Review: House of Cards Season 3, Episodes 10-13

And here we are, sadly, at the end of another season of House of Cards, and it’s been a bit of a perplexing one, full of intrigue, Russian diplomats, and Kevin Spacey’s confusing but charming accent.

(Psst—There will be spoilers here for ze end of ze season. Haven’t finished yet? Check out reviews of episodes 1-3, 4-6, or 7-9.)

Episode 10

This was one of the weaker episodes for me, partly because you could just feel heaviness in the writing, clunkiness in threads coming together to set us up for the end of the season.

Frank’s campaign is in trouble, especially after the debacle that sent the Jordan Valley into crisis. At a town hall along the campaign trail, Frank answers questions—or sort of. Most of the questions are things he can’t or won’t answer. Remy suggests screening future questions, and I’m wondering why as many politically savvy folks as this with a sitting president in a disastrous situation weren’t already doing that.

Back home, Frank gets a Message. Tim called. Anyone remember Tim? If you’ve seen season 1, you do–Tim is Frank’s former lover. And Frank panics when he returns Tim’s phone-call and is told that Tom Yates called to ask for an interview.

Oh hell.

Elsewhere, Frank continues to lose his head. The Jordan Valley situation is escalating, and Petrov announces that he will violate the Israeli no-fly zone in his personal plane. For some reason, Frank decides that’s a fantastic idea and decides to follow.

Claire, of course, warns against this. But Frank ignores her and suits up in Kevlar and a helmet. This is all The Most Ridiculous Thing because no sitting US president in modern times would have a tiny convoy in a superbly dangerous region of the world, protected by a Kevlar, a helmet, and about 3 armored vehicles.

Anyway, once he’s in Petrov’s bunker, the two start to negotiate. Frank agrees to scale back missile defense. Petrov has a difficult condition, though: Claire’s removal as UN ambassador. There’s this sort-of masterful moment when Petrov adds another layer to things by calling into question the Russian involvement in the bombing. Perhaps, Petrov suggests, they played Claire, and in doing so, played Frank.

When he returns home, Frank delivers the bad news to Claire. And then there’s Yates to deal with. The two have a few drinks together. They gaze a little-bit longingly at one another. They talk. Frank reaches for Yates’s hand. But then he sends him home.

Claire, meanwhile, is not only no longer UN ambassador, but is with a team of UN advisers who have news: the public likes Claire’s hair better blond. And so blond she will be, despite herself.

Across town, Doug is finding something new, something he hasn’t had before, with his brother’s family—family of his own. He seems happy playing with his nieces. He and his brother seem on more even footing than before.

Gavin, meanwhile, fesses up to Lisa: he doesn’t have AIDS, and his name isn’t Max. He’s leaving town, though. She should be safe, but if she ever gets in trouble, she should call—and he gives her Doug’s number. He also leaves a guinea pig with her—pretty sure that’s Cashew.)

Frank

Episode 11

Claire is back to the role as FLOTUS, even if she’s not quite back to the role of adoring wife. One of the things that has marked season 3 is the growing gulf between Frank and Claire, and we get quite a bit of emphasis on that in this episode. At a fund-raiser, the women question how they can trust Frank; Claire assures them that even were they not married, she’d trust Frank. I get the feeling that’s really the opposite of what’s true, though.

Frank, Jackie, and Heather are readying for a debate between presidential candidates that will air on CNN. Frank wants Jackie to go after Dunbar for the wealth she was born into and for sending her children to private school. But Jackie now has step-kids, and they’re in private school, too. She’s not sure about the tactic. (And it doesn’t make much sense, honestly.)

She plans a covert meeting with Heather Dunbar. “I want to endorse you” is the message—but only if you’re willing to give me something I want in return. A Cabinet position, perhaps. But Heather Dunbar isn’t willing to play that game, and Jackie isn’t prepared to leave Frank’s side without a guarantee, so all is as it was.

And then it’s time for the debate. Claire is watching from a campaign office full of Underwood supporters. Yates is with her. Jackie, Heather, and Frank are onstage. As planned, Jackie hits Heather Dunbar hard about her background and where she sends her kids to school.

When the debate turns to Claire’s appointment as UN ambassador and the recent mess in the Jordan Valley, Claire doesn’t want to watch anymore. She leaves. The debate turns back to the kids, specifically that Heather’s kids are in boarding school—“maybe you didn’t want to raise them yourself” Jackie tells Heather. A collective gasp, and we know Jackie’s done. “Jackie, don’t your kids to go private school, too?” This from Frank.

