Warning: there are spoilers here for the full second season of House of Cards. By now, your binge watching has come to an end, leaving you satisfied and a little nostalgic for a time when Frank had adversaries. Zoe Barnes is dead, Lucas Goodwin is in prison, Raymond Tusk is defeated, China is still boring and the Walkers are doing whatever the Nixons did. For our last installment, we decided to answer the one question hanging over the whole season: Why would anyone in their right mind trust Frank Underwood? Here are our thoughts on episodes nine through 13:
There's No Reason to Trust Frank Underwood. Stop It.
There's a moment in the House of Cards season finale when the show's human Eeyore, Rachel Posner, finally realizes that Doug Stamper is not "helping" her. And, in a surprise, she decides to listen to her gut, run away, and get out of Stamper's car. That was maybe the only time this whole season someone displayed some common sense.
I understand that the whole spirit of this show is to watch how Washington works and how one filthy little Southern man can bend it to his will. We've seen him murder two people, start wars with China, and send someone to federal prison over the last two seasons of the show. He also manipulated the dumbest president in all of television history, a president he royally screwed, to take his job. And while this season has been fast, ghoulish, and gasp-inducing at times, it has a difficult time of convincing me that there's anything at stake for the Underwoods.
Part of that is due to choices made this season, like Claire's inexplicable attachment to the sexual assault bill. The show spelled out that she wanted to destroy the general who raped her, but didn't do as well spelling out why she is throwing herself into the sexual assault bill after chewing up and spitting out her rapist. Claire has been presented as sociopath (see: threatening to kill Gillian's baby from the inside out) who doesn't really believe in morality or sentimentality. Is it because abortion and rape actually mean something to her? A power play? Media strategy? That motivation felt half-written.
The other, bigger half of this equation is Frank's wormy tongue. While the first season showed us that he was a man saved by his power of gaming the system, the second season pushed that gift into deus ex-machina territory. He's sloppily hood-winked almost all of the administration (most notably the president and Secretary of State Kathryn Durant). And they've all forgiven him (sometimes because of a hand-written note) despite watching him screw their colleagues over and over. It's as if Washington has shorter short-term memories than those kids at the Glee high school who keep going to the concerts of the kids they supposedly hate.
The unavoidable question then becomes: What's possibly at stake when Frank can get out of everything unscathed? The third season of House of Cards, maybe. —AAS
Everyone on House of Cards Is Dumb, Especially the Walkers
If Nixon's line was "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal," then disgraced former President Garrett Walker's line would be "When the president does it, that means it's not the dumbest thing a character has ever done." Much has been said about Frank's letter to the president sent just before Raymond Tusk was set to testify against Frank, mainly that the writers got tired of pretending that Frank wasn't going to be president and just gave up. Walker literally figured out what Frank was up to after 20-something episodes worth of obliviousness and then, thanks to one letter, said "Oh, wait, just kidding." In a world where he was elected President, everyone is dumb by association.
Still, I don't blame Tricia Walker as much. Kevin Spacey delivers all of his lies and manipulations with a wink, but Robin Wright seems convincing. Her role in the Walkers' downfall isn't as obvious. Her betrayal of Adam Galloway, her New York photographer fling, isn't obvious either.
But then, that goes back to why Claire is a better character. She doesn't have the same contempt for Tricia as Frank does for the (former) president. And you get the sense that some part of Claire imagines a different life for herself, one where she's with an Adam, and they have kids and dance parties in his apartment with all his nice artsy friends. (Claire still has a subscription to the Wall Street Telegraph that she reads at breakfast, which is one of the things Adam loves about her though he doesn't much care for politics.)
The only person on the show who isn't fooled by the Underwoods is Freddy. After this season, I don't think he'll be back, which is a shame. Freddy's episode was the show's only successful attempt at character development this whole season. Up until then, Freddy was the show's "magical negro," there to dispense ribs and wise sayings like "when you get hot and sweaty, it'll make you ripe and ready.” But then he got a backstory — a dangerous past and mistakes he'd learned from and a son he'd failed along the way. And I honestly thought Frank would find a way to stick by him, which makes me just as bad as the Walkers. Freddy's the only person who knew that no one has friends in DC, just good customers. — AJ