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Review: ‘House of Cards’ Season 3 Episode 10 ‘Chapter 36’ Chooses Poorly

Review: 'House of Cards' Season 3 Episode 10 'Chapter 36' Chooses Poorly

EPISODE 9 REVIEW: ‘House of Cards’ Season 3 Episode 9 ‘Chapter 35’ Humanizes & Demonizes in Equal Doses

Morning Briefing:

It all started simply enough. The President was having a difficult time on the campaign trail, stubbornly trying to keep focus on America Works when his constituents wanted answers regarding the Middle East. Doug invited his brother’s family out to try to improve his mood — and his brother’s — while recovering from his relapse. Remy made amends with Jackie after confessing too much to her last week. In other words, things were fairly stable — you know, for “House of Cards.”

Yet we all know Beau Willimon’s priorities don’t involve smooth sailing. He likes choppy seas, if not crashing waves threatening to capsize the vessel in play. So by episode’s end, Frank had traveled in full combat gear — against Claire’s wishes — to the Jordan Valley to try to reach a compromise with Russia. He succeeded, but only by asking Claire to step down as ambassador (in another blow to the delicate marriage). Later, when meeting with Yates about his novel, he nearly succumbed to his baser instincts — and Yates’ — but thought better of it at the last moment. 

So now, with only three episodes left in the third season, we’re faced with: a) a murky foreign relations policy; b) an untrustworthy adversary in Russian President Petrov; c) Frank and Claire’s marriage on-the-rocks — again; d) an election to win despite claiming he wasn’t going to run and then facing distant odds when he decided to do so anyway; e) Gavin on the run and Lisa with Doug’s name in her back pocket (!); and finally; f) Frank’s bisexuality threatening to compromise the whole thing, all for a “friend” we’ve yet to see the true side of, despite repeated admissions to past and current events that are probably not true. All in all, it should add up to some weighty end-of-the-run dramatics. Instead, it’s a mess of stops and starts, totaling nothing.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

In another deeply personal episode for Frank, we the audience were only addressed once. After telling Claire his decision to trust Petrov over her — a preposterous idea through and through — he walked to the window and looked at us via his own reflection. “Sometimes I think the Presidency is the illusion of choice,” Frank said. That may be so, but the statement was as predictable as it was uninteresting. The notion that the highest office in the land is manipulated by various voices demanding various things — as well as a political system that stacks the deck against bold choices — is nothing new. Perhaps Frank should be thinking about how Petrov keeps besting him, again and again, instead of dwelling on the office he’s about to lose.

Binge and You’ll Miss It

In what could also be discussed in the briefly-retired “David Fincher Shot” subheading, Jackie Sharp received some much-needed advice from her new hubby. The surgeon dissected a pomegranate — in Fincher-esque close-up — to illustrate the need to keep pushing through, no matter how messy it gets. Whether this leads Jackie back to Frank or to a new caretaker (it seems unreasonable to expect her to actually win) is unknown, but Sharp and Dunbar could make for a helluva ticket facing Frank.

Made for Daytime: Yates and Frank Holding Hands

I would argue there’s very little subtlety — but plenty of secrets — left in Frank and Yates’ relationship. What I will admit is the two share a much deeper connection than was first anticipated. Certainly, if I received a text from the President of the United States inviting me over in the middle of the night, I, too, would run to the White House to see what’s up. However, I would not do so after waiting long enough to fall asleep in a very uncomfortable chair only hours earlier, “light sleeper” or not. The desperation of the back-and-forth is very much like a booty call, which it turns out is exactly what the invitation was and has always been.

Yates may get off on the stories told by his lovers, as we may or may not have learned in his oddly-unemotional confession to Frank — seriously; who knows when this guy is telling the truth? — but if it’s truly just the stories he’s after, why have the sex without the money or the desire? He says he’s “addicted” to Frank, but he initiates more than his addiction demands. Yates is getting all he wants out of the relationship anyway, according to his version of things, but he’s still the one craving more between the two of them. All that’s left for Yates is Claire, and the road to her is not through Frank. Especially not now. The scene — either memorable or infamous for its revelations, depending on your interpretation — ultimately tells us nothing about both men. Yates can’t be trusted, and Frank is using him to get…what? The book is far from worth the risk at this point (which is just another sign Claire is the one to be trusted).

Ready for Primetime: President Petrov

With the tall, scarred Russian President, we finally have an adversary worthy of Frank’s diabolical scheming. Petrov is making moves left and right to get what he wants from the Underwood presidency; ever since the dick-measuring contests at the White House party — “Oh, you can sing? I can sing better!” — Petrov has been working behind the scenes to take advantage of Frank’s every weakness. First, it was his declining popularity. Then it was his low-level bargaining chip for gay rights activist and political prisoner Korrigan. Now, he’s using his relationship with Claire to drive a wedge between the once powerful couple.

From a dramatic perspective, there’s only one problem. Frank is a shell of his former self. The recurring flaw of Season 3 is Frank’s inability to execute — or even contrive — the evil plans that made him (in)famous in Season 1 & 2. He’s been neutered in Season 3, and even if that’s very much the point (see “Breaking the Fourth Wall” for evidence if not the absurd image of Frank in military garb), it’s still not very interesting. What makes it worse is how delightful it could have been to see Petrov and Underwood square off when they’re both at full strength. Watching them now only makes us all the angrier because not only is the greater of two evils winning, the lesser isn’t putting up any kind of a fight.

Legacy Quote:

“We’ll do what we have to.” – Claire

It’s beyond time for another Claire-centric episode. Season 3 started off with an effective balance between our two stars, but that ideal has been thrown off kilter. Frank is taking on too much of the load — as evidenced by the repeated storylines (White House marriage issues) and backtracking dialogue (Yates’ lies, doesn’t lie, might be lying?) in this week’s episode — and it’s time we got inside Claire’s mind for a bit to better understand where she’s coming from. It’s especially necessary as she willingly recedes into the background with the above quote. “House of Cards” Season 3 is already too topsy-turvy for it to be considered anything but the worst year yet for the young series, but if it has hopes for any sort of course correction in the final episodes, Claire is the key.

Grade: C

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