Across town, Doug gets a message from Gavin–Rachel is still alive, and he’ll tell Doug where she is after he gets Gavin’s friend out of prison. I can’t help but think that this is a Bad Move for Gavin.

Jackie demands to see Frank, angry about his jab at her. He’s imperious, reminds her that they’re not equals. And Jackie says fine. Then we see her on TV. And she’s endorsing Dunbar. Remy, who we’ve already seen struggle with Frank a few times, issues a warning. And then he leaves.

And Yates is with Claire, who is donating blood as part of campaign photo-ops. He asks why she works so hard for Frank, especially after being fired. Claire, for her part, still seems suspicious of Yates’s relationship with Frank. Claire, who is clearly about to pass out, makes a rather important revelation: every 7 years she reevaluates the relationship, like it’s an office—and it IS an office.

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Episode 12

Frank and Claire have gotten the first chapter of Yates’s book. It’s not at all about what they thought it would be. The first chapter is all about Frank and Claire, about their relationship. Frank hates it, even if he finds himself agreeing with what’s on the page. Claire just doesn’t seem to know how she feels about it.

Naturally, Frank’s solution to the issue is to fire Yates and insist that he never publish the book. That’s more than ridiculous, and more than a little unenforceable, but Frank reminds Yates of what he knows—the first novel isn’t his.

On the campaign trail, it becomes clear that Frank and Claire are drifting further apart without Frank even being aware that it’s happening. But they’re in separate bedrooms. When Frank speaks warmly to Claire, she is cold.

Dunbar is ahead in the campaign, but only barely—and poll numbers are always expected to off by several points. Dunbar wants something that will guarantee her as the front-runner for the election. And that’s when she remembers the diary that Doug showed her earlier, the one that proves Claire lied about her abortion on TV.

Dunbar meets with Frank in the grubby little stairwell that served as a cigar room for Petrove and him. She tells him that she knows that Claire lied, that she has the journal that will prove it. Dunbar has impressed him—but Frank is a dangerous man to impress. On the way out, we get an aside that he’ll kill her if she harms Claire. We know he means it.

Jackie and Remy are now both officially free of Frank. They’re not free of one another, though, and we’re left wondering what this will mean for Remy, for Jackie, and for Jackie’s still-new family.

Kate and Yates are still sleeping together. He wants Kate to write a story about his book, about Frank’s attempt to suppress it, but Kate won’t. Conflict of interest and whatnot.

Claire, meanwhile, is going door-to-door in Iowa. In one of the most bizarre exchanges of the season, Claire meets a new mother whose politics do not align with Frank’s whose “Underwood 2016” signs in the yard are her husband’s. She goes into the woman’s house, and there’s dialogue about cheating, philandering, abuse—-all the things that Claire is dealing with, too, but without the means to escape that Claire has.

Not long after she leaves the woman’s house, Claire’s phone rings. It’s Frank, telling her that about the journal. He’s already working on a solution. But Claire’s hit a breaking point.

Meechum finds Doug, who has the diary with him. He rips out the page about the abortion and burns it. He wants to come back. But how can Frank trust him? He just burned up $2 million.

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Episode 13

Oh, there’s Rachel. She’s in New Mexico, working at a bar and at a supermarket and living in a dormitory/halfway house. She’s “Lisa” now, and she’s just gotten the new paperwork to become, permanently “Cassie Logan.”

But Doug, who is back in the president’s good graces, is looking for Gavin. He finds him in Venezuela and beats Gavin until he reveals Rachel’s location. From there he heads to New Mexico, where he buys a beat up van and then goes to a hardware store and buys everything on a Murder Shopping List: shovel, bleach, duct tape.

In their hotel, Claire demands that Frank be rough with her, that they have sex. She also demands that he look at her. He can’t. He calls and has her a room of her own made up and suggests she go back to Washington.

She does, and then she refuses to join Frank when he calls and wants her to return to Iowa. She refuses to answer his calls. She meets with Yates.

In New Mexico, Doug snatches up Rachel. She pleads to be released, even after he ties her up and throws her in the back of his van. But Doug can’t fail Frank again. He drives the van to a secluded spot in the middle of the desert. It’s beautiful, and lonely. He starts to dig a grave. For a few moments, we think he’ll change his mind. He even does, briefly, as he lets her go. But he can’t do that. She has to die, and the last we see of them for the season is Rachel’s body being buried, Doug shoveling dirt over her face.

