Framed by two writers creating opposing stories about our not-so-dear President Underwood, “Chapter 34” attempted to dig into two of the season’s most compelling new characters. Thomas Yates proved he’s willing to play along with Frank’s version of his life story by including the too-good-to-be-true swimming story as the book’s preface. Reporter Kate Baldwin, meanwhile, was ready to give up her journalistic integrity to cast Underwood in a dark shadow of his own creation. She was talked out if it, but couldn’t turn down a man whose writing she adores — and he couldn’t turn down a powerful, righteous and much more morally sound woman in a bar.
In addition to the intriguing coupling — though its function has yet to be proven — Frank abandoned his AmWorks program in order to prevent a political (and actual) disaster. With a hurricane bearing down on the East Coast, Frank begrudgingly gave up funding for his pet project in order to make sure FEMA was fully prepared for an impending disaster (I guess that gives Underwood an advantage over “Dubya”).
But then it never came. It was too late to get the money back, but Frank is ready to officially run for President now that he’s seen the benefits of America Works firsthand. How? With Freddy, who is almost definitely still harboring deep resentment for the Underwoods after they cost him his business. He still needs a job, though, no matter how humiliating the offer — a feeling I’m guessing most AmWorks benefactors are familiar with. Still, kudos to Reg E. Cathy for turning in a profound performance in only a few minutes. Good enough for a Guest Star Emmy? I think so.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
Frank’s closing testimonial regarding Yates’ preface was certainly telling, but it was his aside with new Senate Majority Leader Henry Mitchell which caught my attention. According to our brief exchange, Hector Mendoza declared a couple of paid speeches as income and has thus been dismissed from Congress and forced to abandon his Presidential campaign. That being said, “he’s not gone — just in storage,” are the carefully chosen words of Mendoza’s replacement. How and when Mendoza returns are key to the importance of this aside, but for now it reads like another suddenly dismissed plot line after spending much of Season 3’s first half outlying his importance. Thus, Frank’s special messages are irrelevant — barely.
Binge and You’ll Miss It
This marks the second week in a row I’ve mentioned “homoerotic undertones” between Frank and Thomas. Yes, he slept with Kate Baldwin this week, but Frank also enjoys the company of women besides a predilection for his own sex. More telling than his actions were his words: “I only care about the man,” Yates said when explaining why he wouldn’t be mentioning America Works in the book. Frank seemed moved by the sentiment, and the duo’s lingering eye contact spoke volumes about a yet-unspoken bond. Perhaps I’m crazy, but their relationship is the real hot item of Season 3, so far.
Made for Daytime: Water-Related Analogies
Even after we found out Yates didn’t believe what he was writing/narrating the whole episode, the writers’ use of water to signify broader ideas was utterly exhausted. Baldwin drew comparisons between Frank’s presidency and the impending hurricane, all but flat-out stating the storm wasn’t coming; it’s already here. Yates relied on one of Frank’s falsified childhood stories for the preface to the book, using a failed swim to explain how resilient the President was even in the face of impossibility.
Both had their comeuppance — Yates’ in the aforementioned admission from Frank and Baldwin’s when the hurricane never came, thus ruining her story — but the obvious nature of the analogies was enough to undermine the authority of this “life-changing” author and “Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.” Neither would have relied on something so obvious and then been so proud of it after putting pen to paper (so to speak). Yates and Baldwin remain likable thanks to the positive portrayals by Paul Sparks and Kim Dickens, but their credence as characters is slipping.
Ready for Primetime: Everything with Freddy
When Freddy returned in “Chapter 31,” I wasn’t sure where his story would go. That didn’t stop me from being overjoyed by his presence, as the character and actor playing him are fan favorites. After his second appearance I’m still relatively clueless as to whether there’s a broader purpose in mind, but at least he elevated the stakes in “Chapter 34.” I mean, do you remember when he turned down Frank’s offer for a payout in Season 2? Now, he’s mowing his lawn.
Freddy brings out the best and worst of Frank. His presence forces Frank’s humanity to surface — which is somewhat ironic, considering his original inclusion felt like a pointed political move to make the off-putting Congressman more of a “people person.” Yet that humanity causes Frank to doubt himself, a character trait admonished by his wife — who was largely absent from this episode — and proven problematic for the scheming president. In the end, it was Cathey’s telling desperation to accept Frank’s job offer that lead to an emotive audience response. In other words, my heart felt like it was being pulled from my chest when Freddy said, “How much does it pay?”
Much of “Chapter 34” focused on separating the possible from the impossible. Frank’s hardships with the matter were outlined clearly in Yates’ overly frank (pun intended) analogy, but the writer also may not be able to tell what’s feasible and what’s only a dream. His relationship with Kate Baldwin is bound to get him in hot water when the boss finds out, and any separation of church and state — as the two agreed to without saying as much — seems equally unlikely to succeed.
Baldwin, too, shares some of the burden there, though she will likely only be rewarded for any mixture of business and pleasure. Similarly, the two official presidential candidates played a political game to look good, not a moral choice to benefit the people. We know Jackie Sharp isn’t pure, and Heather Dunbar is looking more and more disingenuous as her campaign continues. Though, that could just be Doug’s involvement (whose dream of getting back in Frank’s good graces seems like a desperate fantasy that might still come true).
Yet Freddy himself may be the biggest casualty of his own wise words. His dream became a reality in that he’s finally working outside, but his overall dream — owning his own BBQ shop, working for himself, and/or making more than enough to scrape by from month to month — seems highly unlikely to pan out. He’s settled for a manageable “dream” after being jaded by a life-ruining incident with Frank, and that may be the saddest realization to date.