Back again, for the penultimate review of season 3 of House of Cards on Netflix. This may be the most uneven of the show’s seasons thus far, throwing in odd plot twists that are acted beautifully and somehow managing to be convincing despite being more outlandish than Frank’s America Works plan itself. (As always, watch out for spoilers below.)
Frank and Claire are in a church, renewing their vows. Claire’s hair is a deep, chocolate brown. The press is there, including Kate from the Wall-Street-Whatsit, and Tom Yates, the Handsome Novelist. They flirt a little bit in the press van. This is probably going somewhere, but I don’t like it.
The timeline in this episode is a bit wonky, dipping back and forth between the vow renewal and the weeks leading up to it. There are Tibetan monks in the White House, engaged in the Sand Mandala—a beautiful ritual of painstakingly creating an artwork from colored sand and then destroying it.
It’s a fairly obvious metaphor, but what makes it work without being over the top is that it’s a clever way of marking the time that ticks by during the episode. And when Frank and Claire realize that the monks have been working on the Sand Mandala for weeks and they haven’t even discussed it, we know things are still broken for the Underwoods.
But back a bit. The country is happy with Claire Underwood’s outburst at Petrov. American public opinion on FLOTUS is high. But it’s all underscored by trouble between Frank and Claire. He’s upset by her outburst, and she’s shutting him out. When Frank brings Tom Yates up for a drink, she chastises them for making too much noise.
And Tom Yates asks Frank why he and Claire sleep in separate bedrooms. Frank tries to deny, at first, that anything is terribly wrong. But finally he caves, says that he and Claire just can’t get past this fight. And Tom, in return, reveals something–he only wrote some of Scorpio, his most-famous-and-apparently-quite-fabulous-first-novel. Dear, dear, this is headed down a strange pathway.
Anyway, in the middle of all this, it’s apparently time for the official portrait of the president and first lady. She told Frank she’d smile in the portrait, but it’s not much of a smile, only a small glimmer. Frank, who is almost scowling, thinks that Claire flinched when he touched her shoulder. Maybe she did.
Later, Frank explodes at Claire during a cabinet meeting, before continuing the argument privately. And something important happens when Frank reaches for a cigarette. This has always been a vice they’ve shared, the smoking. And it’s always been a part of their relationship that I found—as close to sweet as Claire and Frank Underwood get. Frank doesn’t share this secret smoke with Claire—he steps toward the door, blocking her way.
Frank and Claire end up resolving their differences in a series of mostly diplomatic arrangements–moving forward with AmWorks, authorizing money for Claire’s plan to get the peacekeeping resolution passed, a new hair color.
We end mostly where we started. Frank and Claire are together and presenting themselves as more in love than ever. Tom is writing a book, but it’s difficult to tell why, and difficult to say what it will really be about. Stamper is still looking for Rachel.
But there are cracks. Frank and Claire, it is clear, are presenting this front. They aren’t really happier than ever. Even if Frank leaves a picture of the Sand Mandala on Claire’s bed with a note “Nothing is forever–except us,” and even Claire’s hair is back to the color it was when they met, things are not the same.
Oh, this episode. Maybe it’s having been and still being in the area where Hurricane Katrina happened. Maybe it’s just the writing. But the Hurricane Episode fell a bit flat for me.
Remember, Frank raided the coffers of the disaster relief funds a few episodes ago, including the FEMA plan. Now there’s a hurricane a’comin, and it’s threatening 12 states. Spaghetti plots say it’s going to come up the eastern seaboard and might cause billions of dollars in damage. Congress will replace this fund—but only if Frank agrees not to raid it again.
Naturally, Frank is reluctant to sign an agreement that would, he feels, kill the America Works program. He and the cabinet work to scrape together funds to match those offered, but he knows he’ll likely have to sign the bill.
Kate and Tom Yates are sleeping together. That’s a little weird, all things considered, but oh well. And Kate has written a scathing piece using the hurricane as a metaphor for Frank’s mercurial way of governing.
In Iowa, Heather Dunbar is campaigning pretty hard. She’s promising to raise the minimum wage, and she’s gaining traction in the race. Doug suggests she set up a meeting with Jackie Sharp about what to do when the storm makes landfall, whether or not they will campaign.