Frank beats Dunbar in the Iowa primary. Claire is still in the White House, refusing to come out, and he must give his victory speech alone. He does so at campaign headquarters, saying she isn’t feeling well, and things go relatively well.

But back at home, things go awfully. He throws a tantrum. He wrenches Claire’s face to the side as he articulates the words, slowly and menacingly, “without me you are nothing.”

And that’s it. Claire has had it.

She’s leaving.

And that, folks, is where they leave us.

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Agent Carter: Expectations and Review!

A new show aired last night: Agent Carter, the latest edition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show is set after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger and after World War 2. It’s the point when SHIELD is first being formed, when all of Hydra’s strange and occult (and alien) toys are being seized. It’s the point when Hydra infiltrates SHIELD and lives on.

I actually thought the show was premiering next week, so the plan was that this week would be my thoughts about the show before it aired. Since the show snuck up on me, there’s really two parts to this post. The first part was written before the show aired on Tuesday evening, and the later part will be a review having seen the initial two-hour premier.

Peggy Carter herself was an addition to the Captain America universe in the 60’s, a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. She is added in flashback scenes mainly as Captain America’s love interest. So the movies have really added to her character, and all in a good way. Fans are excited for this female-led comic-book show, and why not? Well, I have some worries that have nothing to do with Peggy Carter herself, and have everything to do with creating a backstory story in an ongoing film and television universe. So let me fret about the story first, and then on to the episode review!

How Do You Create Tension?

I think this is my main concern with the show. Because it’s going to be SHIELD, and mysterious artifacts, and potentially super-powered foes. So how do you create tension in a prequel story? When the fate of so many characters is already known? Characters like:

  • Peggy Carter herself. We see her in Winter Soldier so we know she survives. In the comic lore, also, Sharon (Agent 13) is a relative and was also in the movie.
  • The Howling Commandos, who were teased for the show. According to the Smithsonian display in Winter Soldier, the only Howling Commando to give their life in service to their country was Bucky Barnes. However, in working for SHIELD, does that not count? Could something happen to them? I would be surprised!
  • Howard Stark. We see him older and giving wisdom to young Tony decades later in Iron Man 2. And of course he has to live long enough to have Tony!
  • Hydra. Not dead and stopped, but living on. We know they get recruited to help, and we know Hydra infiltrates SHIELD. Sure, it can be interesting to watch it happen, but it won’t really be surprising or unexpected.

So my main question is, how do you tell this story when we kind of know what happens? We know the main characters come through largely unscathed, and we know that the bad guys secretly infiltrate – and are never caught in doing so. How do you make an engaging show with the audience already knowing and expecting so much?

One way is with short seasons, and it sounds like that is the plan for Agent Carter. They previewed next week by saying it was going to be a 7-episode series – but I’m getting ahead of myself! How was the premier?

And Now For Something Completely Different

Alright, so I’ve now seen the two-hour premier, which was happily one long episode, instead of two episodes (like ABC did with Galavant on Sunday). The timeframe was after the war, but before SHIELD was a thing. So Agent Carter was still an agent of the SSR, like she was in The First Avenger.

From the Agent Carter one-shot on the Iron Man 3 disc. Found on http://marvel-movies.wikia.com/wiki/Marvel_One-Shot:_Agent_Carter

From the Agent Carter one-shot on the Iron Man 3 disc.
Found on http://marvel-movies.wikia.com/wiki/Marvel_One-Shot:_Agent_Carter

And apparently, the answer to my question about creating suspense and tension, about dealing with known quantities and outcomes, is to approach the issues from an entirely different angle. So this isn’t the story of Peggy Carter, Agent of SHIELD. This is the story of Peggy Carter, top-notch working woman who gets sidelined by male colleagues as they return from World War 2. Treated as a secretary (or less) when she could likely kick any of their butts and take any of their names.

The mystery, then, is centered around Howard Stark, who is being seen as a traitor. Agent Carter knows better, and Howard knows he can trust her: so he pulls on up, and asks her to help clear his name. We as the audience know him too (or think we do?!?) so we’re on their side. Oh, and Jarvis, the real life Jarvis and not an AI, is on the team too.

So it’s Peggy Carter, sneaking around in advance of the SSR, doing the job better, solving the real case. The tension then becomes one not of whether our heroes are in peril – we know she’s not because she’s a badass – but instead it’s a tension about whether or not the boys club that is the SSR catches on to what she’s doing. Because if she’s caught, well, she’s working with a traitor.

