After Frank set things in motion to maintain his control over the country last week, the day-to-day execution began in earnest in “Chapter 29.” Set largely around a party thrown at the White House for visiting Russian president Viktor Petrov and his delegation, the episode started with Frank being informed by a Democratic party member that his plan to employ 10 million Americans was unlikely to work out. Before Frank could adequately counter, he was dismissed as if he wasn’t the President of the United F’n States — and Frank was pissed!
But President Underwood has always had an eye for the long game, and things quickly moved on to more pressing immediate issues. Claire, who had been appointed Ambassador to the United Nations in between episodes, struggled to find an appropriate balance with her co-worker, Secretary of State Cathy Durant. After some ego courting, Claire succeeded — as she always does because CLAIRE — to the delight of everyone. Why? Because we got to watch the First Lady and Secretary of State play beer pong in the Executive Residence! This is exactly what “House of Cards” is all about: finding the ideal balance between exciting D.C. politics and soap operatic fantasy moments. God bless Beau Willimon, and God bless the United States of America.
Unfortunately for the Underwoods, this wasn’t the most memorable part of the evening (for them). A disgraceful evening for the Russians — who, even a few decades since the end of the Cold War are still the primary villain of American entertainment — saw their President try to one-up Frank’s amazing, Bobby Darin-esque rendition of “Birth to the Blues” (a Frank Sinatra song) by bellowing Russian propaganda and kissing Claire! He may have rattled the President in the moment, but boy is he ever going to live to regret making a move on his wife (and then repeatedly referencing her hotness, which, he’s not wrong about).
The (Anti-) David Fincher Shot
Though some viewers may have missed the ending of Episode 3, it’s likely for the best. No, I’m not talking about Frank’s solo press conference where he tells off the Russian president. Instead, it’s the closing credits anthem “Don’t Cry Genocide” from Pussy Riot & Le Tigre. The special guest stars’ appearance seemed like a rather jarringly forced moment, but the music video shoot is so tonally separate from the “House of Cards” brand it’s no surprise the service tries to get you to click on to the next episode after only a second or two. It’s as though the post-production team was forced into playing something from the Russian anti-Putin group, and thought this song was the closest fit to Frank’s hostile temperament at episode’s end. It was not quite close enough.
(If you’re looking for actual Fincher-esque shots, check out Gavin’s interrogation room meeting. When the camera changes to the special agent’s POV, it’s as if Fincher was running the camera.)
Breaking the Fourth Wall
“I’d push him down the stairs and light his broken body on fire just to watch it burn… if it wouldn’t start a World War.” Frankly (no pun intended), Frank’s statement here is shocking. Not because he’s got such protective (or possessive) rage built up within him regarding Claire, but because he didn’t actually do it. If we take the implication that a World War would be bad for Frank’s political career, his discipline is more in line with his previous actions. After all, we’ve seen that Frank isn’t wary of spilling someone else’s blood. Either way, the exchange added a few levels of intrigue to the proceedings, making this week’s breaks wholly relevant.
Binge and You’ll Miss It
Though “Chapter 29” wasn’t a bad episode by any means, all the political mumbo jumbo combined with awkward conversation after awkward conversation lead to a bit of a lull, especially when compared to the boldness of “Chapter 28.” This viewer started to fade a bit during when the two presidents greeted their dinner guests. When cycling back through, I picked up on the pattern-breaking framing of Mendoza’s greeting. The Democratic Party’s likely opposition in the upcoming election managed to be the only guest to cut Frank out of his photo; or at least that’s what seemed to be implied by director Tucker Gates’ framing. Though the U.S. President didn’t move from the position he was in for all the other photos — of which he was included — he was cut out of this shot. Will the Mendoza/Petrov linkage prove to be something more down the line, or was it just used to illustrate the opportunity Mendoza has to illustrate his own importance?
Made for Daytime: Nothing
There weren’t many scenes that felt extraneously attention-seeking in this episode, but there was one that could have been if handled any other way. For me, Claire and Cathy’s beer pong game was an excellent in-the-moment ploy by the First Lady for closeness between the two co-workers. Before the Russian’s boisterous party, Claire said her attempts to be “deferential” with the Secretary of State were “coming off as patronizing.” So she switched tactics and tried to bring herself down to a more human level. Looks like it worked, and more importantly than that, it was as much fun for us to watch as it was for the two proud college grads to play. An excellent incorporation that could have easily gone the other way.
Ready for Primetime: Frank’s Attack
The closing moments of “Chapter 29” illustrated the kind of back-against-the-wall boldness found on another Emmy-winning political drama, Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing.” Though not as dramatically enticing as when President Bartlet announced his decision to seek reelection, Frank’s (and Claire’s) decision to buck diplomacy in favor of an aggressive stance worked wonders for setting up what feels like a long season of international chicanery. If we’re about to enter a politicized Cold War with Russia on “House of Cards,” it’s best to build from realistic moments like this.
“I’ll have them bring your motorcade around.” – Frank Underwood
After Petrov went on and on about his cars and fucking his ex-wife in a Lexus, Frank countered with his own illustration of what the Russian President can — ahem —fuck off to. While obviously not as brash with his verbiage, President Underwood had had enough of the cold man’s bullying, instructing him in not so many words to get the hell out of his country. No joint press conference. No “Lexus.” Just a ride out of town. It’s a defining moment for Frank, who needs to turn public opinion around quickly if he hopes to be begged back for the Democratic ticket. This was his first move. We’ll see if the rest are as effective.