughs from a speech writer — or at least the “House of Cards” writing staff.
Ready for Primetime: Everything else with Claire.
Perhaps said writing staff was simply worn out from providing Claire such great conversations with Korrigan. Their back-and-forth in the jail cell was a high point for the season, and the the dialogue didn’t let down a moment so clearly elevated for this very occasion. “House of Cards” had been building its marital tension subtly through its first five episodes, with a few hints at disruption in the union but no outright declarations of war. Claire was sleeping in another room. She was repeatedly sickened by Frank’s lack of follow-through. He was upset over her rocky start as ambassador, as well as the less than smooth nomination process.
Now they’ve got it all out in the open, and then some. Their words had to cut deep because they came from someone so cherished, trusted and loved. Claire told Michael he didn’t know the first thing about marriage, but in the end, she believed his interpretation more than her own. Frank, meanwhile, may still be off on a whole other wavelength. He makes for a strange access point; a truly villainous protagonist we’re still stuck with as our eyes and ears for the series. It’s almost claustrophobic being trapped in his mind, and his straight-to-camera confessionals don’t help. Unless he straightens his own ship — meaning he at least becomes her intellectual equal if not moral one — the rest of Season 3 could be a rough ride.
“No, we’re not. We’re survivors”
Let’s be clear on two things: Frank is clearly a murderer, and he doesn’t like being called on it. We’ve seen him commit the deeds himself in the first two seasons, and at least some of Michael’s blood is on his hands (figuratively, of course). His response to Claire’s statement, though, was treated as though it was an unspoken promise not to say such a thing out loud. He reacted slowly — or at least slower than his usually rapid-fire political mind typically responds to unwanted news — and with such self-righteous anger it was an all-together disgusting display. In that moment, the audience could see what Claire has grown to find repulsive about her husband since he took office: he’s weak, self-obsessed and lashes out with disconnected rage instead of political savvy. Recovery may be a long road for the Underwoods after this heated confessional. Frank better get back on his game.