Oh, And Sexism.

Have I mentioned the sexism? They definitely are playing this as a period piece, and it’s catching a really specific moment in American history. A moment that really changed everything, though it took time.

They are playing into this motif pretty heavily. Juxtaposed with the scenes of Peggy solving mysteries and kicking butt are narratives from the Captain America radio broadcasts, where a female love interest of Captain America (a miss Carver) is the damsel in distress, and is helpless without Cap to save her. You come to realize this caricature character is supposed to be Carter, and join her in her annoyance at the whole thing. She doesn’t need Cap to help save the day.

But maybe she’s trying too hard. Maybe she can’t do it all alone. The growing partner relationship between Carter and Jarvis is interesting, and definitely something I am hoping to see grow over the course of the series. Because he’s a butler, not a spy; so he’s willing to help, but can’t be the lead. A good partner for her.

One Last Theory

Okay, so one other thing that aired tonight, after the show, was the first teaser for Ant-Man. And it definitely makes it seem like there has been Ant-Man before, like the name, the mantle, has existed before. And we kind of expect this, as Paul Rudd is playing Scott Lang: not the first Ant-Man in the comics, but the second.

Anyway, as to Agent Carter: is there going to be the original Ant-Man, young Hank Pym, in the show? Will they tie it in with the cinematic universe that way? I kind of hope so, as that could definitely be something that will make me more interested in the movie!

Would you like to see more posts about Agent Carter? I would consider doing episode recaps for the season – which isn’t too much of a commitment if it’s really only 7 episodes! Let us know in the comments, or tweet me @CompGeeksDavid!

True Blood: “I Found You” Review

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True Blood is two hours into its final season, and the second episode of the show focuses on the tensions in Bon Temps in the wake of the attack on Bellefleur’s. We finally see Eric; Arlene, Holly, and Nicole almost make their way out of Fangtasia; Sookie, Sam, Jason, Alcide, and Andy visit a ransacked town for clues about the Hep-V vampires; and the angry mob is even angrier.

We begin the episode with one of Jason’s Eric dreams. Drinking vampire blood causes dreams TBE2and fantasies about that vampire and forges a vampire/human bond; Jason drank Eric’s blood a few seasons back. That said, I’m not entirely clear on the point of this scene, even if it was enjoyable. It doesn’t add to the story in any real way, but it does add some much needed screen-time for Alexander Skarsgard. I think we’ll make our way back to this dream at some point, but it wasn’t in this episode.

Cut to outside the police station. Andy is frustrated by the search for Arlene, Holly, and Nicole, and he doesn’t have a clue what to do. Now, Andy—townspeople in general—don’t you think Fangtasia might at least be a place to start? Shreveport isn’t far away, and the place has been a centerpiece of the show. But Sookie, at least, has an idea. She saw a body in the woods, and ID’ing the body, finding out where the girl came from, might be a start to finding the vampires. Does this mean Sookie didn’t tell anyone she found a dead girl in the woods until now? Really? Either way, Andy decides this is a Good Idea and the beginning of a Sound Plan, so they go off to find the corpse.

Meanwhile, the infected vampires that are nesting in Fangtasia are still hungry. They’re arguing over who will go and get the next person (remember that unfortunate incident in the basement from last week) and what they’re going to do for food. An older-looking woman, Betty, is given the keys to the basement to go and fetch the food. When she comes downstairs,TBE2.2 Arlene recognizes her son’s former teacher, and Betty recognizes Arlene, too. She looks directly at her before choosing a man and leading him upstairs. Arlene and Holly, who now recognizes Betty, begin to hatch an escape plan.

Having ID’ed the girl by her driver’s license, the group realizes that she’s from “two towns away” and that that is a good place to start looking. Before leaving, Sam asks the townspeople to tidy up, to clean up Bellefleur’s. He’s trying to give them a way to be useful in the wake of the crisis and discourage mob mentality. Andy, Jason, Sookie, Alcide, and Sam then leave for St. Alice. I can’t tell if they even plan to try to notify the next-of-kin, because this is all about finding the vampires. The dead girl is irrelevant, evidently.

Elsewhere in Bon Temps, Lettie May is knocking down Lafayette’s door. He reluctantly lets her in, and the two chat about Tara for a moment. Lettie May asks Lafayette for V (vampire blood), as she says it’s the only way she can help Tara, who is somewhere between worlds. Lafayette isn’t buying what she’s selling, though, and he shoos her out without giving her any V. Lettie May’s track record being what it is, she’s gotten herself hooked on V already.

