It’s all okay again! After Episode 6’s catastrophic falling out between Frank and Claire, the two patched things up over the course of a month in their time and an episode in ours. Ending chronologically with a renewal of vows that kicked off the sequential events of the episode (written by Beau Willimon), “Chapter 33” attempted to dig into the First Family’s unique relationship but came away with as much inside information as Thomas Yates has discovered thus far: bupkis. Though many superficial changes were made — from Claire’s hair color to the time-jumping construction — we’re essentially right back where we started before the season began, and it doesn’t feel earned.
The disruption of Frank and Claire as President and U.N. Ambassador was one ripe with possibilities, and up to this point, it really felt like it was going to take “House of Cards” somewhere new — especially after last week’s on-point brouhaha between the powerful spouses. Now, Claire and Frank are sleeping in the same bed and supporting each other again, much like they did in Seasons 1 and 2. Part of me is glad to see it, while another part feels like this quick-fix episode made the season up to now irrelevant. What cogs are left in motion if Claire and Franke are fine and America Works is running smoothly? We’re still waiting to see how the Gavin and Doug — whose relationship with his personal trainer also now feels like a waste of time — stories wrap up, and we don’t know what will come to pass with the upcoming election. But the biggest character-driven story arc seems to have been resolved without a single casualty. Odd, no?
The David Fincher Shot
During a scene of heavy exposition at the front of the episode, we learned new reporter Kate Baldwin hadn’t spoken to novelist Thomas Yates during the first two months they were on the job together. About halfway through, in another, shorter bit of exposition, we discover Kate has the utmost respect for Tom’s writing even if she doesn’t know what he’s writing for the President. Then, during Underwood’s speech about retiring Social Security, we watch as Yates eyes Baldwin, Baldwin eyes Yates and Seth Grayson eyes Baldwin. This illustrates the allure between the two well-regarded writers — hinting at something to come — just as it serves as a reminder of Grayson’s wariness toward Kate’s crafty ways. How the three become entangled later on seems as unavoidable as two members of the White House press corps not speaking (okay, a reporter and an author).
Breaking the Fourth Wall
In a surprising display of restraint, Willimon included no direct-to-camera nods, winks or witticisms from the President. Everything was self-contained about “Chapter 33,” most likely as a bid for the episode’s importance. But as I mentioned above, that didn’t work out quite as expected. There’s something false at the heart of this part of the story, as the Underwood’s marriage was healed far too quickly after being tested as it never was before. Some first-hand levity from the President would have been a welcome bit of insight into this far too insular bubble. A little irreverence may have kept it from being irrelevant.
Binge and You’ll Miss It
Was I alone in picking up the homo-erotic subtext of the President’s drunken remarks to Yates? The two bonded over a few drinks in the residency of the White House, but — after Yates commented on how drunk he was — Frank brought up the last time he was that deep in the bag; when he was at The Sentinel, his military school, being honored by classmates and broke into the library after hours… and reminisced about a sexual relationship with his former best friend. He doesn’t exactly share the details with Thomas as the two sit side by side on the love seat, chuckling with each other, but it doesn’t take long for Claire to emerge and put a stop to it. Am I reading too much into the exchange, or was this a subtle reminder of Frank’s past possibly affecting his future?
Made for Daytime: Doug Sleeping with his Physical Therapist
Could this have been any more predictable — and gross? A beautiful young woman working in a profession requiring at least a degree of intelligence goes to bed with a man who looks like her father (Michael Kelly is 45, and I’m guessing Christina Bennett Lind is in her early 30s) for no thematic purpose whatsoever. She’s leaving town. They’re not linked in any way. He’s not in love with her, and she’s not with him (the scene’s one saving grace). Instead, she acts as an object of the male writer’s fantasy and throws away all practical decision-making to choose…Doug? Don’t get me wrong, Kelly is a perfectly good-looking man, but he doesn’t seem like the guy a girl leaving town would pick from a roomful of eligible gents. This hook-up has been set up for a few episodes now, but its payoff — if this is truly the end — doesn’t justify the time.
Ready for Primetime: The Monks and Frank’s Message
Director John Dahl did an excellent job capturing the beauty of the monks’ artistry, making the process as fascinating to behold in this show as I imagine it would be in real life. The colorful depiction and creative integration made up for some of the blunt metaphors, and then Frank’s photographic gift of the piece with a moving, handwritten note really put it over the top. “Nothing last forever — except us.” Its meaning can be applied directly the presidential office and power each so desperately craves, making it both layered, personal and thus quite touching — and it all centered on the monks piece. What felt slightly forced at the onset became justifiably enticing in the end. If only the same could be said for the episode as a whole.
“Like everyone else.”
Let’s hope this week’s legacy quote doesn’t end up defining the entirety of “House of Cards'” third season. Claire and Francis may have gotten back to a good place, but the season itself is just as it was when it began — with the exception of the First Family sleeping in the same room. “Chapter 33” hit the reset button, when it should’ve been pushing further and further into the unknown. Much like Frank felt when his computer game automatically started over, I felt cheated out of seeing something fresh and new when the credits rolled. With six episodes left, there will undoubtedly be a few more shocks, but either this episode or the first six were a waste of time. Either way, it’s bad news for this chapter.