They agree to suspend campaigns and help with recovery efforts if the storm makes landfall. Doug is standing just outside the door, and he calls Grayson. He gives him a message for the president–Heather Dunbar and Jackie Sharp just met. Didn’t think Doug had entirely left the Underwoods…
Somehow or other, the resolution passes the U.N. It happens off-screen, and that’s a bit irritating for something that has occupied such a large part of the story this season. Claire wonders whether it’s a good idea to celebrate while the country is preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Faith, but Frank eschews her doubts.
Back in the offices the next day, Frank is upsetting everyone. He doesn’t want Jackie to suspend her campaign, but she stands her ground. She reminds him that if he doesn’t sign the bill for FEMA funding, there won’t be a campaign. Remy is also upset, mostly due to Frank’s treatment of Jackie. It’s clear that Remy still loves Jackie, and it has been for most of the season. I think she still loves him, too, and that she’ll find the quick wedding for political purposes is going to make her unhappy.
Frank has Meechum track down Freddy. He tells him that they’re shutting down AmWorks, but he offers Freddy a job at the White House. Freddy accepts—but he doesn’t want to work in the kitchen anymore. He wants to be outside. And so Freddy becomes a White House gardener.
After talking with Tom, Frank decides to sign the bill. He goes to bed, asking to be woken up when the storm makes landfall.
But it never does, of course.
Without the storm making landfall, the article Kate wrote about Frank doesn’t work. And there’s no way to overturn the bill that Frank signed. He decides that the time is right to announce his candidacy for president and to run on a platform based on AmWorks.
Frank is in Iowa, campaigning with his new “A Vote for Underwood is a Vote for America Works” slogan. In the middle of a rousing speech, Grayson hands the phone to Claire. She looks shaken–and then we see why.
“Eight Russian troops killed in the Jordan Valley,” she writes. She calmly places the note in front of Frank; he reads it, then quickly wraps up his speech.
Later, we find out that the troops were killed by an IED blast. We also learn that Russian investigators are on the ground in the Jordan Valley and won’t let anyone else near the blast site. The whole thing is a mess, and the tension between the countries, and their leaders, is at a breaking point.Frank and Petrov speak over the phone, but Petrov won’t budge.
Across town, Gavin and Doug meet. Gavin claims that he’s found a Jane Doe in Tucson whose fingerprints match Rachel’s. It just doesn’t feel right, but Doug is convinced. He falls off the wagon, and he falls hard, almost getting into a fight in a bar and then coming home to vomit in the middle of the house. Oh, Doug, no.
Claire speaks with the Russian ambassador, who hints that Petrov might’ve staged the attack but won’t say more or go public with the information. Frank uses this information to authorize a covert mission to send in American investigators to gather intelligence to prove that Russia caused the problem. I don’t think this is going to end well for anyone.
And oh, Remy. He’s driving a potential campaign contributor to the airport, trying to covertly (that seems to be the word of the day) put him on a plane after Kate noticed his presence on Air Force One and questioned its legality.
The contributor is rude, and Remy seems to be having an internal crisis about his position at the White House. That crisis is brought full circle when he’s stopped on his way back and has no ID. The incident escalates so that Remly ends up in the back of a police car and has to be released by a supervising lieutenant, and Remy is clearly even more in crisis. He goes to Jackie’s house, apologizes for intruding, then kisses her. Oh Remy, Remy.
Doug, meanwhile, has made his way to the Oval Office to report Rachel’s death. He also admits that he’s drunk, that he’s been working for Dunbar on Frank’s behalf, and that he needs help.
There’s a moment when Frank cradles Doug’s head, when it’s clear how much he cares for Doug. It’s even more clear that Frank really does give a damn when he calls Heather Dunbar and berates her for hiring Doug when he was still recovering, then threatens to put her in her “fucking grave” if she ever endangers Doug again.
And then we’re back to the Situation Room. The operation in Jordan Valley is underway.
And then it goes awry.
The troops are turned on. Everyone listens as the American troops encounter gunfire. The mission is aborted. One American is dead, three are wounded.
When Petrov calls later, he says he’s told Israel that it was American troops who entered the Jordan Valley. Israel deploys troops.
The world is a mess.
Join me tomorrow as I review the final 4 episodes of the season!