Back in Bellefleur’s, Vince is rabble-rousing. He’s tired of Sam; he’s tired of vampires; and he thinks this is his time to shine. He mentions seeing Sam turn into a dog, and then several other people tell similar stories. We get some really funny dialogue here, especially from Maxine Fortenberry. Adilyn, who is helping with the clean-up, tries to talk down the crowd, but she is unsuccessful. She overhears a woman thinking about taking the cache of weapons from the police station, and she runs to warn them. Apparently, guns and ammo are on short supply in these days of Hep-V vampires.

Back in Fangtasia, Arlene and Holly manage to convince Betty to help them escape. There are some wonderful, tense moments between the actresses. Betty is aware that she’s dying, but she has no real desire to hasten it. Arlene and Holly give her just the reason, though, reminding her that they know and remember the kindness Betty extended to the children when she was their teacher. Betty decides that it’s worth the cost to save them and takes another prisoner upstairs.

At this point, Sookie and the crew have made their way into St. Alice, and it’s a ghost town. TBE2.8There’s no one walking around, there are no cars driving, and it’s eerily quiet. Windows are boarded up and graffiti is scrawled everywhere, including “FEMA HELP US” written in huge lettering on the road. They go into the dead girl’s home, where they find more evidence of death and destruction. Sookie also finds the woman’s diary, and she reads aloud the tale of a woman who falls in love with a vampire but is eventually killed by the infected vampires. Leaving the town, the group encounters a mass grave, which is the reason we don’t see anyone—there is no one. I wanted to suspend my disbelief here, but I was annoyed by the concept that a modern town could be TBE2.5completely obliterated without anyone noticing. It’s silly. And Sookie’s reading aloud for the diary seemed still to be beating us over the head with the Sookie-is-a-vampire-freak stick, especially when it was interspersed with her memories of Bill.

In Bon Temps, Adilyn and her cousin arrive at the police station just ahead of the mob, and they manage to warn Kenya, a black female officer. They begin moving the weapons to lock them up, but the mob arrives. I’m not sure if she was a friend or family member, but at any rate, a woman speaks to Kenya, reminding her of  the TBE2.9promotion she was been passed over for in favor of Jason, all the work she’s done that has gone unrecognized. And she relents. Adilyn uses her fairy powers to protect herself, while Kenya attempts to restrain her, and the cries carry over to Jessica (whose blood Adilyn drank in the previous episode).  Jessica is locked inside Andy’s home and cannot leave—it is the middle of the day.

Lettie May has gone home, and we now return to her. She’s cooking, and she burns her hand. This gives her an idea—if she burns herself badly, Willa will have to give her blood so that she can heal. She lays her hand down in the skillet. Yeesh. She then goes to wake Willa, and she’s almost killed in the process. Not a good idea to sneak up on a sleeping vampire. It takes a lot of convincing, but Willa finally gives Lettie May some of her blood. While she is high, she has a vision of Tara, in a white dress, hanging on a cross with a snake crawling over her, but she TBE2.7cannot hear Tara. Willa is bewildered, and Lettie May is crushed. Difficult to tell if this is just Lettie May’s predilection for addiction that we’re seeing or if there’s something to her dreams of Tara.

Back at Fangtasia, Betty offers to monitor sleeping for the infected vampires. They agree, and she uses the time to try to rescue Arlene, Holly and Nicole. She’s too weak, though, and needs to feed from one of them before she can attempt the escape. Arlene agrees to let her feed, but Betty becomes ravenous TBE2.6before she dies in a sad, gross pile on Arlene’s lap.

Andy has returned to Bon Temps, and he’s home. Adilyn isn’t, though. He calls for her, but it is Jessica who replies. Andy is near killing her, and I’m not sure I blame him, but she manages to convince him that Adilyn is in danger somewhere else and that she hasn’t hurt Adilyn. At their return, Sookie sneaks out of the house while Alcide showers. She goes to Bill’s home, asking him if he could still sense her, still feel her fear if she felt it. Oh please, don’t let us go for a Bill and Sookie reunion.

And then we cut to France. Pam walks up to a house. There are female vampires inside, but she quickly ushers them out. And then we’re face-to-face with Eric, who is infected with Hep-V. Cut to the end. And maybe I should’ve seen that coming, but I didn’t really, and I think it’s a damn shame. I’ll just say that if he dies, I hope it’s in a blaze of glory with Pam beside him.

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