“Chapter 37” found Frank finally going too far. The only relationship he hasn’t severed at this point is his marriage with Claire, and even that could go out the window before Season 3 wraps. Amidst debate prep and post-debate damage control, Frank managed to piss off Jackie Sharp (to the point where she bailed on his ticket, despite severing ties with Heather Dunbar during the debate), Remy Danton (whose love for Jackie proved more important than his position in the White House) and Thomas Yates (though the writer is still undoubtedly addicted to Frank’s story).
The debate itself went about as well as Frank could have hoped, but it was still considered a tie. Perhaps that’s what lead to Frank and Jackie’s blowout, in which it was clear the President needed to implement a soft touch and instead drove her away with his brash attitude. In the scene — as with his interaction with Remy — it became clear the President has become addicted to the power of the office even when it has none. He’s the definition of a lame duck president, and — while the results of his desperate actions proved justifiably dramatic this week — the only hope for the final two episodes (and Season 4) is that we’ve now seen Frank at rock bottom. As I’ve said for most of this season, Frank’s inability to perform simply isn’t as engaging as his previous success at elaborate scheming. Despite its inclusion in the opening credits (and Netflix’s loading screen), Frank’s trademark ring tap has been sorely missing.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
Francis spent his time with the audience to make a joke about his sitting VP not being on the ticket (duh) and to admit his mistake in supporting Jackie’s marriage, which he now feels is weighing her down. I was hoping to get a wink or an aside during the debate, but even that may not have saved this week from irrelevancy.
Binge and You’ll Miss It
By the time “Chapter 37” wrapped, I wouldn’t blame anyone for forgetting one of the biggest revelations of the episode. Early on, Gavin called up Doug (on every device he owned) to inform him that Rachel was actually still alive. He’d lied before in order to save himself, and now he wants to trade the “real” information for one of his friend’s freedom. At first, I was happy to hear Rachel Brosnahan’s part on the show wasn’t over, but then I thought better of it. Gavin is clearly a liar, and so is the show itself.
“House of Cards” has become too dependent on its twists in Season 3, making just about anything believable and thus everything untrustworthy. Gavin walked back his previous statement so quickly we barely had time for the information to set it, and I can only imagine what it was like when bingeing through all 13 episodes. How easily dismissible everything must seem; first Claire and Frank are the perfect team, then they’re at each other’s throats. Then they’re renewing their vows and fine, but now they’re again on the rocks. Politics is a fickle game, but it shouldn’t feel like ping pong. Rachel’s fate is just the latest bounce, and one that could go the other way at any second.
Made for Daytime: The Debate
Again “House of Cards” forays into well-worn “West Wing” territory, and again it comes up short. The Democratic debate wasn’t as glaringly taken directly from Aaron Sorkin’s playbook — it is, after all, a common source of drama for political entertainment — but the parallels between the two most popular political series of our time damned Beau Willimon’s version to second place. It wasn’t that the debate was ineffective — though it was slightly redundant given much of the arguments were laid out ahead of time — but that it crossed over from believable to melodramatic pandering. Jackie Sharp’s full court press on Dunbar didn’t line up with her hesitancy, nor did her failure to respond to being challenged on her hypocrisy claim by Frank match up with her talents (she’s always pretty over-prepared, and knew this would come up). The post-debate news show claimed Frank seemed Presidential, but his early lack of response to the foreign policy question didn’t fall in line with this viewpoint. Everything seemed transparently over-manipulated rather than heated and spontaneous. It’s not what we were looking for, in a climactic moment for the season itself.
Ready for Primetime: Everything with Claire
After “Chapter 36,” I called for a Claire-centric episode, and Beau Willimon provided one. (Again, I’m writing reviews for each episode before moving on to the next. I promise I haven’t peaked ahead to seem clairvoyant). [Editor’s note: Claire-voyant.] Though frustrating in that her character is entirely reactionary at this stage, it was somewhat satisfying to see Claire (and thus the writers) call attention to that fact. Self-awareness is key moving forward, and Claire’s choice to jump or step back is one tantalizing tease. How her character is seen at the end of Season 3 will largely define our view of the series itself. She’s on the right track — as is the show, at least if Francis really has hit bottom — and the subtle framing of her plight is, as always, perfectly illuminated by Robin Wright’s tremendous performance.
Leave it to Freddie to lay things out as clear as day. He’s always understood the true nature of Frank Underwood, even if others continue to be flabbergasted by his cold decisions. Remy really should have known better, and maybe he did. It just took the debate to push him over the edge. Frank has always been who he is, even if he’s proving that his cruelness has no end (outside of Claire). Freddy knows this all too well. Even if he is the President of the United States, even if he needs help, he’s not going to change.
Yet the true importance of the quote needs to be applied outside of its diegetic setting. Frank is an antihero, through and through, but that doesn’t mean we want him to fail. Just like Walter White before him, Francis Underwood is digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole leading straight to hell. But just because he’s becoming more and more despicable doesn’t mean we want to see him stop digging. He’s hit a stopping point with his shovel. Time to find a new tool.